Follow The Bouncing Ball

Another Moira story, because it was sweet and I don’t want to forget it.

Moira attends a baby gym class and has since she was scarcely crawling; there’s some organized song-and-dance but mostly they roam free on the gym equipment.

It should surprise no one that Moira combined today’s activity–jump from one tall foam block to a low one, then do a somersault on the low one–into an aerial front flip that I had to course-correct in midair to keep her from landing on her skull.

Anyway, toward the end of class they get out the soft sensory balls for basic chasing/throwing/catching. They come in different colors and sizes, but there’s only one purple ball in the set of smaller nubbly ones. It is hotly coveted by all the kids, and I see why–in a sea of faded primaries, this particularly rich shade of purple stands out.

One of the little girls we’ve come to know was crying–she had been bumped and fell down, and it triggered a big upset. She got past the point where she could control it; it was just one of those crying spells they lose the ability to manage. Her mom was holding her.

Moira looked at the little girl and her miserable little sobs, and looked around. Her eyes fell on the little purple ball as it bounced out of the scrum. She darted over, picked it up–eyeing the other kids approaching her–and ran over to the sad little girl. Moira pulled on the girl’s shoe and offered up in comfort the finest gift her toddler brain could conceive. The gift was taken, but the girl’s grief was too great–the ball was put down, and they left to calm down outside. Moira shrugged it off, took the purple ball, and toddled over to a hoop and slam-dunked it through the center.

My darling Moira, you have two rare and precious gifts: the compassion to see suffering and want to fix it, and the confidence to shake it off when your plan doesn’t go quite accordingly. You’re not yet two, but you’ve figured out something some people never learn. I see great things in you, my little fireball.



Last week Maggie began Reception Year at her lovely Montessori school, which is UK pre-k and the last year before compulsory education begins. She’s in school three full days a week, and adjusting nicely. Moira, on the other hand, made it abundantly clear by the end of Maggie’s first week that she finds my company…a bit lacking. I’m okay, I’m just…not that interesting. It’s not my fault. It’s her, not me. But since I have to entertain her, I tried a new playgroup yesterday that my friend told me about.

We arrived to a church hall with wood floors and vaulted ceilings, where the echoes of almost thirty children and their caregivers vibrated over an expanse of toys, thrift shop keyboards and phones for kids to pound, mini-trampolines, and an art table. My body locked up defensively; this is not an atmosphere I’m used to. Such utter bedlam would have been impossible for Maggie to process, and until now most of our activities have centered around Maggie’s needs, since Moira was just happy to be where her sister was.

Moira took off into the din without a look back, arms stretched wide and a huge smile on her face as if to say “MY PEOPLE! YOU’VE BEEN HERE ALL ALONG!” I kept an eye on her to see what she was doing–and to whom she was doing it, if applicable–but I really believe that she could not have cared less if I was alive or dead. Once in a while she brought me a baby doll or enlisted my help to get the art smock on and off, but she mostly tore around exploring. I had to intervene a few times: she got a little bossy with the baby dolls, holding a miniature high chair over her head as if to kosh her new playmate, and another time she got up on the mini-trampoline and hugged the little girl next to her, who was not at all pleased that Moira had invited herself up. “Sweetie, not everyone likes surprise hugs on the trampoline.”

When I told her it was snack time, she ran away to find an empty chair and started babbling to her friend. When it was time to clean, she automatically took the lead in collecting toys and then, because she is a beast of pure strength, started stacking the miniature chairs. At the very end at song time, she raced into the circle and grabbed a stranger’s hand to sing “Hokey Pokey,” again not caring where I was or what I was doing.

Today I had to go to an event, a coffee social with lots of vendors and such. Moira did laps the entire time: continuous circuits past the tables, up the stairs, down the ramps, past the food, grinning at everyone, high-fiving, talking (babbling mostly incoherently) to people, giving hugs, pointing to friends. My friend Kathleen, herself a mom of three older kids, observed her in one of her circuits and said “My God. She just…never…stops.”

And she doesn’t. That’s what makes Moira so fascinating to me. Maggie’s autism diagnosis has challenged how I think and view the world, for sure, but at her core she’s an introvert who enjoys her books and quiet pursuits. That, I can manage. I’m an introvert myself and Tom claims extroversion, but he really straddles the ambivert line. Moira is an extrovert’s extrovert. It’s like living with a tiny diapered Oprah. “And YOU get a smile and YOU get a smile and YOU get a high five and YOU! YOU GET A HUG! HEY YOU!”

Being a natural introvert has meant that learning the rules of social interaction has been hard for me. I don’t have an intuitive knack for social comfort, and not a lot of desire to learn. Moira has the knack. She moves with such easy confidence and grace; very little gets her down. She certainly understands the rules–she picks up cues fluidly and easily–which makes it more galling when she then turns around and knowingly, smirkingly flouts the ones that are inconvenient to her purposes. This is the girl who taught her Little Gym class that it was fun to slide down things headfirst instead of feet-first; she’s given boys more than twice her age who want her to get out of their way at the playground raspberries and holds her ground like she’s seven feet tall. 

