It’s been brought to my attention by several sources (none of them Owen or Lindell) that I write about Ford more than I write about my other two boys. I’d like to correct that today.
But first, the idea that I haven’t written about Lindell lately simply isn’t true. Recall several weeks ago when I published Lindell’s infamous quote: “Preston needs help wiping his butt.” (When Lindell and Preston are 16, they will wish I never wrote about them.) The fact that I haven’t recently written about Owen has good rea-son. After I referred to him as the “Waffle Flopper” earlier this year, Owen requested that I not write about him ever again. “Don’t even mention my name,” he said.
“I won’t use ‘Owen,’ but can I call you the Waffle Flopper?” I asked.
Owen glared at me.
“How about just WF?”
In time, the Waffle-Flopper debacle faded from memory, and Owen has once again given me the green light to write about him.
When Owen was a baby, I called him my little “kitten.” He was so small and bendy, if he ever fell from the couch, I was sure he would flip around in the air and land on his hands and knees with his back arched. He had fine, wispy hair that stood straight up in all directions. This earned him the nickname “Rooster,” and although most of his hair has finally settled down, even today there is one tuft that sticks up in the back. When Owen draws pictures of himself, he is sure to include this.
Owen didn’t walk or talk for a very long time. The doctors were concerned and ran all sorts of tests on him. He was so underweight, his numbers didn’t register on the growth chart at the doctor’s office. It was a big deal when Owen turned 5 years old and finally made it into the 3rd percentile for height and weight.
Through all of this, however, somehow I knew that my little Owen was observing everything, taking it in and becoming a better person for it. One night, when Owen was almost 2 years old, he stood up and took his first steps. Before we could even say, “Did he just walk?” Owen was doing laps around the couch. And he has been like that ever since: watching and absorbing, mastering an ability in his mind first and then surprising everyone when he finally does it. Owen cried before the first day of first grade because he didn’t want to read out loud. Not yet. We thought he couldn’t read at all. A few weeks later, he was reading whole books to us.
The challenges Owen has faced, and the struggles he’s been through, have culminated to make him a sensitive little boy who worries so much about other people he sometimes rubs his upper lip raw from an anxious tic that involves dragging the palm of his hand from the bottom of his nose up his forehead. The night that Lindell ate a Glade Plugins air freshener and was taken to the hospital, my friend Stephanie, who stayed with the boys, said Owen cried in his bed for at least an hour. More recently, at a children’s museum in Rockland, I watched as Owen helped a little girl who was confused by a puzzle. “Picture it in your mind,” he told her. “If you put this piece there, will the ball fit through it?” He was as skillful and patient as a kindergarten teacher.
In fact, Owen is so concerned with other people’s feelings, he is sometimes surprised when he receives anything for himself. My friend Susan gave the boys gumballs one day, and instead of eating his, Owen saved it like a precious stone. He kept it on the shelf above his bed and referred to it as “the one that Mrs. Stephenson gave me.”
Add to this the image of Owen’s smile, which always involves squinting, eyelashes that curl at the corners and eyebrows like two upside down parentheses, and you will know why I sometimes describe Owen as a ball of sunshine. Ford says that Owen has “sparklies in his eyes,” and draws pictures of him with starbursts next to the eyeballs. It is impossible not to smile when Ford is taking himself too seriously, worrying about the rules of a game or the score, and Owen says, “I just tooted,” then collapses on the floor giggling. Even Ford will grin.
And yet, for all the ways Owen has grown and changed, he still is the one who wants to sit in my lap and rest his head on my shoulder. He is less like a kitten these days; more like a fledgling deer with lanky, awkward legs and large feet. His face is filling out, his hair calming down. And when he’s not flopping on the ground protesting the morning waffles, Owen is the happiest kid I know.
Maine author and columnist Sarah Smiley’s writing is syndicated weekly to publications across the country. She and her husband, Dustin, live with their three sons in Bangor. She may be reached at email@example.com.