“Boarding School Drop-Off” by Leslie Martini
Are you a parent going through the Terrible Twos? Did you live through them and survive? Terrible Twosdays is a place to commiserate over the unending shenanigans of your Darling Children (as the online parenting communities say). Nonfiction stories will be considered, so long as names have been changed to protect the guilty. Inspired by our best-selling gift book for parents, Go the Fuck to Sleep, Terrible Twosdays joins the roster of our other online short fiction series. Unlike Mondays Are Murder and Thursdaze, we’re looking for stories with a light and mischievous feel, all about the day-to-day challenges of parenting. As with our other flash fiction series, stories must not exceed 750 words.
This week, Leslie Martini takes a trip down memory lane.
On September 11th of this year, we drove our thirteen-year-old daughter to a boarding school for children with learning differences.
It was the second-worst day in memory. The first was when she was three months old and the pediatrician told me she had fragile X syndrome.
A tidal wave loaded with every raw emotion from the last thirteen years crashed over me when we embraced for our final good-byes. I struggled to prevent her from seeing me crumble from the impact. The floodgates opened on the way back to the car, and I spent the four-hour ride home in a vegetative state—mostly trying to recall what brought us here.
Nearly fifteen years ago, my sister learned that her firstborn son had fragile X. He was just over three years old. It was the first anyone in our family had heard of this disease. The more we read, the more anxious we became. Blood tests confirmed that my two sisters and I all carried the gene. We learned my dad was the carrier, which meant all three of his daughters were automatically carriers since males only have one X chromosome. Testing my firstborn three-month-old daughter came next. There was a fifty-fifty chance of inheriting the defective gene.
The pediatrician failed in his attempt to soften the blow when he revealed that the test was positive for fragile X. “She might be fine. You have to just go on that assumption. That’s all you really have,” I vaguely recall him saying. The blunt force of the word positive rendered me comatose. I remained in the fetal position on the floor for what may have been hours.
A single-gene disease, fragile X syndrome affects one in four thousand males and one in six to eight thousand females worldwide. It is carried on the X chromosome. Because boys have only one X, they are typically more affected than girls and suffer the disease’s worst effects. That was the case with my nephew. There was a 50 percent chance of my daughter being affected. She had a second X chromosome she could rely upon. On good days, I translated that into a 50 percent chance of her not being affected. But that 50 percent had many caveats. And on bad days, those caveats acted as a raging tempest, annihilating my hopes. She could be severely mentally retarded, or she could have only mild learning delays. She could have deficits primarily in math, or she could have problems navigating social skills. Depression, attention deficit, impulsivity—the combined threat of potential abnormalities was a concoction.
I prayed. I cried. I obsessed. I hid. I didn’t tell anyone because there might not be anything to tell. My father was ashamed. It came from him. He fell apart. He perpetuated the secret. I was a fraud. I lived in a world consisting of maybe. I threw myself into researching fragile X, only to become more confused. I spent my nights in a frenzied state of angst, documenting milestones. If she could meet these, she was going to be okay. But then came another. And another after that.
I started hating milestones and the throngs of people who charted them. She was late to walk. But when she walked, I danced. She was late to talk, but when she said, “Mama,” I sang. Sentences came, but they too were halted. Everything took a lifetime. And all I could do was wait.
Soon enough, I began learning to sew pieces of progress together, weaving my own path. I began learning that there is no Siri dedicated to mothers. No directions, maps, or charts. I began learning to enjoy traveling on mostly unpaved paths. Sometimes there are more potholes.
LESLIE MARTINI is a freelance writer, newspaper columnist, and blogger. She holds a master’s in English literature and works with students ages six to eighteen on creative and expository writing skills. In addition to weekly columns in the Marblehead Reporter and Patch, her work has appeared in Northshore Magazine, the Boston Globe’s Lola Magazine, Motherwords Magazine, and a book entitled Thin Threads. She is currently working on her first children’s book entitled That Cat at the Algonquin Hotel.
Do you have a story you’d like us to consider for online publication in the Terrible Twosdays flash fiction series? Here are the submission terms and guidelines:
—We are not offering payment, and are asking for first digital rights. The rights to the story revert to the author immediately upon publication.
—Your story should focus on the challenges of parenting. Ideally, stories should be about children aged 0 to 5, but any age (up to early teens) is acceptable. Stories may be fiction or nonfiction.
—Include the child’s age at the time of the story next to your byline.
—Your story should not exceed 750 words.
—E-mail your submission [email protected] paste the story into the body of the email, and also attach it as a PDF file.
Posted: Feb 17, 2015
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