The day you become a mother, there is a primal fear that takes over. You find yourself at odds
with the universe and everything within it that could harm your child. New motherhood is terrifying, there are times that it can be unbearable, and it can fill you with anxiety every day. My son, Wyatt, likes to hold my mother’s fear in his hands and throw it around like a rag doll. I will never forget the first time Wyatt decided to toy with that untamed fear in me.
I was busy doing laundry, chipping away at the never-ending list of chores that come with being a mom, while Wyatt, almost two, played at my feet. The phone rang and I ran into the other room to answer it, I took a message and walked back into the laundry room. Wyatt was nowhere to be found! I began calling his name, somewhat playfully at first, but nothing. A few moments had passed and the panic began to set in when he did not respond.
All sorts of thoughts started racing through my mind. ‘Check the bathroom, kids drown in bathrooms all the time, check the toilet, the tub’. A grueling five minutes had passed, and there was still no sign of Wyatt. I moved on to the bedrooms, the closets, kitchen cupboards, and the Pantry, but still NO WYATT! The clock was ticking, I thought to myself ‘The garage, chemicals, dangerous tools, my car? WHERE IS MY SON!! WHERE IS HE?’ Fifteen terrifying minutes had passed by when I heard the thud. It sounded like something inside of a metal drum. There was no crying, there were no
words, just a thud inside of my dryer. I opened the door and there he was smiling. He had shut himself inside of the dryer, barely moving, not making a sound for Fifteen Minutes.
With tears in my eyes, part relief, part terror, I scolded Wyatt for hiding and ignoring my calls. Once the initial relief and terror had subsided I began to wonder, ‘where is his sense of fear? Is this normal? Why is he so quiet?’ I only found him because he was moving. What is wrong?
Incidents like these started to become more common and my mother’s fear grew while Wyatt remained silent. The world of words separated us. Language has always been my hiding place, my refuge. I love communicating through words and Wyatt didn’t have any. At the age of two Wyatt’s only word was “Ma”. He was “Quiet Wyatt”. I did my best to try to reach him by sounding things out and breaking words down and Wyatt just stared at me.
The fearless, frightening behavior escalated. One morning I found him on my kitchen counter holding a butcher knife in his hand, using it to butter waffles. One afternoon I found him sitting on top of the fridge, and then on top of a 10-foot ladder. I found him hidden in a suitcase, the list goes on. I had to make countless calls to poison control because he put anything and everything in his mouth. He would bite, hit, scream, and regularly try to escape me in public, he was always hiding from me.
He was never scared, so why was he hiding? Where were his words? I tried everything within reason to control his behavior or redirect him and nothing seemed to work. Wyatt was trapped in a world that I couldn’t understand, desperately trying to claw his way out. I was terrified that I might lose him forever in this wordless space.
We needed help, so I began searching with desperate, instinctive, motherly courage. Shortly after Wyatt’s second birthday, we began visiting doctors and initial evaluations suggested a severe speech delay and possibly sensory-seeking disorder. I knew we weren’t there yet, so I dug deeper. Six months later an official diagnosis came Childhood Apraxia of speech and Sensory Processing Disorder. At the time, all of the “doctor speak” was like a foreign language, but the
therapists we worked with quickly taught me the basics.
To break it down, do you remember the struggle of learning to tie your shoes? Now imagine experiencing that level of struggle to form every word. The process eventually becomes second nature, but it isn’t easy and Wyatt was world number one. On top of that, imagine needing to increase your child’s sensory input sevenfold. For us, this meant planning a “sensory
diet”, incorporating “sensory stimulating activities” into my already busy days every thirty minutes: a
romp on the trampoline, or the sit and spin, or a jungle gym, play with a vibrating toothbrush or a
flashlight, gum for every sit-down activity, weighted clothing, deep pressure massage, joint
compressions, a chewy tube “Are you kidding me?!
These people must be crazy, how am I
supposed to do this?!”
In the beginning, the journey to reach Wyatt seemed impossible, like wandering through an elaborate maze, but I had to find my son. I began asking myself, “What do we have in common? Where was the shared space?” Well, we shared frustration. Here we were every day frustrated to tears, trying to figure out how to communicate with intangible words, playing guessing games that usually ended in a breakdown. I watched him in his silence trying to show me he understood, getting my purse for me when he knew we were leaving, clumsily doing his best to meet his own needs because he couldn’t speak to let me know what those needs were. It broke my heart and warmed it up all at the same time. My little boy had so much inside of him and I so badly wanted to know him. I felt dumb and blind wandering in this place between words and no words. I was lost in this desert of frustration so I began to scavenge the space of fearlessness for something shared.
As a child I didn’t climb dangerous ladders, crawl inside dryers or hide in small, dark places, but
I was fearless. I would walk up to someone I had never met and begin a conversation without hesitation. I was comfortable entertaining a crowd and if my eyes were open, fear escaped me. No one in the physical world frightened me. I was a social daredevil, a daredevil just like Wyatt. So, I began to dig into that fearless part of me. Fear was somehow a comfort to my son, maybe if I could find the space where fear and comfort collided I could find him. As a mother, this was my duty.
I wanted so badly to understand how it felt to be inside his body, his mind; to see the world
as he did. I would lull myself to sleep with empathetic imaginings of the mystery that was Wyatt. I have always believed that I was bigger than fear except in my dreams. In my dreams, fear could grow wild, but if I was awake I could conquer it. Somewhere between fear and courage, dreams and nightmares, Wyatt and I shared a space. For months I went to sleep every night with these fantasies of a great connection to him. I had dreams of a place we shared. It was in my nightmares though, that I found him.
I am terrified, I am in the dark, hiding amidst the giant roots of a tree. ‘There is a misty haze of fight in the distance and I feel called to it, as though safety will find me there. Exposed and naked, I cut through dense forest. I reach the fight, dim like moonlight in a storm, and I am surrounded by haunting statutes. Stone corpses, all women, all void of the fight, nothing good in them, and I cannot escape. I wake up, my eyes always wet with tears, my heart always pounding.
This terror returns until an answer comes. I am hiding again, but this time through the haze I see someone running toward me. I cannot see her face, but I can feel her spirit. She is a friend. She finds me and wraps me in a blanket. She takes my hand and runs with me toward the moonlight. We meet the statutes and she lets me go. She bends down and her hands meet wet clay. She is the
sculptor. She turns to meet my eyes and I see that she is me and my fear is gone.
Accepting who we are, and embracing ourselves within this world is both terrifying and glorious. So
many of us try to dodge the truth about ourselves and fall into patterns of escape. We let our eyes glaze over and we lose ourselves and each other in the wandering. We choose to ignore the reflection in the mirror rather than hold it close. Through those sleepless nights full of dreams and terrors, I was finally able to recognize my fear. I was so frightened of my truth, of embracing it, that I had hidden it from myself. I had to reach through the mirror, through my nightmares, through all that I was and wasn’t to find Wyatt.
Wyatt was trapped inside my expectation of words and I was trapped inside his expectation of
understanding. With the power of desperate, instinctive, motherly courage, I found him in a place
between words and no words, a place between expectation and unknowing.
I have learned to let go and just be, and now we are together and free.