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Sight and sound

There was the infant circumcision mishap that luckily left my first born intact. There was Jacob’s fall on the sharp corner of an old stereo speaker that had us running to a plastic surgeon for stitches near his eye. And there was baby Ari’s severe respiratory illness that resulted in a harrowing stay at the hospital.

As much as we expect bad stuff to happen to our kids, we just can’t prepare for the distress that occurs when it does. We spend so much of our day saying, “Don’t stand on this” or “Stop running around the pool” that there seems to be little else to parenting other than the attempt to prevent disasters.

Then there are the things that occur that can’t be stopped by warnings or quick reflexes. While most of them may not be life threatening, these physical and mental effects throw us for quite a loop.

In the spring of this year, our seven-year-old’s left eye had become so weak that he rarely used it to see past three feet in front of him. Friends and relatives asked us about Benjamin’s habit of turning his head to the left to relieve the strain on his eye. Whether he was watching TV or listening in the classroom, he seemed to have a perpetual RCA dog pose, only it wasn’t so cute to watch him struggle to focus.

What compounded our frustration for Benjamin was that, when he was four, he had strabismus surgery to strengthen his right eye and make the pair work more in concert. This followed months of ophthalmology appointments and patching the strong eye to help fortify the weak one.

The surgery worked — too well. Benjamin started tilting his head the other way as his left eye became the more timid one. We didn’t patch, partly because kids had previously teased and asked Benjamin if his eye had fallen out. We tried glasses and eye exercises, but nothing really helped.

So, there we were, watching Benjamin get “drunk” on a sedative as he prepared to go under general anesthesia for his second eye surgery. Waiting for him to emerge from the operating room was bad enough. It was the post-operative recovery time of watching him cry fitfully, try to throw off his monitoring cords, and plead to go home that tore at our hearts.

Now, Benjamin’s eyes work together, though we’re unsure if another surgery might be needed down the line. It makes us feel pretty powerless.

This feeling extends to our second son as well. Jacob’s stammering began six months ago. While we learned that this speech problem is normal for a three-year-old, the symptom seemed to stem from a drive to more speedily articulate what was going on in Jacob’s 300-horsepower brain.

Always an intense kid, Jacob cries louder, breaks rules more frequently, and whirls in motion more than most children his age. He also has an obsessive-compulsiveness that makes him change his clothes several times a morning and go ballistic over how we attach the straps of his shoes.

We think that some of Jacob’s frustrations come from his desperate desire to be as advanced as his older brother. Yet Jacob’s constant refusal to cooperate in the classroom, with grandparents, and at home was wearing us down. We worried about his running into the street to defy us and a relentless habit of putting inanimate objects in his mouth.

None of our discipline tactics worked, so we opted to speak with psychology professionals at a local university. After questioning us and observing Jacob, they concluded that he did exhibit hyperactivity. They suggested courses of action, including behavior modification and taking a special parenting class, but one of the experts scared the heck out of us with warnings about other disorders that might grow out of his current conduct.

Now this advice was well intended in light of the damage that certain behavior could do to Jacob’s academic progress and self-esteem in a world in which relative calm is expected. But, as we drove home from that appointment with our funny, loving, clever bundle of energy, we decided to go the parenting class route because we want to first learn how to handle our own behavior when faced with his challenges.

Stepping back from this all, I see that my children’s problems are minor compared to what other kids suffer with disabilities and severe illnesses. So, with Thanksgiving around the corner, this is a time when I am truly thankful for my kids’ general health and happiness. It’s a time when I tell myself that, while these parenting tests give me a lot to worry about, they also provide the huge rewards of seeing my children through life’s trials.

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