scolding his father as they walked one way down Broadway today and I walked down the other. “What?” his father asked. “That bee got too near me.” His father revealed the limit of parental powers. “I can’t keep bees from getting near you,” he tried to explain.
We wish we could wrap our precious progeny in bubble wrap. Keep them forever safe like the Boy in the Plastic Bubble. But they are doomed to fall. Smack their heads. Find ways to injure themselves we never imagined. A friend related yesterday on Facebook how she had just gotten back from the emergency room after having a pea dislodged from her son’s nose by qualified medical personnel. It gave me a flashback.
My son Avery was in a hot dispute with his grandfather (my wife’s dad) once over whether he would eat a bowl of grapes before he ate his macaroni and cheese. He was about 10. Avery angrily jammed a bunch of grapes down his throat and tried to swallow them all. He had only limited success. Some of the remnants of a grape lodged in his larynx. He could speak and breathe, but he could not swallow. We tried having him jump up and down a lot. I suggested we hold him upside down and shake him. My wife thought maybe not. Finally, we headed to the emergency room where a surgeon had to put him under general anesthesia to do a grapectomy.
When my great pal Anthony Williams was a boy of about 10, he had a freak accident. He turned his bicycle suddenly to respond to somebody and crashed into Lisa Winstead’s mailbox. There was some blood and soft whimpering. He remembers it differently. He says he was playing football in a backyard and crashed into a For Sale sign. But, he adds in his defense, that he was wide open. Maybe both happened.
Flash forward to last Thursday when my now 15-year-old son Avery was devastated that a girl he liked didn’t feel as strongly about him as he did about her. On top of that his new school was changing his schedule so he wouldn’t even be in the same classes with her anymore. He wanted to stay home and take a mental health day from school. This was an unfamiliar concept. If I felt a bit sick when I woke up, my dad would always tell me, “Take a shower. You’ll feel better.” Unless I had a temperature of 100 degrees or above or was vomiting blood, I was sent to school even if the shower didn’t improve me. All I wanted was to stay home and eat an entire box of Graham crackers squares smothered in peanut butter and jelly like I did when I had Chicken Pox. But it wasn’t happening. So, a mental health day wasn’t on the agenda for Avery. Instinct told me school was best.
At this point I need to explain that Avery is autistic. Couple that with raging teenage hormones, and you have a dramatic elixir. I was flying solo that morning as Robyn was out of town on business, but I stood my ground. I practically dressed him and got him out the door. He let himself fall to the carpet outside our apartment door and sprawled there a moment. I paused only long enough to take a quick snapshot for posterity, and then I had him out to door and down the elevator and headed to the subway. He had figured out how to ride the subway to and from our home after much guided practice and had been flying solo for a week. But today, he needed me. So, I rode along.
On the 1 train, a pretty girl about Avery’s age who looked like Lindsay Lohan (back when she was America’s sweetheart and not a rehab queen living on borrowed time and probation) was bawling like nobody’s business. Several of us on the subway tried to comfort her, breaking the golden rule of subway silence in New York City. You keep your crazy to yourself. I’ll keep mine to myself. “It gets better,” I told the girl. I showed her the picture I’d taken with my phone of Avery sprawled on the floor. He was siting nearly catatonic with his eyes shut and his head leaned against my shoulder. She nodded. I really hoped she and Avery would get off at the same subway stop and could walk together to school, sobbing and moaning miserably while they held hands. Problem solved. Alas, she continued on with her cloud of misery to some other high school. Avery made it to his school and eventually got through the day, though the security guard had to nudge him gently through the school’s set of inner doors where he had paused to sulk just out of my reach.
It’s a hard truth. We can’t protect them from bees, peas, grapes, mailboxes, For Sale signs or the fickle attentions of tenth grade girls. All we can do is love them, stock up on Graham Crackers for when they are truly sick and keep them away from Lindsay Lohan.