Escape Artist

It being close to St. Patrick’s Day, I’m going to invoke Murphy’s Law: all that will go wrong, shall – especially if you speak to the opposite.

Just last week, I was telling my father that I always thought Angela, two and a half, would behave just as Julia, now four, did when she was that age. And how, surprisingly enough, she wasn’t. That what I thought was ‘terrible two’ behavior was in fact, Julia’s unique disposition.

Julia was by no means a terrible toddler. The second born, she was accustomed to following her big sister around (see previous post on how I dragged her to the library as an infant). Going places and doing things made her more gregarious and more kinesthetic. Plus, she needed an easy-going nature in order to survive toys being perpetually shoved in her face or being startled out of a sound sleep without posttraumatic stress disorder. Unfortunately, easy-going was also her attitude towards rules and directions.

Crossing the street a danger? Nah. I can run at full-tilt with my eyes closed. Wait for Mommy? Nah. The world is a safe place. Stay dressed in the outerwear Mom turned herself inside out to get me into? Optional. I’ll just run fast enough to stay warm.

Julia entered this phase of independence and autonomy just as I entered an unexpected phase of disability. In the latter days and weeks of my pregnancy and during labor, I suffered what is medically referred to as pubic symphysis diastasis. In laymen’s (or women’s) terms, it hurt like hell. The muscles in my pelvis had stretched just enough that I could not sit up in bed or get out of it without excruciating pain. I had to sidestep the stairs one at a time. I had to bend to the floor to slide my pant legs up.

While my pain and limited mobility were very real, to everyone else I was a young woman shuffling like some sort of invalid with no reason at all. I imagined them thinking, “What, does she think she’s the first woman to have ever given birth? Women in some parts of the world go back to working the fields the very same day!” In fact, many of the nurses in the hospital thought this birth was my first when they saw me lolling about the room – until they heard my diagnosis.

Unfortunately, pubic symphysis diastasis is not something that rolls off the tongue, nor something you want to share with the ladies at preschool pick-up; a fact which made one pick-up in particularly very interesting. Bella, the preschooler at the time, was due to return from a field trip. The time stretched and stretched as myself and two other mothers with small children waited, the little ones growing more and more antsy. They edged closer and closer to the corner of the building, then toward the rusted metal bike rack that looked infinitely interesting amidst the sea of concrete, then into the wide open expanse of the school yard on the far side of the building. One of the other mothers engaged her son in a game of tag designed to lure Julia back towards us, he being more compliant than my child. She played along for a few minutes, then made a break for freedom, shooting across the play yard toward the driveway and street beyond. My heart leapt to my throat as I weighed my options. Yell to her? Abandon her baby sister by the door and chase after her? My hesitation gave her a healthy head start, after which I shuffled like a decrepit zombie across the pavement, waiting to watch in slow motion as she was squished like a bug by a passing car. Luckily, the other mothers, despite no prior knowledge of my condition, took pity on me and ran to her aid. We only knew each other in the hellos and goodbyes of the previous weeks, but they rallied to the universal crisis call of motherhood and helped me. Thank God.

We returned to the door to resume our wait, me clutching Julia fiercely and muttering something about, “Wonder what my physical therapist would say about that?” to somehow excuse my absolute ineptitude at chasing after my daughter. Angela lay sleeping in her infant carrier right where I had left her, totally oblivious to the melee.

So, perhaps you’ll understand my concern when another year of preschool drop-offs and pick-ups – this time Julia’s – rolled around. I think I was the one with posttraumatic stress. I dreaded that Angela, now that magic number, would put me through the same paces Julia had. As the year progressed, I started to think that it was still Julia who was the difficult one; the one who channeled Goldilocks when it was time to choose shoes; the one who ripped out her perfectly parted ponytails mere seconds before it was time to go; the one who refused to even step out the door. Angela seemed easy in comparison.

Enter Murphy’s Law. Mere days after my proclamation to my father, Miss Angela entered the dreaded phase. Pulling into the driveway and springing the kids so they could run about in the yard while I unloaded, Angela disappeared. Julia hadn’t left the grass of the front yard, but Angela had wandered off somewhere. I finally found her standing in my neighbor’s backyard, grinning. A few days later in said neighbor’s backyard, while her sisters played with the girls, Angela moved out to their driveway to take their tricycle for a spin. I watched her over the gate. When I turned to say something to my neighbor and then back, she was gone. I heard Julia calling for me, and found her chasing her sister and the trike down the street. And just this morning, as I trucked groceries from the trunk to the kitchen, Angela followed along – until I stopped to yell at a squirrel to stop digging up my fledgling garden. At the end of my tirade, I sensed her absence and hurried to the front yard – to find her strolling down the street, hands in pockets. I called to her as I approached, at which she laughed and broke into a run. I’m still out of shape, but at least this time, I was able to catch my escapee.

So, lessons learned. Never let your kids get a running start – regardless of your level of disability. Never peg one child as the challenging one – another one will step up to prove you wrong. Never accept any platitude about parenting – circumstances will change the very next day.

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