Mom, I think I’m different..

Do you have that one child, who was a “busy” toddler? That was my son Nathan, if only I had known why..

When he came into the world, I delivered him naturally. (with no drugs!) My bones popped out of place and I moaned like a demon. Then, the doctor handed him to me. I was thrilled to see that he looked just like me! My first born son resembled his Father. Now, I had a child that looked like me. I kissed his soft skin and fell in love. As an infant, he had colic (or so I was told) and cried constantly. His nightly routine was to wail, from 10:00pm to 7:30am! Gripe water didn’t seem to do much at all. Although, I continued with it as instructed by his pediatrician. (peppermint drops work much better!) I felt so helpless during these times. I also had to stay awake, as my first born woke up around this time! He was also breastfed for exactly 12 months. Feedings were demanded every two hours, the entire time! I assumed that something was wrong and had my milk tested. To my surprise, I was told it was very healthy. He was also treated for an ear infection, that I believe did not exist. Earaches became something he had to deal with until he hit puberty. I brought him to the doctor many times, just to be told there was nothing wrong! I had a little boy crying himself to sleep most nights, as medication did nothing. I feared hearing the words “Mama, my ear hurts!”

Throughout his toddler years, there were many challenges. He could not refrain from talking to strangers! To the point, that he would sometimes take off in the blink of an eye. This happened while shopping for groceries or at the mall. (Yes, he was always seated in the cart!) He would jump down and run, while his older brother said nothing. When I found him (if he wasn’t hiding) he would be asking questions like “Why do your teeth look like that?” He would also say things not relevant to his age.. (out of the mouths of babes) He was always touching other people’s belongings. Looking with his eyes, was not enough. He had to grab and pick things apart! My Father nicknamed him “99 fingers” because of it. I would often wake during the night, because he was up to something. He would be cracking eggs open or something else. One time he took the scissors (that were well out of reach) and cut the material on the couch cushion! When I caught him, he explained that he needed to look inside. I asked him how he managed to cut it open. He showed me how he stacked toys to make stairs. He loved to build Mega Blocks but got so frustrated. He would get upset with me, for not being able to fix them! He would take two blocks, place them in my hands and say “Mama, fix it” When I would try and build something, he would say “no, Mama” and place them back in my hands. I never realized what he meant, until later on in life! One night I heard him screaming, his middle finger was stuck inside the nostril of a Halloween mask. I had to bring him to the hospital at two o’clock in the morning. His finger was incredibly blue and swollen. The nurses and doctors said, they had never seen that before! They had to use a special tool for cutting rings off! We were there for a long time, they were so scared to cut him. When we were leaving, the nurse asked if I wanted to keep the mask. I pointed to the nearest garbage can! The worst episode, was when he knocked the screen out of his bedroom window. He had thrown almost all of his toys out onto the rooftop. Then, he crawled out and began to play! He has taken my breath away more than once. Thankfully, the next place we moved to was on ground level. Did I mention, that he ate bumblebees? He said he had to bite them, because he liked crunchy things! I now understand, that his behaviour was part of being over-stimulated!

His childhood was much the same, he found things to “examine” outside of home. His pockets were full of the strangest things. I once walked into his bedroom to find grasshoppers jumping all over the place! He had pulled one of their legs off, so he could keep them as pets. (I bet they are just as crunchy as a bumblebee.) Not to mention, the time he clobbered the head off of a dead squirrel. How about when he found an unusually large beetle. He brought it to my neighbour, she was running all over the backyard, trying to get away from him. He desperately wanted to show her something about it.

As he got older, he continued to be destructive. While in school, he would cut up and colour on his clothes. Everyday, he arrived home with something different. A special “shiny” stone, he dug for an hour to retrieve. He stained his hands for weeks, by prying open dozens of black walnuts! My husband once bought a new toilet seat. Before he had a chance to install it, Nathan broke it apart with a screwdriver! Most of these stories sound like normal tales of a little boy. However, his reason behind doing these things were different. Most of the time, he was seen as a mischievous child. I knew he was different from other children.  Although to me, he was nothing more than a boy “being a boy.” He also peed on the toilet seat and wiped boogers on the wall.

Just before middle school, his earaches started to fade. He began sleeping much better at night. He seemed very happy and healthy. He even started having sleepovers with friends. I was thrilled to see him getting a nice break! I could tell big changes were just around the corner. (he had already started growing a moustache when he was 10!) Before I knew it, he announced (with such pride) that he had gone through puberty. There is quite a story to tell, but I’ll leave it within the family. After all, he does deserve some privacy. His voice started to crack and squeal when he spoke. I was extremely amused by this. I love to play around and pick on my children! Unfortunately, he started having the worst kind of growing pains! His knees hurt so bad, that he had to start taking the bus to school. What may seem to be pretty normal, was in fact not! (He told me that he saw blue when he was in pain.) I thought he meant that he was feeling sad. I took him to see the doctor, she diagnosed him with Osgoode-Shlatter disease. I thought this to be strange, as he did not play sports! He was told to ice it and wear a knee brace. An X-ray confirmed, what I did not believe. There was nothing wrong with his knees at all. (This continued until the end of ninth grade.) One night during dinner, Nathan asked me if I could see static. I just figured he was being a weird teenager. which was completely normal to me.

