I was told there was something wrong with Troy at his 6-month doctor’s visit. The doctor measured his head, as they always do, for his head circumference and the result was in the bottom percentile. It’s odd, how we see the doctor’s do their thing with our children and none of it really means anything, until the news “I need to make a recommendation to a pediatrician as I have concerns that Troy is not growing as he should be”. That day changed the next 18 years of my life.
Troy has an older brother of 14 months less a day. While my life begun to spin out of control with Case Workers, neuro-specialists, geneticists, blood tests, endless questions and pediatric specialists, I always ensured Todd felt special. When individuals came to work with Troy, I always asked them to bring a ‘toy’ for Todd and to spend some time with him. When we went to doctor’s appointments together, I made sure I brought something special for Todd to do, while we sat for endless amounts of hours. Later on, we attended together a “Siblings of the Disabled” workshop.
When he was about 6, he came downstairs late one evening because he couldn’t sleep. I was watching a show on ‘Chernobyl Children” and he wanted to know what was wrong with them. I took that opportunity to explain to him his brother was not necessarily like all other children and he was learning things slower. Up until then, Todd never questioned why Troy wasn’t walking or talking. Todd put on puppet shows for Troy, would surround him with pillows to prop him up because Troy couldn’t sit, tease him with a toy caterpillar, and read him stories. It was Todd who got Troy to move – Todd would run circles around him, widening the circle and eventually Troy began to bounce on his knees to get to Todd. (Troy never crawled). Todd would take Troy’s favourite stuffed Caterpillar and place it on the couch, teaching Troy to pull himself up so see it and then eventually, Todd placed it on the back of the couch, which resulted in Troy climbing on the couch.
It wasn’t the dream I had envisioned having two boys so close in age, but I watched the human spirit and the bonding between the two and a new dream was created.
During the first Survivor season in 2000, I began ‘date night’ with Todd. Things weren’t healthy at home and I wanted him to have special time just for him. We would go on a ‘donut shop’ date, spend an hour at a ‘collectible card’ store choosing just the right Pokeman card, bike ride, or just sit and watch Survivor together, mimicking Jeff Probst and laughing.
When I left their father, it was just the three of us. When Troy had his first seizure, it was Todd who calmly yelled across the room to get the food out of his mouth. When Troy threw up all over his bed and then slept in it, it was Todd who helped me get Troy clean and never once complained. If Troy had an extremely messy bowel movement leaking out of diapers and pyjamas, it was Todd that was the extra set of hands needed. And it was Todd who at the age of 16 1/2 who travelled via plane with his brother to Ontario to see their father. He was an amazing older brother. He was going to grow up and be a business owner and Troy would work for him, so he could keep him safe. He even went so far, when he was about 7 to push a boy half way across a room and put him up against a wall. “I told you to stop pushing my brother over, I told my mom you kept pushing my brother over, now you will stop pushing my brother over.” Just what I had always taught him about bullying – Step 1 – tell the kid to stop. If it happens again – Step 2 – tell an adult. If it happens once again, you have a right to hit back. He didn’t do it for himself, but he did it to protect his brother.
When Todd’s Grade 4 teacher told me he had ADD, I responded with “I didn’t realize a medical degree was a pre-requisite for teaching. If you could kindly provide me a copy of it, I’ll happily take your advice.” When he was punished at school for defending himself against 6 girls in Grade 5 who locked themselves and him in a classroom, I went to the principal and explained ‘sexism’ to her, as it was only Todd who was punished. When he sat me down one day in Grade 6 and told me the reason why he was a bully at school because his daddy was one, I had a lightbulb moment and began to make plans to leave their father.
Todd hated school with a passion. It was always about the friends and never about the academics; however, he was a natural at speaking french and he read well beyond his years. With the exception of one major argument between us, any other disagreement was over school and homework. That one major argument was also a turning point in my life – it, along with an event with Troy, caused me to focus on my family and quit my career. When I look back on his beliefs about school, the writing was on the wall even then, and I knew that.
