The One In The Middle

Charlie turned ten years old last week. He celebrated with a birthday on Tuesday, a field trip on Wednesday, a day spent at the office with his father on Thursday, and a weekend camping trip.

When I woke him up for school yesterday morning, he protested his need to attend by explaining, “But, there’s nothing happening this week.”

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Charlie always needs to be doing something. When the weekend hits, Bob and I look at each other and ask, “What’s on Charlie’s list?” We’ll jot down things inside the house that need fixing, things outside the house that need planting, things around the house that need… Charlie-ing.

When we tear him away from a small screen on Saturdays and Sundays, Charlie will spend his time on projects. Always tinkering. Always doing.

It came as a great relief when finally – at long last – Charlie grew heavy enough to mow the lawn. See, his diminutive stature was so diminutive that the lawn tractor didn’t recognize that anyone was sitting on the seat of the mower when Charlie would climb aboard and, as a safety precaution, would automatically cut the engine. Oh, how we rejoiced when Charlie weighed enough to keep the motor running. Now, he mows, too. It’s on his list.

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Charlie’s big Christmas present this past year was a brand new orange kayak. He had whittled his wish list down to the aforementioned kayak, a metal detector, or a ventriloquist’s dummy. We went for the kayak.

If it’s something to be done out of doors, Charlie is in. He putters around the pond in his kayak. Fishes there, too. Hikes the neighborhood, ensuring the paths are clear. Uses a bow gifted from his uncle for target practice in the backyard. Polishes his BB gun. Starts a fire in the pit on a chilly spring night.

The natural world matters to Charlie. He saves a turtle stuck on the sidewalk. He studies the sky when a storm approaches. He peers at the stars through his telescope.

Charlie is our Outdoor Boy. Always, always planning his next adventure.

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Two summers ago, Charlie went through an intense round of testing to figure out why school wasn’t clicking. To better discern why learning was so difficult for him. It was a laborious process for Charlie but through that testing we learned Charlie has a significant learning disability. His testing revealed deficiencies across the board – in all areas except one – his vocabulary. He scored “superior” in that area.

“Well, that makes sense,” we mused, thinking of Charlie’s incessant talking and story-telling. If votes were tallied, Charlie would be the People’s Choice winner in this family. He is beloved by those he’s met and those he hasn’t. He’s always drawn others in with his stories, his words. The test results confirmed both what we’d known and what we’d feared.

I wish school were easier for Charlie. I, selfishly, wish it were easier for us, too. Charlie is a challenge. He’s got years of hard work ahead. Bob and I do, too. As parents, we’re conditioned to tell our children they can do anything they set their mind to. But, it’s not that easy. It will never be that easy for Charlie.

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On vacation recently, our family took a Humvee tour through the dunes on the Outer Banks of North Carolina. By chance, Charlie got to sit in the front seat of the Humvee, across from the driver. He was delighted. Absolutely delighted. He also thought I had arranged it that way and I may have been slow to admit it was a happy accident. It was fun to be Charlie’s hero for a little bit.

He played it cool sitting in that front seat. Disguising his eagerness and excitement with a calm demeanor. He didn’t want the driver to know he was ecstatic. He’s maturing and changing. He’s ten after all.

Turning ten years old means you’ll have to hear more of Charlie’s delightful stories directly from Charlie now – not necessarily from me, not necessarily in this space. It’s time.

And, Charlie has plenty of his own tall tales to tell. He is full of adventure, that one. We should all wish to get to go along.

 

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When Charlie was just a few months old, he came down with a nasty virus. He was in daycare at the time and our child care center seemed to always be ground zero for the really awful illnesses that my kids caught with such ease. I took time off from work to care for our sweet little Charlie at home and I can remember exactly where I was and what I was doing when I knew we had to take him to the emergency room. I had been hanging clean laundry up in my closet and when I finished and reached down to pick Charlie up from the bed, he was stiff. His whole body. He was so little at the time and so new-baby malleable that to pick him up and feel his muscles so rigid was alarming. I knew he was really ill.

