He is so pale, you can almost see through his skin to his vascular system. His buzz cut which exposes every bump and vein on his head gives him the appearance of a newly hatched bird. Daniel is my newborn. Every necessity that I must provide is received with delight; a new toothbrush, his own towel bar, a light by his bed. What my daughters take for granted is bliss for Daniel. Christmas will be here in 10 days. It will be easy to make it magical, more challenging to make it manageable and not too stressful for him. I am going to downplay the excitement of the morning and spend more time enjoying the rituals of preparation. Today, we will bake and decorate cookies, tomorrow, maybe a little shopping.
The cookie baking goes very well, we all sit around the big kitchen table, painting, applying decorative sugars, mixing and rolling out dough. Lea, Ivy, Nina, Daniel and I are very industrious. Daniel is very involved and patiently decorating with elaborate designs. He is taken aback when his artwork comes out of the oven slightly distorted. I am too tired to cook dinner, I order pizza.
Before long, the cookies are out of the oven, the kitchen is put back to order and people are quietly eating pizza and watching TV. The noisy commotion of the cookie-baking has settled down to soft murmurs, eating noises and the sound of the television. I cross the family room to close the drapes. Next to Daniel, on the sofa is a smear of red. It is about one foot long and has five stripes, like fingers. Daniel’s hand nearest the smear is red with pizza sauce. His cheeks are puffed out with an entire slice of pizza in his mouth. His mouth is so full, he cannot close it. Daniel does not swallow his food as he eats. I take the plate with another slice of pizza off of his lap and sit next to him, waiting for him to swallow what is in his mouth. He swallows what is in his mouth and says: “Why did you take my pizza?” “I am afraid you are going to choke, and I want you to see what you did to the sofa.” “Aw c’mon, everybody does that,” he retorts. “No, everybody does not do that; otherwise my sofa would be completely red. I lead Daniel to the kitchen table, seat him where he can still see the TV and sit next to him and insist that he swallow between bites. I want to pick my battles with Daniel, not correct him with every breath he takes but he has so many rough edges. It is a good thing most of my furniture is old and stained.
Each year, before Christmas, we have an excursion taking the light rail trolley to downtown Sacramento. Every child selects an ornament of their own for that year as a keepsake and we have lunch and look at decorations. Somehow, we get separated from Daniel. I enlist the help of mall security to find him. The officers observe that he is unconcerned, maybe even surprised that we were separated.
On Christmas morning, the gifts under the Christmas tree cover half the living room. Daniel is quite overcome by all of his gifts which are a furry red blanket from me, a remote control car from Santa, small gifts from his sisters and a stocking with his name that is filled with treats and small toys. Once he knows he has no more gifts to open, he scoops everything up and goes to his room and shuts the door.
I keep wondering every time the phone rings, or the dog barks, if it is a social worker coming to take me to another house. Anne is mad at me a lot. She does not yell at me, but she did not like me wiping my hands off on the couch and she doesn't talk to me very much. I had some other problems Anne didn't like and I don’t want to talk about them.
Daniel has issues I have never dealt with, but I am learning. I am constantly tired. I am not sure how I am going to manage everything. When school starts after the holidays and I can hook him up with counseling and psychiatric services, things will get easier. Daniel is trying very hard. I notice that he watches to make sure I see. I give him a little "thumbs-up," and he smiles. Daniel likes it when I ask for help. He had some difficultly controlling his bowels and woke the entire household with the screams accompanying his night time panic attacks. With regular meals and sleep schedules, his anxiety is fading and the encopresis has disappeared. There are days I wonder if I have the stamina to continue parenting children with such struggles. Those days often end with something profound. I will feel the contact of a little boy who leans into me as I read a story, or the proud little smile when I give the "thumbs-up" as I am pleased with good behavior. Those special moments convey a transfer of strength and love growing between us and I come to realize that if Daniel loses a mother one more time, he won't survive. I will go the distance.
I hear Anne screaming. Nobody else is here, school started and I am waiting for her to take me to school and fill out papers. I better go see what’s happening. I find Anne in the backyard by the pool. “Daniel! Go call Granddad. Tell him that there is a dead rat in the swimming pool. Hurry! I can’t stand stuff like this." Is there a dead rat? I want to see. I thought it was a piece of wood at first, but it really is a dead rat. It is a big dead rat floating on its side. The legs are kind of down in the water and the body is on top. His eyes are open. Cool. I can take care of this. The rat is dead. Why is she so freaked out? “I can handle this Anne. Just go back in the house and I will take care of it.” “Put it in a paper bag in the trash. I don’t want to see it anymore. Be sure and wash your hands.” Anne goes into the house and I take care of the rat. It is pretty gross.
We go to the school and Anne gets an envelope with papers. Then we go to Granny and Granddad’s. As soon as we get into the house, she yells: “Dad! Dad! Guess what? There was a dead rat in the pool and Daniel took care of it.” Granddad is sitting at a table with his newspaper. He looks up, his glasses are on his nose and he looks at me. “Well, by golly, (he gets up and walks around the table toward me) we have another man in the family. Thank-you Daniel, thank-you for helping my daughter.” Granddad puts his arm around my back and has a big warm hand on each of my shoulders. His hands feel so good; it is like he is putting his “man-force” in my body with his hands. I haven’t thought about Anne needing help. I didn’t think Anne could need me. But she does.