Then, something happened that I’ll never forget.. Upon entering the house from school one day. He asked me if we could speak privately! I took a deep breath and guided him up to my bedroom. We sat down, he looked me in the eye and said “Mom, I think I’m different than everyone else!” I told him that I didn’t understand, that he would have to explain himself. He said he thought that something happened to him. He remembered it being this way years before. He never talked to me about it, because he didn’t know any better! As you can imagine, I began to sob. I thought something terrible had happened to my child. He was surprised, that I had this reaction. He asked me not to cry, because there was nothing bad going on. I became very confused, then the phone rang. He said, that’s probably my school. I asked him to stay put, while I answered the phone. Sure enough, it was his teacher. I was overwhelmed with emotions, not knowing what was going on. She went on, that she had presented an art challenge to the class. This was something that she did every year. There was never a student who could figure it out. She asked the question, with no hope for a solution. My son lifted his hand, saying I can do it! He approached the front of the class. What he did, shocked and amazed her! She told me that my son was very smart, that he may be a genius! Not only did he solve the problem, he went further in doing it his own way! She could not figure out, what he had done. When the conversation ended, I headed back to the room. That’s when he said “Mom, when you look at me, what colour am I?” Now I was on the verge of tears again. I thought someone had drugged him. I called my husband at work. Letting him know, that something serious was going on! I was shaking, sweating in complete fear. He was only eleven years old! I asked him if he was on drugs. I promised that nobody would be in trouble. He started to laugh, assuring me otherwise. I decided to do some research on the internet. I came across many informative websites. (The one that opened my eyes was the Synesthesia Battery Test!) The site is run by Dr. David Eagleman.

I found exactly what I was looking for. I was left feeling curious and awful at the same time. Up until that point, I had forgotten about a childhood memory! I once met a German boy during the summer, he claimed that he could see music. I cruelly laughed at him in disbelief. I certainly had no reason to laugh now! I took notes and tried a test with my son. Grapheme Colour is the most common form of Synesthesia. Colour is associated with letters, numbers, shapes and so on.. (You will have to research on your own.) I asked him to write down all the letters of the alphabet, in the colours that he sees them. He was still quite shocked, that other people did not perceive the world this way! He proceeded to write, even though I was told I had the wrong colours. Once he was finished, I added the sheet of paper to a clipboard. I wanted to be certain, that he could not see through it. I still had some suspicions in this matter. Over the next hour, I recited the letters one by one. I read them in order, then started choosing at random. Each response given was an exact match, with the colours he had written them in! Next, I had him do the same for numbers, days of the week, months of the year and shapes. Again, he gave no incorrect answer. I brought him to my computer to complete the battery test. I sat patiently, while he answered question after question. This test is quite long, especially for a child. He complained that the colour wheel was wrong. He told me that he could only give answers, for similar shades. He did become tired in the end, which was good reason to miss school the next day.

I called our General Practitioner for an immediate appointment. After a full check-up, she asked to speak to me alone. She agreed that it sounded just like Synesthesia. However, she explained that sometimes it could be brought on by injury or a brain tumor! He would have to go for an MRI to rule those things out. Thankfully, I received a call with a date and time two days later. I was relieved that he didn’t have to wait very long at all. I was incredibly worried about him. Life couldn’t be that unfair, could it? The days and nights were long. We did more research in trying to figure out what types of Synesthesia he might have. We talked about all his different experiences. I suggested that he start a journal, where he could keep track of everything. This sort of thing would be good to show the doctor. He agreed and started adding to it everyday. (We have since found out , that he has multiple types.) On the day of his MRI, I was nervous for him. He was brave, and very patient. I went into the room with him while they got him ready. Then I was asked to wait out in the changing area. I could see him through the glass and hear him when he spoke. The test took exactly one hour until completion. Partway through, he said “Weren’t these headphones supposed to play music?” The technician apologized, as she did not realize it had been off. When the test was done, I requested a dvd be mailed to my home. Two weeks later, I finally got a call from the doctor’s office. We quickly rushed over to speak with her. We were told that the results were good. He had a perfectly healthy brain with no signs of injury or disease. Synesthesia is a perceptual phenomenon. I have a child with a special gift!

Nathan is now, a bright 16 year old boy. He attends Secondary School, where everyone wants to know what colour they are! He is doing very well with his grades. His favourite subject is music, as he wants to be a teacher! I am proud to say that we share the same shade of blue! How awesome is it, to have a child that can read your aura! One day I saw him running down the street to get home. He couldn’t wait to let me know, that he had seen a golden person. He’s discovered that drinking coffee is a bad idea, caffeine makes him feel drunk. He has constant coloured static in his vision, which is like random dot pixels. Shapes come out of the walls, as if they’re breathing! I warned him to never dabble in drugs, as it already sounds like he’s on LSD! He cannot stand the smell of our vehicle. We bought it 7 years ago, to him it still has that new car smell. (he can also taste it) He was car sick for years because of it) He suffers from insomnia most nights. He plays PS4 like all teenage boys his age. He plays many different instruments, bass guitar and piano seem to be a favourite. He really enjoys trying new foods, as I often hear “Mmmm, this is tasty!” He also likes hearing different sounds. Tonight during dinner, he took a sip of his drink. The liquid made a noise, and he said “Oh, that was a great sound!” We really enjoy his quirkiness, I can’t imagine life any other way!

©D.J. Woelders, 2019.

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