Whether it be teenage hormones, teenage angst, a step-father who could step into his shoes, or two older step-brothers who could help, at 16 things began to significantly change. If he must, he would do something for his brother, but for the most part he ignored him. He told me once, you know how hard it is when my friend’s laugh at some kid who acts weird. I either laugh with them or stand out and be different. He was embarrassed by his brother and would get angry if we showed up with Troy at something that was Todd-related.
Todd is now 19, reaching 20 in July. The last 6 years have been really rough, with some good moments but mostly disappointing ones. He wouldn’t have graduated highschool, had it not been for me being extremely involved. Some joke, that it was me who received his Grade 12 diploma, and sadly there is a lot of truth in that. I have watched him be fired from every job because when the going gets tough, he gives up and doesn’t have the courtesy of quitting. I have watched him disappoint good, solid friends who have gone out on a limb for him. When in good faith, I permitted him to purchase a car to get to his job, paid for by an inheritance, he never made it to the first loan payment before he had no work. He had two accidents, one that almost wrote it off within several weeks of each other and it was his step-father who did primarly all the work necessary to get the vehicle fixed. And no sooner has he got himself out of debt with me or his friends, no longer is a pay cheque coming in.
After 10 months from highschool graduation, I saw he was doing nothing with his life and he had destroyed his room from an alcohol/drug-induced state, I gave him three options 1) get a job and pay me rent 2) go to University 3) go visit your father and family in Southern Ontario and when you are ready to respect the family you have here and respect the home provided to you, you can come back. He chose to go away and the pain of that decision was a knife through my heart.
After a couple of months he returned home late one night. He stated he was drug-free and ready to move forward. It didn’t happen right away, but we saw some better decisions. I continued to assist him, by connecting him to people who could help him find work, lend him money until he had a pay cheque to pay me back and defend him when he slipped up.
This past Friday, anger-fueled, I packed his bags and they sit at the front door, awaiting his arrival. I haven’t seen him for 5 days. He broke up with his girlfriend of 10 months, it appears that there has been a downward spiral since. He didn’t show up for work for 3 shifts. This being after returning to a former place of employment on the recommendation of two of his friends. He was even promoted because he got his act together and now one of those friends, has been transferred in as his restaurant Manager. That friend is now hurt with disappointment, his own reputation on the line because of Todd’s actions.
While I sort through my emotions of the uncertainty of whether I have employment and at what moment do I lose my father to bone cancer, I have told my son he is no longer welcome here. He was warned. Not once, not twice, but more times than I have fingers. It’s done, I am done. Life is too precious and I have given all that I can to my oldest son. I cannot continue to live with such disappointment and heartache, carefully choosing the right words to encourage him and provide him with self-esteem. I don’t want to read books that state 1) too much environmental estrogens are lowering boy’s testosterone levels 2) too much video gaming has developed aggression and social inadequacies 3) lack of male role models.
Ten years ago, had you told me that I would have more problems with my ‘normal’ son that a teenaged ‘disabled’ son, I would never have believed you. I know who Troy is always with, I know Troy doesn’t drink alcohol or do drugs, I know Troy is in his bed every night, Troy has no risk of STDs or getting a girl pregnant and I know that Troy loves his mommy.
I never wanted children because I honestly didn’t believe I could be a good mother. My ex-husband did, he knew he would be a great father. I have navigated motherhood, most of it with no mentor and limited knowledge due to having a disabled child in the early 90s (internet and self-help books weren’t around much back then). A lot of the parenting I had to do I did on on my own.
My first dream for my youngest shattered at that doctor’s appointment when Troy was 6 months old, my dream for my second child shattered this weekend (well probably long before now).
Yes a heart can be broken. It can shatter itself into tiny fragments, while your chest feels bound, a lump sits in your throat and my face has gone numb from fake smiles.
I hear my wonderful spouse say “This is not about you and only about the choices he is making”. But those are just words and they do not soften the blow to my heart.