Orange Like a Clementine

A couple days ago I was sitting at my desk, trying to motivate myself to finish writing an article, when Ingrid, my nanny, walked into the office shaking her head.

“You wouldn’t believe what Teddy just did,” she said.

It turns out Teddy had told her he wanted an orange as a snack, and when she put him in his booster seat and began peeling him an orange, he had a total meltdown. “No, no no!” he screamed in typical toddler fashion, while Ingrid, totally bewildered, tried to get him to calm down.

Finally my son turned to her and, in his little baby voice, said, “Nini, I don’t want my orange peeled that way. I want my orange peeled like a Clementine.”

When Ingrid told me I stared at her in shock. “He said that?” I said. I still can’t get over the fact that my son—who is not even two and a half--speaks in complete sentences, but I was also more stunned by the fact that he seemed to know what a Clementine was. He’d never even seen one before.

“Yeah,” Ingrid said, shrugging. She’d finally managed to pacify Teddy by peeling the orange and them dicing it into smaller pieces, so it “looked” more like a Clementine.

I wish I could credit my stellar parenting to Teddy’s incredible vocabulary, or to his ability to recognize certain letters, or to recite whole passages of books by heart. But the truth is he’s picked all this up himself, like a little sponge. Teddy’s the middle child, and more often than not he’s left to entertain himself while I work with Jo Jo on her therapies or feed Geoffrey. He probably stays up way too late and eats more than his share of junk food and watches more than his share of developmentally dulling TV shows like Yo Gabba Gabba.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot recently, as it’s THAT time of year again—meaning Jo Jo’s annual IEP review is coming up. I trust her teacher and therapists to write reasonable goals, but being the controlling, type-A mother that I am, I have spent a lot of time on the CDC and other developmental web sites, reading up on appropriate milestones for three-four year olds.

While I think Jo Jo is doing amazingly well in so many areas, and I try so hard to focus on everything she can do, not everything she can’t, it’s still incredibly jarring to realize that she is barely mastering two year old speech milestones while her younger brother is speaking at the level of a preschooler.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m grateful to have such a bright, erudite son, and in many ways, after having a child with special needs, I value it even more. Teddy is exactly the sort of intellectually precocious kid Jamie and I assumed we’d always have, in those days before we actually had children. But then Jo Jo came and blew all those preconceived notions out of the water. It wasn’t just that we had to come to grips with the fact that our child wouldn’t be in the gifted program at school—it was that she would be struggling with myriad developmental delays, some of them profound.

So we struggled, and learned to accept, and along the way came up with new ideas on how we wanted to raise our children. We learned you couldn’t calculate your kid’s worth based on when he or she met their milestones. We learned to just live in the moment and actually enjoy our daughter and two small sons.

But then every once in a while I get that jolt, when Teddy does something so out of whack for his age I have to stop and shake my head and ask myself “is he really just two?” I sometimes get that same jolt when I see Geoffrey in action, who’s briskly meeting all of his milestones despite his low vision. But then I just have to remind myself that all three come from the same gene pool, and all are bright, in different ways. It’s just that Teddy and Geoffrey’s intelligence is unfortunately just the type that’s more valued by society.

All three of my kids will go on to lead full, productive lives, I’m sure. And if I had one wish for all three of my children, it’s that Jo Jo teaches my two sons the gift of compassion and the gift of empathy to others. I hope that my boys will be so inspired by their sister that they will use their intellect to further some sort of progressive cause and not just to make a fast buck on Wall Street.

I know Jo Jo can show them the way.