Public policy

“Frank will comprehend and follow directions to ensure his safety in public places.” This was the goal that Frank’s special educator and I had established yesterday morning.
A few hours later, I was yelling his name and chasing him around the St. Joan of Arc parking lot with Leo on my left hip and Frank’s shoe in my right hand, looking like an idiot in front of the parents and grandparents of my students. I imagined them thinking, “If she can’t control her own kid, how does she manage mine?”
Frank isn’t like any of my 200 students, not even his own brother. For starters, he’s 2 and a half, which automatically makes him unreasonable. But Frank’s biggest problem is that he doesn’t understand us –Stop! No! Don’t! Come back! FRANK! – because of his language and developmental delay.
I like to imagine that Frank’s words are stuffed into a closet in his brain and that someone is leaning up against it. I’d love to push that guy out of the way so that I can hear Frank say, “Can I have an apple?” or “Have you seen my shoe?” or “I love you, Mommy!”
But, that guy is Goliath and Patrick, me, our parents, Frank’s teachers, and even Collin keeps slinging pebbles at him. It’s working, one word at a time.
Maybe someday that barrier will fall down, and I’ll say, “Frank! Let someone else have a chance to talk.”
The truth is, we don’t yet have a label to stick on Frank other than “receptive language and social developmental delay.” Those are just pieces to the puzzle. Symptoms of something greater. Is it a fluky phase? Or is it an auditory processing disorder? Or is he on the autism spectrum?
There are so many times that I wish I knew how to classify Frank so that I can recalculate my GPS for his future – and mine. Or at the very least so that I can explain to people in public why my child behaves in such an off-putting way!  
I took the boys to the Sky Zone in Timonium for New Year’s Eve. It’s a trampoline park that operates on a grid system – one jumper per square. Frank was in heaven. Except, he couldn’t understand the rules. There were several children half his size bouncing happily within the confines of their jumping units. But not Frank. He’d intrude upon other people’s squares, sending “Where is your mother, you little brat?” stares my way.
I pulled the attendant aside and apologized for Frank’s behavior, explaining that he has a developmental delay and has trouble understanding directions. She tried to be his “coach,” escorting him to a square in the back, but as soon as he interceded with a presumed cheerleader’s backflip, I pulled him out early.
Like any toddler, when Frank is removed from a situation he is enjoying, he throws a tantrum. Only, I can’t walk away from him like I did the two or three times Collin threw a tantrum. Frank runs – fast! And he is super strong, so grabbing him and holding onto him is nothing short of gator wrestling. To add to the chaos, his screams could earn him a spot in a metal band.
Most of our ventures out of our house involve Frank being strapped into a car seat or my trusty double stroller. I can’t trust him to hold my hand or stay by my side. He’s oblivious to traffic and has to get his hands on everything. We don’t visit many other people’s houses, and when we do, Patrick and I tag-team between socializing with our friends and family and “Frank Patrol.” The rules are: keep both eyes on Frank at all times and never let him go out of arm’s reach. It’s like being in a pool, only slightly less fun.

Frank, age 2, May 2014.  Note the lack of books on the bookshelf and the missing shoe.
I want to stop for a second to talk about what makes Frank so wonderful. It starts with those twinkly blue eyes. There’s a spark in there. He has so many ideas that he wants to share – as soon as we get that pesky bouncer out of the way. He’s generous with kisses and has hands-down the best laugh I’ve ever heard. (Usually it means he’s up to no good, but his chuckle makes up for it.)
He bops up and down in his booster seat and hums if he’s eating something really yummy. And he is a master at piecing together puzzles and solving problems – all without saying a word. In fact, he will determine a way to get something he wants without even needing to talk to us. This is why our doors, refrigerator, pantry, cabinets, and all electronic devices are outfitted with reinforced locks. (And he STILL manages to find a way in!)
So, back to the goal about behaving in public. Frank needs to learn to hold my hand, to walk close to me, to come back, to turn around, and to stop when we’re outside of the house. He needs full immersion in public places to learn how to live in the “real world.” I’m going to have to find a fun place to take Frank and Leo once a week. I’m going have to learn to ignore the dirty looks from people who don’t understand Frank’s situation when I’m chasing him or if he has a meltdown. And I’m going to have to keep praying that God grants Frank with the ability to speak and to listen, to understand and to be understood.  

Catholic Review

The Catholic Review is the official publication of the Archdiocese of Baltimore.