Timid heart, hide my scars

It’s Ricky’s birthday!

Ricky turns 20 years old today, so from now until August 12th, all my children are in their 20s. Fancy that.

Ricky’s arrival in the world was an episode of Murphy’s Law in action.

It was a bright, sunny day at the end of May when I went into labor for what would be the last time in my life and the weather was the best thing about it. For starters, the neighbor who had offered to babysit for my kids when I needed to go to the hospital was nowhere to be found. I kept calling right up until the moment I needed to leave but she seemed to have disappeared into thin air. So, we all went to the hospital to welcome Ricky into the world.

I have no idea what that was like for anybody. I had other things on my mind.

I wasn’t fully dilated yet when the midwife who was monitoring the equipment attached to me noticed a precipitous drop in the baby’s heart rate. She watched the monitors for a bit longer before calling an obstetrician and, after a hurried conference with my husband, they hustled me into the birthing room.

Nobody seemed to think it was necessary to tell me what was going on but I could tell that something was wrong. They seemed to be in a hurry, exhorting me to push when my cervix still needed to dilate another couple of centimeters. When the baby’s head crowned, I thought everyone would relax but instead there was more panic. I heard someone mention forceps and I thought, Oh, no, you’re not! I didn’t wait for him to turn; I pushed as hard as I could, breaking his clavicle in the process.

And that is how Ricky was born.

I found out later that the umbilical cord had wrapped around his neck and had come very close to strangling him. He was in oxygen debt at birth, a terrifying little blue creature with whom the assisting nurse sprinted down the hall to neonatal intensive care without even pausing to wrap the poor little mite. He was kept under observation and, within 24 hours, was pronounced to be more or less recovered from his traumatic, dramatic birth – expect for the broken clavicle and, I was warned, whatever consequences arose from the fact that he had been starved for oxygen during his birth.

As matters evolved, he wound up with dyspraxia — a little-known developmental coordination disorder. In later years, he was also diagnosed with mild autistic spectrum disorder and also-mild ADD.

Ricky was my last baby and I had a lot of fun with him when he was small. He was the one who was around when I was getting my business up and running. He had the privilege of climbing my legs while I was trying to make business calls early on. And, when his siblings built Tokyo out of blocks, he got to be Ricky-zilla and crash through the whole thing when he could barely walk. Ricky had a lot of fun, in my house and in the neighborhood, when he was little.

But, like his older siblings, the fun didn’t last.

Things at home started coming unglued. Big brother David developed schizophrenia and went from being big brother to being little brother by the time he was 10 years old. “Cool big sister” Kimmie experienced a depressive mood swing that hit around the same time, and she became impatient, intolerant and frankly cruel to Ricky, for no reason that he could see. He lost his other cool big sister, Gina, because she left for college that same year. When he got to middle school, some of his oldest friends turned on him, again for no apparent reason, and they started bullying him and generally making his school life miserable. And, after years of trying to get his father to “acknowledge” him, he gave up on that relationship, too.

By the time he was twelve years old, he had lost almost everything and everybody he cared about. Within two years after that, his father got arrested and Ricky found out what he had done to his sisters. That added another layer of fury to the anger and pain he was already suffering from. But in all that time, he wasn’t talking to anybody. Instead, he withdrew from everybody, shut himself away, and turned to his gaming.

It bothered me that I felt like my son was a stranger to me. It’s been bothering me for years. That’s why I decided to do a life narrative project on Ricky for one of my classes last semester. That’s when I found out about all the hurt and fear and anger he was lugging around for so long.

Ricky remains a frightened and hurting young man who covers his soft spots with the anger that makes him feel strong. I suspect he may need professional help to tear down the barricades he has built to keep himself from being hurt again.

It’s difficult to say what the future holds for Ricky. He is starting to develop relationships with his sisters again, which is a good sign. Living in Chapel Hill with me and David, he seems happier than he has been for a decade. Perhaps the warmth of that happiness will inspire him to open himself up to the many experiences of life that he has been hiding from for so long. Perhaps, if I’m very lucky, he will open up and finally let me in.

Happy birthday, Ricky! I love you.

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