4 kids in 3 years: reflections on motherhood, art and life.
This week Mica and his sister turned 5. And Mica rode his two-wheel bike three miles today.*
As with so many milestone accomplishments that we each celebrate in our respective families, that doesn’t begin to describe what actually happened. As my mother-in-law says, let me build you the clock (to tell you the time.)
Mica was born two months early. He and his twin sister were so tiny, their heads were the size of small avocadoes, and they spent a month in isolettes in the NICU in Pennsylvania Hospital in Philadelphia.
That month is mostly a blur, but I distinctly remember kangarooing Mica on my bare chest. I pulled the neck of my t-shirt open and I slipped him inside for warmth, like I could shoplift him right out of the hospital between my breasts. When the nurse took him from me, she held him by the nape of his neck, Mama cat-style, with his head, arms and legs hanging down so she could use her other hand to untangle his cords. Offended at being removed from my cozy bosom, he bleated like a lamb, “Wah, wah, wah!” It is my favorite memory of the NICU. The nurse looked up at me surprised at the strength of his cries and said, “You won’t have to worry about this one. He’s a fighter!”
But I worried.
At two months he was diagnosed with sagittal craniosynostosis, a hernia and hydrocele. At four months they opened his scalp from ear to ear in order to cut open all the sutures of his skull, and they also set his hernia straight.
At six months he started only reaching with one hand. The doctors examined him for a brain bleed but found none. Diagnosed with torticollis he started Early Intervention in Philadelphia along with his sister. We began weekly therapy, practicing reaching, doing inverted crunches on a medicine ball, stretching his legs so that his knees didn’t always lean in and his feet didn’t always splay out. We taught them both how to roll over. When Mica’s one-armed army crawl left him spinning in circles, we taught him to crawl using both arms.
The therapists used words like low muscle tone, muscle spasticity, sensory overload. As the sister of someone with extreme disabilities on the spectrum of autism and cerebral palsy I knew what they were and were not saying. When pressed, our dearest therapist shrugged her shoulders as if to say, we work with what we’ve got. Which was true. We worked.
At a year they got helmets. We taught him how to crawl, how to get from lying down to sitting up, step-by-step. They did weekly swim therapy, OT, PT, reading groups, pre-pre-school classes. These therapists were my first friends in Massachusetts and they saved us, they saved me. We drove Mica over an hour each way to attend a half hour of hippotherapy, and there, Mica did sit-ups on a horse. On a horse!
Reid learned to walk and never looked back. Mica got a therapy suit called Theratogs, which consisted of 27 pieces of neoprene, elastic and Velcro that we’d reassemble every morning. Twenty-seven carefully placed pieces, people! We borrowed a baby treadmill and sang the ants go marching while holding the waistband of his pants so he could finally learn the motion of walking.
At exactly 18 months old Mica took his first steps. After that we walked on sand, down hills, through water, in snow, pushing things, pulling things, kicking things. He got braces for his ankles and orthotics for his shoes. After Early Intervention ended for Reid, Mica continued with OT. He’d lay on a scooter on his belly, walk up and down five flights of stairs, dive into ball pits, and I’d drag in trikes and bikes for him to try to ride up and down the hallway.
Every single day we’d do gross motor games at home, obstacle courses, walks, runs, stairs, balance beams, trampoline, or swimming.
Finally, Mica’s octogenarian orthopedist retired and the new young guy said to me that some people were naturally good at sports and some people weren’t. Just like that. Really?! I was both angry and relieved. We never went back. Over time the specific therapies and physicians all petered out although the habits of perpetual cross-training remain.
Writing this, it all sounds so crazy. I don’t even remember doing half this stuff, but there it is. Finding photos from that time I was startled to see how chubby and tired I looked. Then I remembered, I was pregnant with #4.
I do recall that in every hospital and therapy session we’d see children with far greater hurdles to overcome. We always knew we were lucky: to have Early Intervention and our therapists, to have the resources, to have good insurance and good health.
And yet, it’s only right that we take a moment to celebrate.
This week Mica and his sister turned 5. And Mica rode his two-wheel bike three miles today.
And It. Was. Amazing.
*For the record, Reid rode a two wheeler at three and a half after watching Jasper ride a two-wheeler for the first time. It took Reid two weeks of watching her big brother to figure it out for herself. Touche, young orthopedist. Touche…