By: Shannon Ralph
I come from a large family. My beloved grandmother, Edna Merle Hardesty, had twelve children. This is a feat that I can barely comprehend. I have three children, and the thought of adding even one more to the mix sends me into a fit of extremely unattractive convulsions. When I was growing up, my grandmother had a picture that hung in her dining room that said something along this line: “A mother is the only person who can divide her love among twelve children, and each child receive ALL of her love.” When I was younger, I remember thinking, Yea, right. I know all twelve of your children and they ain’t all that loveable! Loving all of your children equally was a concept I couldn’t understand until I had children of my own. Logic would dictate that a mother would have a “favorite.” It would seem with three children—and most certainly with twelve children—that there would be one or two who you quite simply didn’t care so much for. However, if I have learned anything in the last eight years, it is that logic really has no place in parenthood. I can truly say in my heart of hearts that I love all three of my children with equal amounts of devotion. It’s illogical and unreasonable and irrational, but it’s entirely true.
Lucas is my firstborn. He just turned eight years old and was my first great love. He’s tall and strong and smart and incredibly handsome. (I am not biased…he is truly stunning. Okay…perhaps I am a bit biased.) He can recite the names of every dinosaur that ever lived on this Earth. He has yet to discover sarcasm despite residing in my house, which just happens to sit at the epicenter of sarcasm. He has a sweetness about him that melts me. He is incredibly sensitive and can pick up on others’ emotions like he has a built-in radar. He protects his brother and sister with a ferocity that makes me so very proud. That is not to say that he is always civil to them. Or even humane. He enjoys torturing his younger siblings with the full arsenal of tactics inherent in his “big brother” status. But he is the one and only person allowed to torture them. They are HIS bitches. I take some sort of perverse comfort in that fact. He is a complete homebody who would rather be sitting at home with his family than anyplace else in this world. I worship the ground that child walks on.
Sophie is my middle child. She is four years old and one minute older than her twin brother. Sophie is beautiful and sassy and smart. In many ways, she’s too smart for her own good. She is stubborn. Stubborn to the point that I have to fight the urge to bash my head against a tree at times. She struggles with shyness, just like I did as a child, and still do. I look into her blue eyes and I can see a battle being waged between the shy little girl and the raging banshee. I secretly hope the banshee wins out. I see a lot of myself in her. Too much, even. We tend to butt heads because we are so similar in temperament. As a matter of fact, “butting heads” is an understatement. We have all-out, full-blown, throw-down, kicking-and-screaming wars. My strengths are her strengths. And unfortunately for her, my faults are her faults, as well. Regardless, she is the beauty and love of my life. I imagine, if we both manage to survive her childhood, she will one day become the best friend I’ve ever had.
Nicholas is Sophie’s twin brother and my baby. The tiny little fragile runt of the litter. He has always been the one that I worry about the most. Though I don’t love him a single iota more than my other children, he tends to require more of my time. More energy. More focus. As an infant, he was late to sit up. He was late to crawl. He was late to walk. He never talked. He never even babbled as babies do. He was silent. At varying points in his first two years of life, I feared that he was deaf, had cystic fibrosis, was autistic, and had cerebral palsy. None of these were the case, but that didn’t stop me from imagining a diagnosis worse than any of the above. We started him in speech therapy when he turned two. Suddenly, almost immediately, he was talking in full sentences and complete paragraphs. It’s like he knew how to talk all along, but just didn’t have anything to say to us. He has since made up for the months of silence. Today, we can’t get him to shut up. If we had any foresight at all, we would have revoked his speech therapy and kept him mute.
Today Nicholas broke my heart in two. He was trying to complete a task and was struggling. Ruanita attempted to help him and he said to her, with tears in his eyes, “I am not as smart as Lucas and Sophie.” She immediately corrected him and told how very brilliant he is. However, the thought of sweet little Nicholas thinking he is not as smart as his brother and sister left me heartbroken. Nicholas is incredibly smart—freaky smart, actually—but he’s “different.” Lucas and Sophie are alike in many ways. They both love books. They are both extremely creative and passionate. They get along wonderfully and play together all of the time. Nicholas plays with them, as well. But there are times when they get frustrated with his “eccentricities” and leave him out. This confuses Nicholas and irritates me to no end.
I understand why my other children get frustrated with Nicholas, but that doesn’t make it any easier to swallow. Nicholas just has to have things a certain way. He likes order and consistency. If his toy cars are not lining up exactly as he thinks they should, he will stop the game for however long it takes for him to get them “perfect.” When he is coloring in his coloring books, he will get upset and throw the whole page out if he inadvertently colors outside of the lines even a tiny bit. If a pretend game does not play out as he thinks it should, he will dissolve into a puddle of tears on the floor. He is picky about his clothes. He is picky about the color of the cup, plate, and fork he uses at dinner. He’s even been known to change his shirt before dinner to match his dinner plate. When he wakes up in the morning, he has to sit on the left end of the couch. Heaven forbid anyone else be sitting there! He’s meticulous in all matters, small and large.
I love Nicholas dearly, but I also worry about him. No one wants to think of her child as being “different” or a potential outcast. I realize now that there is absolutely nothing “wrong” with Nicholas. My years of anguish spent trying to come up with a diagnosis for him were for naught. It was a disservice to both of us. Nicholas is simply his own person. A wonderfully unique, incomparably one-of-a-kind child. A child who marches to his own beat. This recognition, however, does not keep me from worrying about him. I worry that his eccentricities will make it difficult for him to make friends when he starts kindergarten next year. His sister tends to protect him now, but how will that play out in a school arena? I worry that he will be made fun of. I worry that kids can be cruel. I worry that his perfectionism will bring him nothing but a lifetime of heartache. I worry that I am worrying too much.
At the same time, however, I would not change Nicholas for the world. Without all his little foibles and quirks, he would simply not be Nicholas. My sweet little guy who gives me more hugs and kisses than the other two combined. My little boy with the infectious laugh and beautiful chocolate brown eyes. He may be weird, but he’s my kind of weird.