There are certain rhythms, regular cycles, that mark progress through the year. The turn of the seasons, special holidays, the start and end of the school year are all repeating points that I look forward to each time they roll around. They are a part of our family’s day to day lives I find comforting and we have little rituals that go with each. There are certain rhythms to life with my Little Man too. I know whenever he goes on eating sprees, gorging as if he will never be full again, it is inevitable that we will be shopping for new clothes and shoes soon. I know that his need to be hoveringly close, almost attached to me at the hip will wax and wane though the year at (semi) predictable points. Some of his rhythms are less comforting though. For example, I know before every leap in knowledge or skill, before every new milestone we mark will come the regression.
Ah, the regression – the one step (or more) back we seem to be required to take every single damn time before he can move forward. It used to make me tearing my hair out crazy. If I said I’ve totally made my peace with it I’d be a liar but I weather it better these days than I used to. I have my theory on why it happens and that helps. I think as Little Man struggles to embed some new learning into his memory in a way he can retrieve, that it takes so much effort he becomes almost “mind blind” to things he has already learned for a time. I used to be terrified that the new learning was pushing out the old, as if there were limited storage space in Little Man’s mind and at 3, 4, 5 years old he had already reached his capacity. I was terrified that the vanished learning would be gone completely and have to be painstakingly relearned only to erase something else.
We’ve been through the cycle often enough now that I have confidence that whatever is suppressed as he masters something new is still there. I don’t believe he is anywhere near his capacity. I think his brain is just not very efficient at storing information and each time it has something new to store it must reshuffle where everything fits and then become familiar with where to reach each item. Kind of like if gremlins came into your home and rearranged your whole kitchen in the night without leaving any clue they had been there. When you got up in the morning to make breakfast you would still have a frying pan but it’s going to take you some time to find it. Once you do you’ll be able to locate it again more easily each time you reach for it. Until of course, those sneaky gremlins come in and put something new where the blender was and move it to another undisclosed location.
As my fear of his “fall backs” has lessened however, his has grown. This pains me far worse than when I was afraid and he just oblivious. I know that it is growth in his self-awareness making it possible for him to notice when he is not able to do something he was just a while ago. It’s one of those paradoxical things that only a special needs parent would understand, celebrating our child’s pain even as we mourn that they must feel it. Little Man has ventured deep into the place I have just recently exited – the terror that what is missing right at this moment is gone forever. He’s not ready yet to understand there are cycles and rhythm to life and that this is just his way of learning. That is far too abstract for him yet. So we both suffer in his regressions but now we do it together. He turns instinctively to me. I reassure him. “It is ok if you can’t today. You will again. I know you will. I am right here and I will help.” I pull him on my lap, all long legs and poking elbows, bundled up as best we can in his rocking chair. “Mommy’s got you. I know you are sad (or scared, or mad). We will do it together, ok? I love you.” And we do his favorite script over and over. Him “Did you know you are the best mommy ever?” Me: “That’s because I have the best boy ever.”
I am in awe of my boy. No matter how hard, how frightening, how tiring, frustrating, or infuriating it is to have things that he struggled so hard to learn slip away he keeps going. He earns, not just learns, each new thing with sweat and tears and yes sometimes even a little blood. Over and over we practice the new skill and the old. Sometimes for so long I think we will both go crazy. And then – suddenly - he has both. One day – the old is just there along with the new skill too. He is the best boy ever. And I am the luckiest mom.