never stops teaching.
I had a dream the other night that I was rowing out on the ocean in a little wooden skiff. My youngest child was in my lap. The water was calm and all was well until the boat began to leak. Holes sprung up everywhere. One then another. The water was suddenly a powerful ocean with a deep darkness below it. I worked frantically to try to empty the water from the boat with the small scoop of my hands, not succeeding before I woke myself up.
It’s not like me to have anxiety dreams, but then the last couple months haven’t exactly been typical. They’ve brought about challenges that I haven’t been ready to write about before now. I guess it’s because the whole world is experiencing challenges, and as Humphrey Bogart says in Casablanca, the problems of three little people don’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world. Still, it’s the stories of perseverance that enable most of us to get up each day with faith that all will be well in a matter of time. So I guess it’s time to talk about my damn allegorical boat. It still has holes in it, but there’s time.
My seven-year-old developed neurological issues over the last year, primarily involuntary facial tics. At first we didn’t think too much of it; lots of children have tics. But the tics grew in number, severity and frequency, and by the end of August, my little guy was diagnosed with a chronic tic disorder. He couldn’t calm his body enough to sleep or settle his eyes enough to read. I spent every day doing medical research and learning about different forms of therapies and medications. I met with neurologists, psychologists, nutritionists, and herbalists. The doctors had conflicting opinions and widely varying advice; nothing was straightforward. And everyday that ended still without clear direction, felt like another hole in things. My child was growing frustrated and had questions without answers. Holes. Classmates made comments, the checkout woman in the supermarket stared, blameless children mimicked. More holes. I wasn’t sure I’d ever have hands powerful enough to patch things and keep him afloat. I held him and told him, “Don’t forget who you are and that you’re awesome.” I hoped for a miracle.
And there were miracles. Maybe not the kind that fix entire boats, but the kind that can patch one hole at a time.
I got to know a neighbor at a football game, and discovered that she has walked the same road I am on, her son now nearly grown. She was able to take me by the shoulders and say, “I understand,” and truly mean it. She was able to say, “It gets easier.” She patched a hole.
When my son’s teacher saw that it was necessary, she brought the class together to talk about everyone’s differences. As an example, she told the class that sometimes she shakes her leg under her desk when she’s nervous. My son heard this and it made him think of his tics. In that safe space, for the first time, he raised his hand and told his classmates what he was going through. It was a little miracle. Another hole patched.
Then I ran into a friend in town, and because that day the holes were too big, when she asked me how I was doing I couldn’t keep the water out. I finally let myself cry about it. Funny how when you open up you make room for the good stuff to get in. Not only did this friend have a referral for a doctor that I wouldn’t have to wait six months to see, but when I went to see that doctor, I learned that she not only has professional expertise, but personal experience with tic disorders. With a true guide, another big hole was patched.
Lying in bed with my little guy one night, trying to help his body quiet enough for sleep, I said, “You’re so patient buddy. Soon your body will be peaceful.” He put his nose to mine and said, “I know, Mama. My body may not be peaceful, but I am.” And my heart leapt. He reminded me that no matter what we go through, peace is a choice every day. It’s a choice even when you can’t control your own movements. It’s a miracle.
While tic disorders like this one are not the result of specific stress, symptoms can intensify under even benign stress. And in our culture where anxiety is in the air when you walk outside like the secondhand smoke of adult technology and distractions, we could all use a reserve of inner peace. So this mindful mama is on a mission for her family, and slowly my little guy is becoming the captain of his own ship. He asks me to take him to the high school track to run sometimes—he can feel when his body needs to get into rhythm. He asks me if we can meditate before bed. He’s listening to what his body needs. With the right doctors and my kiddo’s ever-positive attitude, we are learning how to navigate this ocean.
A month ago I was trying to figure out how to help my son look and feel like everyone else again. Was there a singular medicine with no side effects or a therapy that was the cure? No. But now my perspective is different. Maybe my son isn’t meant to look or feel like everyone else. He’s perfectly unique. And his tics, less severe now, are a reminder to me that we all need to be seen. It’s more important to be at peace with exactly who we are than to try to be what others deem as “normal.” Like many children with chronic tics, my little dude is extremely bright and creative. He has an active mind and a tender heart. I have no doubt that he will do incredible things in this world, knowing how to conquer hurdles with that bright smile on his face. Everyday I tell him and my other two kids, “Remember who you are and that you’re awesome.” That’s the whole thing really. This is not a journey to become something else. It’s a journey to become the best version of ourselves.
We all have holes. But they will not put us under. There are miracles.