I know that her nonchalance in flouting the rules and pursuing her own ends is something that needs to be tempered, but truly, I am awestruck by her. That intuitive knack for mixing it up, jumping in, and getting to know everyone–even if they don’t necessarily think they want to be known (sorry, poor trampoline girl)–is so foreign to my experience that seeing it in action from such a young age is incredible to me. She’s a crackling sparkler of a girl, hard to ignore and hot to handle.

One way or another, this girl is going to be a showstopper. I’m so glad and grateful that we get a front-row seat.

This Post is Brought to You By the Letters MRI, CAT, & ER

“And unto them a child was born, and it was decreed unto them all that thy needeth to prepareth thy shit, because thou hast no idea what havoc that child could wreak.” – Proverb I just made up

Long ago, I had my first MRI. That revealed an optic nerve that had a head-start on the rest of my body by being so thoroughly underachieving that it refused to work at all. I’ve never had much peripheral vision on my left side, which is less restrictive to driving than one might think.

The biggest issue with a defunct eye is blind spots (ha, no pun intended). If I don’t hear someone coming, they can be three inches from my face before I realize they’re there, and the shock of being perpetually surprised by left-approachers has shaved several years off my life. So it was painful, but ultimately not surprising, when Maggie ran full-force into me while I was sitting on the grass and knocked my body into the shape of an acute angle.

Immediately, I felt three huge pops in my neck. The pain flared intensely, but then faded, and I got about my business making ready to fly us to America for our vacation and to ready the house and other projects for our departure. This is busylady talk for “I ignored the odd flares of pain and headaches popping up near-daily.”

By the time we landed in Boston I was suffering a migraine so intense that I couldn’t sleep for more than 45-minute stretches that knocked down with Advil but refused to fully abate. Because I had started another medication, I didn’t immediately connect it to our little picnic tackle. What kind of person gets whiplash from a four-year-old?

People, I am that person.

After waking in the night to vomit and suffering balance loss and blurred vision while visiting friends outside Boston, we finally went to the emergency room. If you ever need to have an IV inserted and blood taken, the Lahey Clinic is tops. However, they gave me medication for the head pain–which was so intense that it eclipsed the neck pain–that made it impossible to take a full breath, and then had me get a CAT scan to rule out anything especially scary. It may be important to mention that at this time, I was sure that I at least had a blood clot or possibly was having a mild stroke, and I got wheeled into the scan room just in time to hear an orderly tell another patient “There was something concerning on your scan, so the doctor will need to keep you.”


I was discharged with migraine medication, which helped for about twelve hours but did next to nothing after that. We went back to Maine, and I made it a day before I capsized, again in massive pain. Thus it was that I landed back in the ER, but now armed with this important information: the primary head pain vanished with medicine. The neck pain didn’t. And brother, I had a ten-pound baby at home, a baby with stuck shoulders and a 99th percentile head, without so much as a belt to bite and I would do that AGAIN if given the choice between that and experiencing that early Sunday neck/head pain again.

When you’re in that kind of pain, they punch an express ticket for you on the morphine train. It was a tiny dose, tempered with anti-nausea meds, and I felt well enough to finally sleep a bit. The powers that be ordered an MRI, and after a brief comedy of errors where I got wheeled around the hospital looking for a pair of pliers to remove an earring from my ear that was original from the initial piercing, I got stuffed into a tube and then suffered the itchiest nose I’ve had since my first MRI…you know, the one that revealed the bad eye that led to the blind spot that led to the surprise tackle and the green grass grows all around.

The results–severe muscle sprain, aka fucking whiplash from my four-year-old–were quick, but by that time I was in pain again. There had been a shift change, and apparently they did not write down that I am a cheap date and that I get nauseous. Years ago, when I saw Trainspotting, I thought Ewan MacGregor was exaggerating a bit when he did that head-back flop on the bed when that heroin hit his bloodstream. I tell you now that once the second dose of morphine hit me I felt it in my toes, fingertips, the tip of my tongue, and the top of my head simultaneously and I flumped straight back into a stack of pillows. My poor father, who had been volunteered to trade with Tom–who had been up since 4am tending to my broken self–so he could trot the girls out to familial obligations, had to listen to my stoned babbling for over an hour before I finally was discharged and we could go home. I was higher than the cast of Requiem for a Dream. 

After all that–and oh, God, why didn’t I deal with this earlier in the UK, where health care is free! FREE I SAY!–three days of muscle relaxers and Vicodin shaped me up right speedy, and we were able to enjoy the rest of our vacation in unmedicated peace. Except for poor Tom, because Moira came down with croup (this is two for two visits to America where she has become so afflicted. I suspect she’ll fare better in Morocco) and I was still absolutely useless from the barrage of drugs in my system. Since he was the only functional parent he ended up back in the same ER that evening for steroid shots. He slept almost the entirety of Monday, Moira slept a bit herself, Maggie ALWAYS sleeps in, and I was cruising on Vicodin. It was like a mini-episode of “House.”

So let that be a lesson to you: if you have children, and especially if you have a blind spot, put some damn bells on your kids.