Bob and I ended up spending the majority of that afternoon and evening in our local hospital’s ER. Charlie was officially diagnosed with a “virus of unknown origin” meaning, the hospital didn’t know what he had, admitted there was really no good way to figure it out, but acknowledged that it was absolutely making him miserable. It was just something that we had to wait out. They wanted us to remain in the ER so they could hydrate Charlie and monitor him closely for a few hours before discharging him. With a compassionate shrug, the doctors and nurses left us on our own to sit and wait and watch. Our fears placated, Bob and I settled in to spend a few hours staring intently at Charlie.

Now, it should be noted that our local hospital at the time was more urban, less spacious and a bit more bare bones than the hospital we utilize now. The ER in the town closest to where we currently live has private rooms, individual television sets, a staff eager to accommodate and valet parking. The ER we took Charlie to that night had a long wait time, a maxed-out staff, absolutely no snacks, and the only thing separating us from the next patient on a stretcher was a thin curtain and about four feet. I’m certainly not complaining because I didn’t even know ERs came in fancier versions until we moved from the city but still, if we were able to even snag an extra blanket from a nurse that night, it certainly didn’t come all toasty warm from one of those giant blanket ovens our current hospital uses.

Sitting with a sleeping four-month-old and a lack of sufficient snacks left us with nothing to do but eavesdrop on the medical emergencies of those around us. It was fascinating. Directly next to us, on the other side of the curtain, was an intoxicated man who was handcuffed to his gurney and guarded by a sheriff’s deputy. He talked loudly for probably a solid hour about assorted topics before falling asleep and, thus, falling quiet. We heard other random snippets hear and there of bumps and bruises and broken bones but eventually, as evening settled in and the bustling quieted down, both Bob and I started listening intently to a husband and wife that were seeking treatment across the aisle from us.

It turned out, the wife was in the emergency room because she had been experiencing chest pains. It actually seemed quite serious from the tone of the doctor’s voice. The doctor was still unsure of what type of cardiac event she had experienced but he began reviewing with the couple the results of some preliminary testing and explaining to them some additional tests he would like to run before admitting the wife overnight for observation. It was at this point that the couple began to protest. They were concerned about how long all of this was going to take and seemed distressed about the necessity of spending an entire night in the hospital. Bob and I, unabashedly, leaned in for a closer listen.

“You see,” the husband began to explain to the doctor, “we have dinner reservations.”

It was at this point that Bob and I looked at each other with saucer-like eyes and tried not to laugh. Dismissing a possible heart attack in favor of keeping hard-to-get dinner reservations was just the MOST Northern Virginia thing one could do. I mean, I can appreciate a great meal, too, but I wouldn’t risk betting the sommelier knows how to use a defibulator. The ER doctor said about the same.

The conversation quickly escalated between the ER doctor and the husband and wife. Eventually, as the doctor was explaining the “against medical advice” discharge paperwork that would need to be completed before they could leave, the husband looked at the doctor and asked, “So, tell me, what’s worst case scenario here?”

Without missing a beat, the doctor looked at the husband wearily and said, “SIR, your wife could DIE.”

A few minutes later, the husband and his possibly-having-a-heart-attack wife were on their way to dinner to, presumably, eat mussels or foie gras or something like that. Shortly afterwards, Bob and Charlie and I headed home to rest up, recuperate and probably eat some Goldfish crackers.

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Ever since that fateful emergency room visit, Bob and I have used the Worst Case Scenario query to address some of our toughest life decisions.

Should we move the entire family to Richmond? What’s the worst case scenario?

Are you up for having a third baby? What’s worst case scenario?

Is it possible to still buy a waterbed? What would be the worst case scenario?

Maybe we should get that odd rash on the middle kid looked at? What’s the worst case scenario?

Does this egg salad smell weird to you? Worst case scenario?

It’s actually a highly effective tool in distilling a problem or issue down to it’s possible outcomes. If the answer is anything other than one of us dying, we typically proceed.

