Sometimes I wait so long for something to change, for something to get better, that when it actually happens I miss it. And often it isn’t until I am in the shower, or standing at the sink doing dishes that I suddenly realize, “Holy mother of pearl, he isn’t fixated on doors anymore!” and I have to run and point it out to my husband, who also has been waiting so long for something to get better, that he missed it too. Then we stand there, grinning like idiots at each other, and ask “Wait, what did we do to make that happen?”
Blank looks ensue. Maybe a little head scratching? Rubbing of the hand thoughtfully across the chin?
We have no idea.
And I am serious about the door thing. For most of Corrigan’s life, since he was old enough to crawl over to a door and realized that the darn thing could be controlled by the power of his own hands, he has spent countless hours opening and closing, opening and closing, opening and closing doors. There’s no way to properly convey how maddening that particular perseveration really is, just trust me-you consider removing all doors in the house from their hinges and forgoing any privacy at all, so long as you never hear another door slam in your life.
The very first day of preschool, he spent the entire morning either opening and closing the classroom door, or screaming because no one would let him touch the door. At doctor’s appointments, in school, while visiting others homes- his sole focus was finding a door and opening it. And then closing it. And then opening it. Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh.
Two weeks ago, soap bubbles up to my elbows, sweaty and cursing under my breath at a scalded pot, I heard Connor close his door just a little too hard, and the sound jolted me from my Navy Seal-like focus on baked on food stuffs, and it hit me just like that. Corrigan doesn’t care about doors any longer.
WHEN DID THAT HAPPEN?
HOW did that happen?
And like most changes that occur with Corrigan, there is no clear answer. The easiest and best answer is the simplest one.
He is growing up.
Corrigan’s brain injury causes behaviors and issues that very closely mimic autism and the chemical imbalances in his brain, due to his liver issues, mimic ADHD, so his therapies are those used for both conditions, with results that are becoming more and more apparent. His emotional concerns, I believe, are a result of his traumatic medical experiences and frustration at his own limitations. “Growing out of” certain behaviors was not something I thought would happen with Corrigan. Instead, I thought that changing negative behaviors was a matter of repetition through therapies only, but I’ve been carefully observing him for so long, I am pretty sure that what is happening has to do more with maturation than anything thing else.
He’s still really delayed in most areas of his life, but by golly things are changing. Things are getting better. This little boy is growing up and it is so exciting, so much more fun suddenly, so thrilling to really think about how far he has come. These last four weeks have been nothing short of remarkable, in regards to his behavior and understanding.
He turned six at the end of May and much like his third birthday, he turned a year older and something clicked. It is not exaggeration to say that Corrigan slept 2-3 hours a night for the first three years of his life (and those hours were never really consecutive ones) yet on the very night of his third birthday, he slept through the night and hasn’t had any real sleep issues since. Something happened this year, at age six. He woke a big boy, one who is focused on his speech and coming up with some amazing sentences. A big boy who I can take to a couple of stores now, as long as I move quickly but I can go and buy things in public places with my child in hand. MIRACLE OF MIRACLES.
Transitioning is something that he still works hard with, any sudden change in activity has always been a stress/anxiety trigger for him, so the kind of shopping that involves brief trips to multiple stores…multiple parking and getting out of the car and then shortly back into the car and off to yet another location, that was a nightmare but again, something has changed.
All summer long I have been testing him and all summer long he has been impressing me.
On Connor’s birthday last Friday, my itinerary was crazy. I had accidentally scheduled a well-visit for Corrigan for that morning and my party errand list was a page long. It was a Friday and there is no summer school on Fridays. I had no choice, I wasn’t going to ask Connor to babysit Corrigan on his birthday, so I told myself “suck it up, butter cup, things need done” and off we went. I was prepared for ugly moments that morning, and came home surprised. Normally, a trip to any doctor is stressful for little man, yet he behaved beautifully. He attempted social conversation with the pediatrician. He followed simple requests from the doctor without assistance or extra requests (Do me a favor buddy, use the step on the end of the table there and hop up so I can check your ears. He complies. Instantly. Mom falls over dead. Thankfully, doctor knows CPR) and did not fuss during any part of the exam. He even worked up the nerve to say “ahhh” and show the doctor the inside of his mouth.
We left that appointment and had to go downtown, park and run inside the Creamery to grab his big brother’s cake. No meltdown. We had to run to a store to get tape. No meltdown. We came home to drop off the cake and Connor’s girlfriend and then Corrigan and I had to go back out to the market. No meltdown and it was a large order. We also had to hit the bank, another store and picked up lunch for Connor too. No freakouts. No meltdowns. He held my hand when I asked him to. He stood in checkout lines with very little distraction needed from me. He seemed to be thriving on my praise of his behavior. He was well-mannered, yelling THANK YOU from the backseat at the pharmacy drive thru and randomly waving at people and saying “hello there!” to several strangers.
That day could have been a hundred times more stressful, but it wasn’t because something has changed.
His tantrums are nearly non-existent now. He still gets angry, but his anger seems more…normal. He doesn’t let his body get too out of control when he is angry now, there isn’t the limb flailing or kicking anymore either. He still cries at times, and sometimes can let his emotions take hold, but those moments are much more brief than before and they do not feel as frantic. He is playing with toys more appropriately, using multiple characters in his play now, and we even talk about “pretending” and what that means. He will now fake-sneeze and say “Attending?” (pretending) and seems to understand the concept a little bit. He now expresses love (!!!) randomly and appropriately. “I wuh-uh-uv trees” while gazing up at some large pines last weekend. I believe him. I think he means it, he loves them. He also tells us that he loves us, once in awhile. He enjoys being hugged (squeezers) and asks for kisses.
THIS IS ALL AWESOME.
Yesterday, big brother needed a haircut in advance of his Senior yearbook portrait appointment tomorrow, and not taking Corrigan along was not an option. We took Connor inside the salon, and then I slipped out with Corrigan to take a walk to occupy him. We walked the length of the shopping plaza and he requested we go in one of the stores. We went over our store rules “No crying, to screaming, no whining, no kicking” ( we sing those rules in a song) and in we went. He perused the aisles, stopping to look at a few things, whereas before he was merely interested in stomping the square footage and ignored the merchandise, and was fascinated at times. In the toy department he found something he recognized and carefully read the box (he can read, he really can, it’s awesome) then turned to me and said “Have this?”
Until that moment, he had never in his life asked me for something in a store. “Have this?” he asked, his big giant blue eyes staring up at me hopefully, and I was struck at the beauty of such a simple moment. He was just a six year old boy, standing in the toy department, hoping that his mom would let him have something he wanted. I told him that he would have to wait in a line to give someone money for it, I reminded him that waiting required patience, and he repeated “have this?!” and walked towards the checkout. He waited patiently. He begrudgingly handed it over to be scanned by the cashier and firmly, but politely, refused a bag to put it in. He carried that toy so proudly, his little legs marching back up to where big brother was to show him (but not let him touch it!) and I was again reminded how far this little boy has come.
I’m also reminded that Corrigan has too many green t-shirts. Sheesh mom, branch out a little bit, won’t ya?
I don’t know what changed. I don’t know that I had anything to do with it, and that’s frustrating because I want to be the most effective parent I can be for Corrigan. All I know is that all of the waiting for things to change has paid off in moments like yesterday. Like last Friday.
I cannot wait to see what this next year brings for my boy!