January 26, 2009

Guest Blog: The monster in our marriage

I've never had a guest blogger, but I was approached by Ellen of To The Max, and I thought it sounded like a fun idea. Ellen's an editor at a major magazine and is the mother of Max, a tenacious little guy with his own monsters. Her story feels awfully familiar.

Thank you so much, Ellen.

-- r

The monster in our marriage

It's the morning of a snowstorm that just started. My husband's with our four-year-old at gym class, and calls to say hi. Because there's a possibility that we might be snowed in for a few days, I tell him to grab a carton of milk from the supermarket on the way home and any other foods that'll carry us through. Dave walks in the door with a very small bag. Inside: a gallon of milk, a jar of salsa and a package of Chili Lime Tortilla Chips. I stare at him, then burst out laughing. We break open the chips and dig in.

This is Dave: A guy who's not always practical, but who sure knows how to enjoy life. This is me: A person who's overly practical and sometimes forgets to enjoy life. We always knew these opposite traits would balance us out, but we could never have imagined just how much so until our son was born. Max had a stroke at birth (not as uncommon as you think-it happens to about one in every 4000 kids). The two primary doctors at the hospital, who we nicknamed Dr. Doom and Dr. Gloom, told us the worst. That Max might never walk or talk. That he would have mental retardation. That he might not see well or hear. You name it, they warned us about it.

That was six years ago. Today, Max walks. Max talks with some words, and via a communication device (a Dynavox), gestures, his eyes. Max is bright. He's determined. He's curious. He's got a bubbly personality, and a wicked streak for teasing his little sister. Like Schuyler, he's also pretty damn cute, which has been a real asset. He has his challenges, but he's the opposite of a nightmare. And the one-two punch of my husband and I has been good for him.

Dave has always been able to just enjoy Max as a kid, whether he's playing monster with him, plopping him onto some motorcycle parked on the street and pretending to let him drive it or splashing around in the pool with him. Me, I'm always trying to sneak therapeutic exercises into his playtime. I'm the one who notices Max is growing out of his foot braces and needs new ones. I'm the research nut -- the first thing I did when I walked in the door after the hell days in the NICU was get online and look up information on strokes and therapies.

Early on, I heard that having a kid with special needs can cause a lot of tension in a marriage, even break it up. I don't know that it's exactly
benefitted ours -- I mean, come on. But I do think Max has made Dave and I realize how strong our bond is. We're able to work with each others' strengths and weaknesses, laugh through it all and keep each other sane. Well, most days.

We fight most often about what I consider Dave's “denial” and he considers my “pessimism” (pragmatic, I call it). A couple of years ago, we went to a doctor who told us, “I see Max has trouble using his right hand, it'll always be his helper hand and he'll mostly rely on his left.” After, we assessed the appointment in the car ride home. Dave said, “See? Max will be able to use both his hands!” And I said, “No! He said he won't really be able to use his right hand, and he'll need to make do using one! Hopefully, that one will work OK!” We're the glass half full/half empty couple. Or make that the salsa bowl half full/half empty. It works for us. Most important, it works for Max.


Anonymous said...

Oh my, Max is absolutely
dashingly handsome already. What a heartbreaker.;-)

Galen said...

I'm glad you posted this guest blog, as it led me to Ellen's blog, and then to some others she's following, and then to some others... There are so many amazing stories out there.

Helen-Louise said...

To Ellen - Huh, I had no idea that babies could have a stroke at birth, nor that it was as common as it is. I love the description of your relationship with your husband :) I'll be sure to check out your blog.

To Rob - Great idea! Just make sure you keep guest blogging occasional - I wouldn't want to read more posts from other people than from you ;)

Ellen said...

Thanks, Anonymous. I won't argue, Max is handsome! We are not allowing him to date just yet, we firmly believe that should not happen until he is at least 8. But then, I will be cool if he wants to date older women. Like Schuyler.

Thanks to everyone for checking out my little blog. I have been a fan of this blog for a long time, and so it was a real thrill to post here—and see Max's face hovering right above Barack Obama's. Two of my favorite guys in the whole wide world.

Kyla said...

That is the exact relationship I have with my husband about KayTar's stuff. I'm the pessimist (which I prefer to call REALIST) and he's the fantasy land guy. Balance.

Max is such a cutie!

Julia O'C said...

Max is beautiful.

My marriage is very similar to yours in the way that we deal with our son's challenges. I laughed out loud at the conversation about Max's hands. It was almost word-for-word a conversation my husband and I had about my son, Emmett. As frustrating as it can sometimes be, I'm also exceedingly grateful that my husband simply will not allow himself to go into that dark place with me. And the comic relief is always, well, a relief! I think that's why I read Rob's blog so religiously.

Good luck to you and your family. I look forward to reading more of your blog in the future.

Hetha said...

Max is a doll! This post resonated with me more than anything I've read in months. Thanks for sharing!

Rich said...

Love ya Max... Your mom rocks!

TB said...

I wish you all the best with Max. He's beautiful.
As a mother who also has a son who is atypical in some way I know exactly where you're coming from. I'm the one who feels I'm being realistic about my son's condition and the progress he is or isn't making while my husband (in my opinion) tends to be overly optimistic.
I think it works for us too because Myles needs both optimism and realism.