Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Open Your Hand

(Written February 9, 2011)

Then he said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” So he stretched it out and it was completely restored, just as sound as the other.

Matthew 12:12-14

My first-born prepared me for parenting in practical ways, such as how to nurse a baby, when to worry about fevers, diaper bag essentials and which pharmacies are open 24 hours. Aside from that, my two little boys could not have been more different. Alan wanted to be swaddled, snuggled, cuddled and rocked at all times. Wyatt wanted to hang out in his diaper and be left alone until it was time to eat. Alan lived in the swing. Wyatt hated it. Alan always wanted to have mommy nearby. Wyatt was happy to entertain himself between meals and naps with very little maternal intervention. After having a child who wanted to be in my arms, craving constant attention at all times, Wyatt seemed like such an easy baby! I was certain he was going to be the child who gave me no drama whatsoever. That theory could not have been more incorrect!

I learned in his second year of life that my “serious” baby wasn’t just serious. He experienced emotional and sensory deficits (and overloads), due to PDD-NOS, a form of Autism. His high pain tolerance, which had made those rounds of shots during the first year a breeze, was not always an asset. I’m not sure a mother can be prepared for the sound of a single whimper alluding to not just a bump on the head, but a trip to urgent care. There is no “gearing up” for a toddler who runs towards moving cars. Silence can mean your child is playing quietly, or your child is in danger.

On the flip side to the silent dangers he craved were boisterous outbursts which seemed to come with very little reasoning. Car seats, high chairs, changing tables, people wanting to hold him, several foods, changes in scheduling, face washing … all of these would send my child into a screaming, flailing tirade. He began talking at six months old, but from age one to two he scarcely progressed at all, usually only repeating the last words we spoke to him. Unable to express his desires and needs, he grew more and more frustrated. Thank God for the patient, loving and knowledgeable therapists, who walked with us through that difficult time. They taught us how to reach him, how to help him, and how to begin to understand him. Though he still spoke to us in memorized phrases, we were breaking through many barriers. He was learning to be safer. He was transitioning easier. We were planning a move to a beautiful home in the country, where the boys would have plenty of room to safely run and the schools were known for their special education staff. Ironically, this move brought us to the scariest point in Wyatt’s life thus far …

Wyatt’s room had been put in the same arrangement, in an attempt to make him feel more at ease with the move. I was expecting sleepless nights, speech regression and tantrums. Surprisingly, that didn’t happen. A week after we moved, Auntie Laura moved as well. Not only was our beloved “Auntie L” my sister, she was also Wyatt’s first preschool teacher. The two safest places Wyatt knew had changed. Again, I was expecting meltdowns, but they didn’t seem to happen. What happened instead was the clenching of his left hand. At first, he opened and closed it frequently. As the days passed, it was closed more and more. Before we knew it, he was using his left hand like a “club” appendage. His hand remained clenched in a fist when he ate, when he took a bath, when he played, even when he slept. Deeply concerned, we called his neurologist.

As we waited for his MRI appointment, the clenching continued. He wouldn’t even open his hand to push away the nurse as she checked his blood pressure and put an I.V. in his right arm. As my baby slipped into his medicated slumber, his hand slowly began to open. Our hearts sank as the fist returned before he fully regained consciousness.

The doctor told us there was no medical reason why this was happening, but his body didn’t know that. Though stress was causing his clenched hand, his body got used to it. We were informed that if he didn’t start using his hand again, he could remain this way for life. We had to get him to start opening his hand again, and when he was ready, the fist would be gone for good.

We were given strict instructions to exercise his hand once every hour when he was awake. We would tell Wyatt to open his hand, and then tell him what a good boy he was and give him ten high-fives. At first, we had to pry his little hand open. After a few days, he would open it voluntarily, give us “fives” and then the fist returned. Every day, I begged my son, “Please, baby-- open your hand!” Every night, I pleaded with God to show me how I could ease his mind, thereby healing his body.

Auntie Laura called me one morning, asking if we would like to come over. She had set up the new classroom in her new house, and hoped it might help Wyatt to see that his favorite toys and learning tools were still there. When I asked Wyatt if he wanted to go, he thought for a moment, said, “Yeah …” and began opening and closing his hand! Little Alan pointed, noticing at the same time I did. We knew what to do. We drove straight to Auntie Laura’s house!

He opened and closed his hand intermittently during the twenty-five minute drive. I called his daddy on the way, telling him I would keep him posted. He told me he would be waiting by his phone. As we parked in an unfamiliar driveway, Wyatt’s fist clenched tightly. This wasn’t Auntie Laura’s house. His entire body stiffened as we walked up the stairs. When the front door opened, my sister’s gentle smile and compassionate eyes met Wyatt’s. His rigid frame seemed to melt into the arms of his beloved Auntie, as she carried him into the classroom. As she gingerly placed his feet on the floor, she asked him if he could see his beloved wooden numbers. He beamed, pointing at the bountiful basket of numerals. As he slowly walked around the shelves, he found his favorite toys; the wooden cylinders, the sand paper letters, the love-worn copy of “The Very Hungry Caterpillar,” they were all there! His left hand continuously opened and closed, while his right hand touched each item. It was going to be okay. School was still school. Just like at home, it was different, but the important pieces were still there. I called my husband to share the good news. He said he couldn’t wait to get home and hug his brave boy!

When we returned home, Wyatt’s demeanor was more tranquil than it had been in nearly a month. It took him a few days to remember that he could use his left hand again, but it slowly returned to its original capabilities. When he would feel a bit uneasy, the fist would return from time to time. When those moments came, all it took was a gentle rubbing of his arm and the words, “Wyatt, open your hand,” to relax his little fingers once more. When I think about how fear almost paralyzed my son’s hand, I am so thankful for the intervention of doctors, earnestly praying family and friends and the compassion of my sister, Laura. Fear could have stolen a precious gift from Wyatt.

I am amazed every day how much I learn from my children. Thinking back on this season of Wyatt’s life, I can’t help but see parallels in my own. There are times when God brings wonderful changes into my life, such as new opportunities, friendships or medical advancements. I know they come from a loving God who has proven time and time again that he can be depended upon. Regardless of how good He has always been to me, the proof of His amazing love through Christ’s sacrifice and the plethora of scriptures affirming that God always keeps His promises, I allow fear to paralyze me. I close myself off from all that God wants me to become, because it’s new. It’s different. It’s scary. I stumble through life, struggling in ways God would never want me to; all because I will not listen to His pleading, “Open your hand.”

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About Me

I'm not your average housewife; but then, neither is any other housewife I've met! My life is a constant blur of kids, animals, hunting down and testing allergy-friendly recipes, shopping, LOTS of coffee, yarn crafting, nannying, singing and writing. I married my highschool sweetheart (the introvert who is a type-A, shy, organized, loves hunting, hiking and mountain climbing. He lives for pizza, burgers and cookies and doesn't like coffee). We are polar opposites, but Love, grace and a whole lotta Jesus can overcome anything! :) We have two boys who fill this house with lots of excitement, love, laughter and lunacy! Alan (9) is a happy-go-lucky, inventive, dramatic, eager-to-please kid who loves being dad's shadow and mom's shopping companion. He's the snuggliest kid I've ever met! Wyatt is extremely bright, inquisitive, entertaining and endearing. He lives for routine, Wii games, pixar films and writing stories. Alan is typically-developing, Wyatt has high-functioning autism. We live on an acre in the Pacific Northwest with our two aussies and 5 chickens. It's not the Waltons, but it works! :)