"That means 99 percent of children are doing better than he is."
I nodded again. (Yes, I can do the math.)
He waited, seemingly perplexed. "Having seen what I saw, and of course you have to be with your son all the time -- I have to ask you, how do you have the patience?"
I looked at him. He's my son. It was so obvious, I did not say it.
"I mean, really. How do you do it?" He looked to my husband, who gave him the same look. He tried a different tack: "Well, with all this stress, how are you two doing?"
"Fine," we said, and meant it. He handed us the thick report, still shaking his head.
This is, sadly, a very typical exchange, not just with the experts in our lives, but even close friends: How do we stand our hellish life with a child who functions at 1 percent and starts to bite and hit when he is in situations he doesn't understand -- often, multiple times a day? Once, watching our son having a hard time, a friend even blurted, "I'm so glad this didn't happen to us!"
While our friends worry about the quality of middle schools, our parental duties include bringing our son to the ER to get stitches after he puts his head through a window, then arranging for a window replacement and for a special treatment for all the glass in our house so it won't shatter -- at a pretty penny. Other friends declare, "I couldn't do what you do." If I am to conform to their expectations, I'm not sure what I am supposed to do: Beat my son? Kill myself? (Sadly, parents with kids like my son have done exactly that.)
Maybe it's my Buddhist outlook, but I'm not consumed with worry and frenzy and despair like I'm "supposed" to be. I don't enjoy that my 12-year-old son is still in diapers and sometimes purposely makes a mess in the bathroom. Or that he dumped his Thanksgiving dinner on my sister-in-law's pregnant belly. Or that he screams in the parking lot of Whole Foods until people call the cops on us. On the other hand, he is my son, and he is what I have. And he has a nice smile.
When I look at friends and acquaintances, many with perfectly beautiful children and wonderful lives, and see how desperately unhappy or stressed they are about balancing work and family, I think to myself that the solution to many problems is deceptively obvious. We are chasing the wrong things, asking ourselves the wrong questions. It is not, "Can we have it all?" -- with "all" being some kind of undefined marker that shall forever be moved upwards out of reach just a little bit with each new blessing. We should ask instead, "Do we have enough?"
The New York Times' travel section had a piece on Providence, Rhode Island, where we live. It mentioned that our city is extremely affordable, but filled with many fun and interesting things to do, such as going to Venda Ravioli on Federal Hill (Providence's version of Little Italy) and procuring amazing hand-made ravioli filled with anything from homemade ricotta cheese to lobster. It's something our friends do all the time: visit the quaint neighborhood, walk around with an Italian ice, and pick up dinner. Our son has digestive problems and can't eat wheat or dairy, and much of his food has to be soaked and fermented beforehand. In addition, he has a hard time enduring crowds in small spaces. Ergo, despite our 15 years here, we have never been to Venda Ravioli, and probably never will.