Hair Raising

Tonight, my baby boy is getting sleepy and fighting a runny nose, and as a result running at about half speed — maybe slower. He’s just bleary, you know? I was sitting in a chair and he was at my knee, so I picked him up for a snuggle. I expected him to grab my necklace — he’s a big fun of chain necklaces right now — but instead he kind of cocked his head, blinked at something just past my ear, and then reached up and touched my hair.

He ran his fingers through it, pulling them away from my head so that my hair strung out like coppery spiderwebs at Pippi Longstocking angles. As he moved the hair slipped from his fingers and he watched, enchanted, as it fall into new patterns. Then he reached for more, gently — oh so gently — tugging it different directions, feeling it run between his fingers, watching some strands fall quickly and others, charged with static, defy gravity.

Again, and again. Not hurting me, not even looking at me, just mesmerized by the sensation of running his fingers through his mama’s hair.

It’s not an easy time with him right now. He is twenty months old and if, I’m being completely honest with myself, really doesn’t have any words at all. Sometimes he’ll say “num” for food, and he says “no” a lot — to the point where it has become meaningless, just another of his many unintelligible sound effects. He doesn’t follow directions. He doesn’t point or give kisses. He used to wave but that’s dropped off badly in the past couple of weeks. He doesn’t hug; he does a “grab you around the knees” if he wants to be picked up, and when you’ve just walked in to the house that can feel like a hug, but it isn’t. Unless we’re playing a chasey game, he doesn’t really play with us or interact with us, and gets frustrated with us if we try to make him.

He can talk; the list of letter sounds and syllables that he regularly makes far exceeds those on the speech table for those commonly made by 2-year-olds. He can point and wave and hug. He just… doesn’t.

He climbs like a kid twice his age, plays with fairly complicated toys, dances to music, and has just triumphantly learned how to use a straw. He laughs and smiles and makes eye contact and is appropriately shy-and-then-flirty with strangers. He is the most beautiful little boy I’ve ever seen. When he plays piano — either reaching up to the real thing, or sitting down Schroeder-like at his Melissa & Doug upright — his noodling sounds increasingly deliberate and melodic.

I wouldn’t trade a thing. But what I wouldn’t give to sit down next to him and have him smile and say, “Hi mama.” What I wouldn’t give to have him point for something he wants instead of just angrily groping for it. What I wouldn’t give for him to want to communicate with me. My emotional strength is strained badly, between different facets of my life, and most days I’m not strong enough not to feel like I am failing at everything. I get a gold medal in loving my boy, but raising him? Teaching him? Failure.

We’ve had two evaluations with the Infant & Toddler program now. He’s qualified for speech therapy; he’s behind in three different types of speech, although the only one whose name I remember right now is reactive. Maybe adaptive? And… whatever they call it when you’re talking without prompting/reacting. We were supposed to have appointments every two weeks starting in the new year but we haven’t been contacted by our provider yet, and work has been so hard this month that we haven’t remembered to call until after their offices have closed for the day. And so it’s a cycle: Tell him good-bye, go to work and get caught up in the whirling maelstrom that is life in a middle school, get home, remember that something isn’t right, reach for the phone only to see the time, and then spend all evening irritated that I forgot to call (and that they fell down on their commitment to call themselves).

Except this evening, I’m not irritated. My baby is sitting in my lap, adjusting his seat for a better angle, facing me with a rapt look on his face. He’s got a fistful of hair in each hand and is gently, so gently, pulling them until I’ve got enormous wispy wings unfurled on each side of my face. He pulls the hair forward, curtaining my eyes. He grabs more hair before the first handful slips away and shakes his hand free of the resulting loose snarls.

From this angle, his face looks thinner, older. Every few minutes I catch a breathtaking glimpse of what he’ll look like when he’s old enough to be one of my students. He is breathing through his mouth because of the stuffy nose, and making soft little puffing sounds with his rosebud lips. His eyes are pink-rimmed but so bright. His nose, his chin — God, how I love that chin. I steal kisses from his cheeks when he turns his head to consider which lock of hair to seize next. He is mesmerized. I am bewitched. We could both sit here for hours.

I duck my head a little so that I’m in his line of sight, say his name, and am rewarded with a moment of distracted eye contact. He’s in the middle of playing with his new favorite toy, but he pauses to look at me with a look on his face that I crave like the cliched drowning man craves oxygen. It looks like love. It looks like he loves me.

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