Do Fence Me In

When we adopted Daniel, and discovered that he was developmentally many months behind “normal”, I worked towards a solution in my normal style – with head-on, full-boar, Type-A vigor. Between the ages of 11 and 18 months, I focused on the basics– sitting, crawling, picking up food, getting food into the mouth, teaching him to not over-stuff food into his mouth, chewing, swallowing, talking and finally walking.

Doctors continually told me his “issues” were nothing more than the result of neglect he’d suffered for the first 10 months of his life, with a less-than-attentive, less-than-stimulating birth family, prior to our adoption of him. It would be several years before we’d finally get a diagnosis that made sense – PDD-NOS. Praying, and begging the Lord for wisdom were the only things to get me through each and every day.

Like everything else in life, I had expectations, of what it would be like when he achieved certain milestones during our vigorous Baby Boot-Camp. For talking, I expected (longed) to hear “Mama” and “Dada”. “Mama” became a “stim” – a long-winded journey through the alphabet turning into “Baba, Caca, Dada, Fafa, Gaga, Haha, Jaja, Lala, Nana, Papa, Qaqa, Rara, Sasa, Tata, Vava, Wawa, Zaza” for hours on end.

My expectation for walking was that we could tour the zoo, hand-in-hand with him toddling along beside me. Perhaps we’d stop for a treat, relaxing under the shade of a beautiful oak tree, enjoying each other’s company. I’m a romantic, at heart. Instead, walking became running – down the driveway or out into the woods, with me in pursuit. Dreams of his little hand in mind became battles where he’d break free of my grasp, dodging and darting through aisles in the grocery store with no particular goal in mind other than to run, usually grabbing items off shelves along his zig-zag path, displacing them to the floor. Going anywhere necessitated using a stroller or shopping cart, in which to confine him. Even then, he’d often scream in outrage at being confined. He provided ample opportunities for strangers to assault me with parenting advice. Thoughts of just simply staying home, not going anywhere crossed my mind. I’m too stubborn to give up, though.

In our home, when he wasn’t running full-bore into our full-length French glass doors or the glass patio doors, he was running head-on at the fireplace, intentionally smashing his head into the brick. Just as quickly, he would dodge into the dog “crate”, meant to easily contain any beast up to 200-pounds, shutting himself in, curling into a ball, not uttering a sound for extended periods of time. I grew to look forward to those times. Large cardboard boxes, areas under his bed, and the farthest reaches under the dining room table offered other safe havens where he could hide – not from any particular person, but more from a necessity to make his world a little bit smaller, more manageable in size.

He became my own personal fitness trainer. I quickly dropped from a regular, normal-looking size 12, to a 4-6, earning the nickname “Bones” from my otherwise dear husband. I’ve offered to rent him out (my son, not the husband) for half and full-day training sessions to others who commented on how they wished they could “drop a few pounds”. So far, I haven’t had any takers. Now, here it is – 5 years after the adoption and it is slowly sinking in, “we’ve come a long way, Baby”.

I’ve managed to put 10 pounds back on my still-scrawny frame, and Daniel now asks to hold my hand. The changes in him, especially over the last few months, since freeing him from the “special needs” grip of our local school district, have been, as my dear friend Laura puts it, “nothing short of miraculous”.

If I could have changed one thing, over the last five years, it would have been to have fenced in our yard. We finally had one installed last week, and I can now clearly see it would have offered more than a boundary in which to confine Running Daniel. It would have, in its confinement, given him a “safe” place, similar to what he was seeking from climbing into the dog’s crate, or hiding under his bed.

Before the fence, he was constantly on edge, hearing noises in the woods, or staring at planes high in the sky telling me how afraid he was that they would fall on him. We were seldom able to spend more than a few minutes at a time in the yard, before the fence, because everything seemed to be cause for concern in a world that must have seemed so huge and unmanageable to him.

The changes in him, during the past week, have again been “nothing short of miraculous”. Prior to the fence, I felt as I was on constant guard duty, monitoring the opening and closing of doors, having to race after him as he let himself out the front or side doors. In the last week, since having the fence installed, he’s asked my permission every single time to “Please, may I go out and play”, his hand on the sliding glass door, giving him access to the backyard. Not once has he been tempted to break free, out the front or side doors. He spent the first few days “surveying his land” – his words – “in order to make sure it was very secure”.

The freedom it has given me, to continue to do things in the house I need to get done, or simply sit on a deck chair, watching him play, is a great relief. I shake my head in wonder at being able to feel my own freedom – all due to a fence which clearly sets a boundary between “safe” and “scary and too big” in Daniel’s world.

The fence has helped me to see that Daniel, as different as his thinking is in so many ways, isn’t that much different from any of us. He needs to know limitations and boundaries. Too much freedom – too much of having access to the world is confusing.

The fence installers made sure that Daniel’s favorite granite boulder was within the fence boundary. Maybe it’s a “guy thing”, but when I considered having it outside the boundary, they both said, “Naw! Let’s put it inside where he can climb. A guy’s gotta have a mountain so he can be King.” How right they were. It’s become his look-out post where he can survey “his” property, “his” domain, reporting to me, a hundred feet away, “It’s very safe out here, Mom. I’m okay!”


  1. Hurrah for Daniel, the King of the Mountain!
    Dave Seidel    Aug 2, 02:35 PM    #
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