John's eighth birthday

Every time I put my little boy’s socks on him, I have this nagging feeling that I shouldn’t.

He is eight years old.

There are things eight year olds should be doing for themselves, and putting on socks is one of them.

This particular eight-year-old, however, cannot tolerate that little sock lump that often forms between toe and shoe. Neither can he endure tags at the back of his neck, itchy seams on his pants, a drop of water on his sleeve, the pressure of eyeglasses on his nose. You get the picture.

John is my preemie, born fifteen weeks early. They told us when we adopted him that the preemie brain is not quite the same as some others. It was formed outside the womb for a good portion of its development. That has to yield some different results.

Still, as his mother, I am supposed to help him function and live a life as “normal” as possible. I know this from all the therapies and interventions we have gone through with his older sister, who has Down syndrome.

So why, in Heaven’s name, am I still putting on this child’s socks? That’s what I ask myself every time I do it.

And the answer, for the most part, is we can’t get out of the door if I don’t. If the socks don’t go on right, John rips the shoes and socks off his feet and retreats to a corner to cry. Occasionally the shoes fly. This from a child who is sweet and loving, with a heart of gold, a child who will sacrifice favorite foods and his turn on the Wii for his sister. Selfish he is not.

This was confirmed the other day when he got to choose something from the treasure chest at the dentist’s office, and he surprised me with a ring. I wore it for hours until the little purple “gem” fell out. (Still haven’t told him that.) The empty-pronged treasure will go in my jewelry box, as a reminder, when I am ninety, of how much this little guy loves me.

john on carousel

And if moments of illumination could be kept in keepsake boxes, I would put something else in there too. It’s a conversation the two of us had the other day after I had dropped my older children at the curb so they could get into church and be on time for Mass while I stayed behind in the car to (you guessed it) put on John’s socks.

“OK, John, let me see your foot,” I said in my usual here-we-go-again tone, gathering up the sock like an accordion, hoping to get it right on the first try.

“Thanks, Mom,” he said.

“Um-hmmm.” I stretched the sock over his heel and adjusted the toe seam. So far, so good.

“You know what, Mom?”

“Um-hmmm.” I grabbed the second sock from the car floor.

“When I grow up, I am going to marry a lady just like you.”

I looked up into his face from my hunched position. He was smiling and had those soft, deep eyes. “Why?” I chuckled. “So she can put on your socks for the rest of your life?”

“No,” he  laughed. “Because when I’m a dad, you know, I am going to work all day, like Daddy, and our kids will need someone to put on their socks.”

I found comfort in this statement on a number of levels, the highest of which was his understanding that he will be serving others someday. The lowest was his confirmation that he will be putting on his own socks before going to work each day.

With a new year coming, I make a resolution right now to offer John a course in putting on socks, with an emphasis in lump mitigation. I am a homeschool mom and have, so far, taught children Algebra II, chemistry, and essay writing. Surely I can do this sock thing.  I will hold this class at times of the day when we don’t have to go anywhere. And I’m confident that by the dawning of the year 2015, John will have mastered this task, a little later than most, but early enough to save his wife from having to do it.

In the meantime, I am going to revel in the certainty that this child knows what’s important in life. He doesn’t see me as a sock lump remover. He sees me as a model for the woman he will someday marry. And he sees himself as an image of the children he will someday love as much as he was loved.

Copyright 2013 Sherry Boas