As I lay on the sofa bed with Pop tonight, I listened to the other kids chatter away in the kitchen as they got their bedtime snacks. "No, I am not going to make you ten crackers," Gareth told Farmerboy. "I will make you three."
"Four," haggled Farmerboy.
"All right, I'll make you four." I heard Gareth put the cheese spread down on the counter and rustle in the the Ritz carton for everyone's crackers.
"We get to have gingerale tonight, whoo-hoo!" Katydid was in charge of drinks. "When we wake up tomorrow, it will be 2007! Farmerboy, you have less, okay?"
"Don't tell him he has less," interjected my husband.
"Okay, you have more," she said. The sound of chairs scooting across the wood floor, of kids settling themselves, of Pip's babbling and Farmerboy singing, "Glory to the newborn ting!" -- because he can't pronounce /k/ --, and my husband preparing to read from the bedtime book... it all made me realize how much easier life has gotten as the year has gone on, how much my children have grown this year, how much more independent they are.
New Year's Eve 2005: We took our first outing as a family of seven to a Home Depot about 45 minutes away. When we got home, Katydid and Gareth were fooling around on the ice of the temporary "pond" that forms in the corner of the yard when we have snowmelt, and Katydid slipped, fell, and broke her wrist. She ended up with a bright pink cast signed by her brothers, that she wore for three weeks on her right hand. She could still write, but not well, so we canceled all written work for her until her wrist healed.
I spent last January reading about Tourette Syndrome, and working through some pretty typical feelings parents often experience after the diagnosis. One was relief: finally I knew it was not all in my head, and that it was not all my fault. Another was shame: how often had I treated tics like annoying habits that he could control when he couldn't? A third was fear: the books I was reading said there was a 50% chance of passing the gene to offspring, but if a male inherited the gene, there was over a 90% chance he would develop TS, whereas the likelihood of a girl developing TS dropped to 70%. Where did that leave us with 4 boys, and 3 of them too young yet to tell? Of course, it wasn't really Gareth's tics I was worried about, or his "attentional difficulties" either. It was his meltdowns, his temper tantrums, his inflexibility.
The beginning of 2006 sapped my energy completely. The babies weren't terrifically high-maintenance as three month olds, but there were two of them. I could have used up all my energy just taking care of them, and not-yet-three-year-old Farmerboy. But then there were all the battles with Gareth. (And Katydid, I am sorry to say, as the one who ruffles the least feathers around here, often seemed to be completely left out.) In the fall of 2005, my husband and I had contemplated putting him in school because he seemed so unhappy at home, and because my back felt like it was going to break under all the stress. But then, after we had the diagnosis and I began reading stories of other kids with TS, it became clear that school would probably never come close to being the best place for him, and that we had done the right thing keeping him home. That realization alone lifted a great deal of strain from my shoulders. A good psychiatrist and a short bout of medication, a growth spurt, and the notorious waxing and waning of the disorder, and now I look at my son and see the first green shoots of the man he will one day become. He's grown so much this year, physically and mentally, I hardly recognize the kid he was a year ago.
This year has been a year of settling in, too. There was one very dark day, when Gareth was adjusting to his medication, had quit baseball, and seemed to be sinking deeper and deeper into sadness because he had no friends, when he and Katydid would both burst into tears and ask us why we had moved them here because they wanted to move back to St. Louis, that I fell into bed and said probably the most heartfelt rosary I have ever said, because I just had no idea how to solve any of our problems, and my kids' unhappiness was tearing me up inside. I had looked for homeschoolers, and I just couldn't find any. But before I went to bed that night, I'd sent out one more -- really desperate sounding -- plea to one of the homeschooling mailing lists in Albany.
The next morning, I woke up to a couple of surprising emails from a few people who'd seen my message. They were Catholic homeschoolers, and yes, there was a group, and yes, some of them actually lived in my county.
Things began to look up about then.
So now, as the kids go happily to sleep after partaking of their celebratory gingerale and cheese crackers, they have friends, they have a house that isn't filled with boxes, and they have two parents who have grown a little calmer, a little more sure of themselves, a little more capable. It was a rocky year, following a year that stretched us all to our absolute limits, but all in all, I will remember this year as a learning year, and a good one.