March in California means spring weather, wildflowers, sunny days and outdoor play. He escapes outside while the children complete their school work. Around noon, I catch him trying to get to his medical supplies to help set up his tray. In the afternoon, my five-year-old comes running to me, “Peter is starting the car!” By evening time, he cries on the floor because his big brother called him “a dummy” and promptly says, “I don’t like you,” in response.
At bedtime, he asks for “five more minutes” and then negotiates a hug and a kiss goodnight, while squirreling away toys and books inside his bed. He comes to me covered in dirt after playing in the prone position with big Legos and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles in the backyard. Hours could pass this way. I look at him and ask myself, “What will we do when it is hot outside?” He gets dehydrated in the heat. He sweats and compromises the dressing on the chest protecting his lifeline, a central line catheter through which he receives nutrition.
My husband thinks I spoil him. It may be that I do. I know we see him younger than he really is. It is like years two and three of toddlerhood are just now emerging in this growing boy with its tantrums, quick-changing moods, curiosity and do-it-myself attitude. He loves to be loved. He loves to be silly. He loves to dance, to sing, to perform.
But now is his chance. While I sit holed up nursing an infant, now is his chance to sneak out and wreak havoc on my dining room walls. I cannot manage the circumstances around his world like I once did. My husband steps up as team captain in the medical routine. Four years ago, Peter was admitted to the hospital for the first time. Today, there is no stopping him, at least, not without bargaining and peace talks.
Let him be four, I think.
How will we manage the summer?
Will this last toddler incident get him an infection?
"Be safe", I tell him.
"Be safe", he tells his father.
"Be safe kids", he tells his siblings.
Then he climbs to the top bunk to see the world and hide his toys in his big
I sit back, holding the little one who is a picture of health and wellbeing. I hold her, wishing I could keep on navigating the paths before my son, moving aside the obstacles that would frustrate or alienate him. But I cannot do it, and I should not do it.
The back-and-forth between parents can often be tense when facing the development of a child with a chronic illness, one who has seen trauma, one who can do, but maybe cannot do everything. The mother worries, micromanages, coddles. The father is too rough, forces independence, cannot manage moods.
But children need both, the research says. If they can have both the benefits are significant. Boys learn from the rough-and-tumble play with their fathers. “Hang me upside-down!” he demands. My husband complies, flipping him by the waist. I look away, wincing, but trusting.
Fathers learn from the emotional intelligence of their wives child-management style, as I predict his patterns and interpret his personality and expectations. We learn from each other. And right now, I am learning from my husband to let him be four.
Kathryn is a Northern Californian wife, mother of five children on earth and three in Heaven, speaker, newspaper reporter, columnist and author of Journey in Love: A Catholic Mother’s Prayers after Prenatal Diagnosis and upcoming book, Peace in Pregnancy: Devotions for the Expectant Mother. She splits her time reading, writing, homeschooling, attending to her Peter’s medical needs, and shuttling him to appointments at University of California San
Francisco while listening to her favorite podcasts. To read more of her writing, go to www.kathrynannecasey.com.