What’s In A Name?

February 28, 2007 at 10:44 am (Uncategorized)

When I departed for Philadelphia a week ago, I left behind me at home my husband Jay and my son, Andrew. Except Andrew wasn’t responding to his given name. “I’m still Rocky,” he would correct me when I made the mistake of calling him Andrew. It wasn’t just me who was finding this confusing. “I’m not Andrew anymore,” he told anyone we encountered, including random strangers at the park. “My name is Rocky.”

Because I pride myself on being the type of mother who won’t blow a gasket about things like a toddler’s name change, I made my farewells to Rocky and Jay and boarded the airplane. But when I returned home, Andrew/Rocky informed me that I could now call him Dexter—after a portly pig in the Fox book series he particularly likes. It was wonderful to be back with my family, even though the smallest member of it alternated between telling me to call him Dexter and then cooing about how much he missed me. It was a little hard to keep up.

Then, the night before last, Andrew/Rocky/Dexter and I read Dr. Seuss’s The King’s Stilts for the first time. My son was captivated by the hero of the story, a brave young boy by the name of Eric, who saves the day (and the mythical kingdom of Ninn) by outwitting the evil Lord Droon by returning to King Bertim his beloved bright red stilts. We closed the book, and I kissed Andrew good night. “My name is now Eric,” he said. “Good Lord,” I thought. “This is beginning to sound like a disassociate disorder.”

In truth, I don’t think Andrew/Rocky/Dexter/Eric suffers from any type of disorder, disassociate or otherwise. I love the fact that my son is creative, that instead of watching television, he would rather spin a tale about when he was a “little baby,” or when he was an astronaut, or about the other adventures he concocts in his mind. The kid clearly doesn’t suffer from limited horizons. This morning, for instance, he told me that we had to hurry through breakfast so that we could bring his stuffed horse to the airport to make his “4:44 flight back to Dayton, Ohio.” When I asked him obtusely why horse needed to go to Dayton, Andrew told me with barely retrained impatience that “horse forgot his iPod there.” Of course. How silly of me.

I marvel at Andrew’s imaginative capacity to move between worlds. This morning, as we cuddled together in bed, he made a rabbit den in the covers, and told me that he had gone to the pet store yesterday and bought a baby brother bunny and a baby duck. The other day, he said he was a baby camel and asked if I would keep him as a pet. He’s constantly fighting pitched battles against creatures from his books. Any mundane object becomes a magical toy in his hand. He simply has to sit on the couch to fly off to another city—and hopefully, he’ll soon soar to more exotic destinations than Dayton, Ohio. He’s no different than other children, I know, but he is my child, so of course I think he is different—and amazing.

I envy Andrew’s ability to take on and cast off identities as easily as I slip on a scarf. Since I am all grown-up and affixed more firmly to the adult world of paying the bills, making the beds, and preparing supper, it’s a little harder for me to decide for a day that I will be someone else. But I wish I could, especially when the someone else I would choose to shrug off like a coat that really doesn’t fit is the woman who spends so much of her time sick.

When I came back from Philadelphia, it took me a couple of days to shake the strands of medicine and sickness from me. This wasn’t because I received particularly dire news there. Really, the visit went well. The most important test, the cardiac MRI, showed that the sarcoidosis is not currently active in my heart, even though the disease is active in my joints, liver, and spleen right now. Both the cardiologist and the pulmonologist who oversee my treatment felt that I stood a good chance of pushing the disease back with the combination of prednisone, methotrexate, and Enbrel I’m currently taking. So, while I didn’t get a clean bill of health, I certainly could have received worse news. It’s much better to have sarcoidosis inflaming your joints than interfering with your heart’s ability to beat properly, right?

But even though my news was neutral, being a patient means donning a mindset just as surely as Andrew does when he becomes spunky little Eric. In Philadelphia, I focus on extracting every little bit of information I can from the various doctors I see. I write extensive lists of questions; note every symptom I’ve experienced since my last appointment; problematize every drug they propose giving me and then problematize them not giving me more drugs; I question whether the results from diagnostic tests such as the MRI can be fully trusted. In short, I am a colossal pain in the ass, focused entirely on myself and my needs as a physical human being who is decidedly not interested in dying or becoming sicker.

Then, presto, thanks to the wonders of modern air travel, I am home in the arms of my husband, and my little boy is pressing his flushed face against mine and telling me ten thousand things about what happened when I was gone. He is carrying an enormous bouquet of roses and daisies and is bellowing in my ear that he is now Dexter and that he made me a banner and that he missed me and that we should go get hot dogs for lunch. This is where I want to be, and this is who I want to be. But it is exceedingly difficult to become just his Mom again, to let go of the tightness and the fear and the hardness I need to carry with me in Philadelphia. I can’t speed between selves like he can. Instead, I feel like I have to bully the medical patient self out of me.

But, I don’t really have any choice about the matter do I? I can shake, shake, shake the cobwebs of illness off me, and maybe Andrew will notice a few, still clinging to me. “And what of it?” I’m able to ask myself on good days. If I can keep track of the Andrew underneath Rocky, Dexter, and Eric, he too can remember that his Mom hasn’t disappeared on the days when she has to stay in bed. He’s a bright kid, after all. I need to trust he can get it.

1 Comment

  1. Lori said,

    When Cory was about the same age he went from Cory to Simba (from the lion king) to Quill. It took a long time for me to figure that one out
    but it was from a line in a Winne-the-Pooh song. Martha called be up once
    and wanted to know what this Quill stuff was all about because Nate was
    talking about.

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