The Light at the End

Where does one begin? With the mortgage debacle, days to closing on the new house and learning that we may not be approved for one of our loans? Or maybe the movers dropping our furniture on the pavement? Perhaps the foundation problems that were discovered in our old house after putting it on the market, when we couldn't go ahead and fix it, but had to wait for all the inspectors to give estimates of the enormous sums of cash it was going to take to make the problem go away? How about carrying three mortgages while waiting for one house to sell after already moving into the other?Or maybe I should just begin at the end of all that. Maybe that's where the story resumes.

Because that was the day that we took the bun to the doctor for a routine appointment for his booster shots. It was an errand that was completely innocent after dealing with the minions of evil called loan officers trying to get our house taken care of. We had other fish to fry. A couple of shots? No big deal.

The nurse weighed him and measured him at the start, as she always does. And then she eyed him and his chart suspiciously. She weighed him again. She measured his head. She looked at the chart again. She chatted in that sing-songy way that belied the fact that there were concerns. She took the chart with her and left my husband and me to stew, the bun fidgeting like a greased pig in a diaper.

"I don't think I can take one more thing," I said. "I think I'm going to snap." Running from the office was preferable to anything I could learn from the doctor about the fate of my little boy because I was literally incapable of handling it; months of stress and virtually running on fumes, I was left with no reserves of sanity to deal with the possible ramifications of health problems.

And then the doc came in, usually so cheerful that he bordered on annoying, but now wearing his studied "Doctor bestowing news" expression. He grilled us about the bun's diet. He asked us if he ate meat, eggs, cheese, vegetables. How often did we feed him? How many snacks? What was he drinking? When were his naps? How much did he sleep at night? Poop color? Smell?

As he grilled us, I began to shut down. Words filtered through my head in bursts, but they attached to nothing concrete, no sensible diagnosis: "potential liver concerns," "tenth percentile," "could indicate heart problems." The words were alarming but made no sense: the bun was running us ragged, he was so strong he could burst free from our arms with hardly trying, he raced non-stop from dawn until dark when he finally dropped from complete fatigue every night. My husband was paying rapt attention to the doctor. I was staring at the industrial carpet.

"...failure to thrive..."

The phrase pulled me out of my wide-eyed coma. Failure to thrive? Where were we?

When one thinks of children cursed with the failure to thrive, you imagine the distended bellies of starving children in the Sudan. Maybe you picture preemies who were born two months too early. Chinese infant girls in orphanages, or post-Soviet bloc Slavic countries beleaguered by war for years. But this was our son. Taking a good hard look at him, you could hardly accuse him of not thriving.

He was smart and funny and mischievous. He wriggled and wiggled and ran and laughed and made mockeries of our own health every single day. He was engaged and engaging and curious and intense. He hardly seemed like he was "failing to thrive."

But this baby, our bun, had been so fat that he topped the percentiles for his first months. Now he had dropped into the tenth percentile for length and weight. He hadn't gained a single pound in six months.

They ran tests. Blood tests, urine tests. They taped a plastic bag to his tender little johnson so that they could get a urine sample, and then gave him his shots hoping that a good dose of pain would ramp up the pee response. Knowing an insult when he sees one, he simply shrieked. Determined to get the pee, they kept the baggie on when they drained him of his blood just like the vampires they are, but by his nature contrary just like his parents, he gave them nothing. Not a single yellow drop. I was very proud.

However, this left us with the task of catching a pee sample from a 15 month old. Cursed with the terror of having a baby with a "failure to thrive" we now had to chase him around the house with a tupperware container as he ran naked gleefully through the house, sprinkling as he went. The tiny target was too quick for us, and though we plotted the best possible course of action for trapping toddler pee, the upstairs was christened with a number of puddles and an unfortunate nugget before the night was through. Finally, as his papa showed him how the big boys do it, with me poised under the bun's nethers, I trapped a scant millimeter of pee. I put the lid on. It seemed an awful lot of work for such a little reward.

That night was another sleepless one. Most nights that I'm plagued with insomnia, I just pretend that eventually I'll fall asleep and toss and turn in bed. But that night I just got up, knowing that all I would think about was our baby. Was he dying? Were we starving him? Was he failing to thrive because we were terrible terrible parents? How was that possible? How could he be dying? I painted the entire kitchen that night.

When the tests came back, they were, as the doctor said, "as boring as boring could be." We assume this is a good thing. We know that we have to be concerned about his weight, and the doctor himself prescribed what for us weight-conscious adults can only regard as the "dream diet:" a high fat, high cholesterol dairy delight. Cheese, butter, eggs, fat. Ice cream. Sausage. Full cream yoghurt. It was possibly the finest prescription I had ever heard, and yet the bun would never fully appreciate the glory of eating pasta carbonara without a care in the world.

With the gift of time, I have begun to panic much less. I recognize that the doctor was being alarmist to some degree. There are concerns, but if you just take a good look at us, his parents, we're no giants. I'm five feet tall. What do they expect? Kareem Abdul Jabar? The fact that he was enormous as an infant might have as easily raised red flags as his small size now. Glandular problems? Could have been! I mean, he was a PORKER! He was enormous! He was downright bizarre!

It has been educational, as they say. The houses have been dealt with, I've been painting every waking moment that the bun isn't tugging on my pantleg (meaning, I only paint when he's sleeping), and I'm assuming that the bun, despite the doctor's misgivings, is doing just fine because he keeps me on my toes and I'm pretty sure I'm no slouch. He's adorable and funny and just started saying his first words "Buh-bye." He signs like a madman, dances like a champ, and loves hide and seek behind the new curtains. We chase him around with triple-cream French cheese and quiche, pasta with cream sauce and kefir. All he wants to eat is mango and raisins. But at least he likes fruit and vegetables; some kids think you're trying to murder them if you slip them a green bean. I figure we're ahead of the game.

Hope all is well with you. We've finally come out of the tunnel, I think. I hope. Cheers.