All this to explain that Bob and I are thinking of renovating our kitchen ourselves. I mean, what’s the worst case scenario here?

Eight

Eight is probably my favorite of the little kid ages. Young enough to want a first-thing-in-the-morning hug but old enough to get themselves ready for school with little intervention. Young enough to still be tucked into bed with stuffed animals each night but old enough to procure their own snacks. Young enough to laugh uncontrollably at a fart joke but old enough to be completely rational about concepts that would send a toddler into a tantrum.

Charlie turned eight years old about a week ago.

Charlie, at eight years of age, has asked for a later bedtime. As it currently stands, I send all three of the kids packing at 8:00 each evening. By that time of night, I have been on the job for 14 hours straight and while I love my children dearly, I no longer wish to see or hear them. To their rooms they must go. Charlie’s quest for a later bedtime messes a bit with my timeline but he was adamant so we found a compromise. I explained that he still had to head to his room at 8:00 p.m. but could now stay awake until 8:30. Charlie considered this a victory. More of a moral victory for sure, since when I check on him each evening around 8:05 or so, he is always sound asleep.

Charlie, at eight years of age, is still petite in stature. He is wee for his age. Shorter than his peers but just sort of tiny all over. His arms and legs are like matchsticks, especially when compared to Millie, who is one solid mass of a kid. I have trouble picking her up anymore but not Charlie. Charlie I can still swing up in my arms with ease and he still wants to be picked up. I feel like Charlie is part rechargeable battery, gathering his energy by hugging others. Most mornings, when I swoop him up for a big hug, Charlie still does that thing that little ones do where they tuck their arms down at their side, pinned almost by your arms so they can lean into you, head on your shoulder and you can completely envelop them in a hug. It’s like a kid version of a trust fall and someday, when you ask me, I will tell you that it is one of the things I miss most about this age.

Charlie, at eight years of age, tries valiantly to hide his emotions. You can see the tough kid resolve when he gets injured or his siblings have wronged him or when something doesn’t go according to plan. For years, Bob and I wondered when Charlie, our high emotion middle child, would cross this bridge. When he would better understand complicated logistics and the nature of time and we longed for the day when deviations and impatience wouldn’t result in a complete meltdown. We’ve finally arrived there. But, Charlie still feels deeply. A couple of weeks ago, a nice man from a neighboring town came to our house to buy our bunk bed set. With Henry in his own room, I was eager for Charlie to have a traditional bed. One that made changing the bed sheets 100 percent easier. After we loaded the bunk beds into the buyer’s trailer, Bob and I went inside and found Charlie’s bedroom door shut. When we entered, we found Charlie sobbing at his desk. We hurriedly asked what was wrong and he tearfully explained, “You’re selling EVERYTHING that I love!” Charlie was upset but didn’t want us to know. Bob and I hid our relieved smiles and promptly went about extolling the graces of his New! Bigger! Better! bed.

Charlie, at eight years of age, is working hard at school. We abruptly switched Charlie to a different elementary school at the beginning of March and he managed the big change with aplomb. He is thriving there, working towards mastering the basics that seem to be so difficult for him to master. His new teacher convened a big meeting a couple of weeks after his arrival. The conference room where we met was filled with various school staff and advocates that all want Charlie to find success. When the assistant principal asked me if I had any insight to share on Charlie, I paused. I thought for a bit and then explained that, yes, school will probably never be a favorite of Charlie’s however, if any one of them around that table were hopelessly lost in the woods, Charlie could help them survive for three days, no problem. Charlie’s skill set lies elsewhere but he’s got a huge team of people at his school working to help him learn, figuring out what interests to tap that will finally make things click. I’m confident we’re on the right path.

Charlie found me busy on my laptop the other day. He asked what I was doing and I said, “Writing! It’s just a modern version of your typewriter, Charlie.”

He grinned and replied, “Well, I AM kind of old-fashioned.”

Yes, you are Charlie. My old soul outdoorsman is now eight years old.