Switched at Birth

Well, not really switched at birth. But I think that title grabs better than Switched Sometime Between the Ages of One and Two. Here’s the story.

My second son was the cuddliest little thing with the sweetest smile and a noggin of towheaded curls. At daycare one day, he got switched. I wasn’t consciously paying attention, so I’m not exactly sure which day it happened or which teacher was responsible, but I very clearly remember noticing, sometime after the switch, that his hair, though the same light color, was now completely straight.

I’m not making this up. I have photographic evidence. There’s the photo of big brother holding the curly headed cherub around the armpits when he was learning to walk. There’s the school picture of him taken just before his first birthday—sitting in his yellow terry romper, smiling at the camera, and sporting a head of golden curls. In the photos after that, the hair has become a straight, thick mop.

He soon took on the characteristics of a little monster (or li’l Hitler, as a friend sometimes referred to him). He started biting. He’d tighten up that little body and kick and scream when things didn’t go his way.

One day, they called from daycare for me to pick him up early. They handed over the tot and a jar that held the 40+ adult lice they had gathered from his scalp. I accept full blame (now). But what could I do about it (then)? It was nigh impossible to get near the little sucker with a bottle of shampoo, never mind comb out that rat’s nest on his head, wet or dry.

They called from daycare another day. He had put corn nuts up his nose. It took three of us to hold down the shrieking child while the doctor used forceps to pull the corn nuts out.

When he matriculated to pre-school, I’d have to let him sit in my lap to “help” drive to school, or I couldn’t get him to go. Sometimes, he’d condescend to stand up just behind the front seat to watch me drive. I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry one day when, thusly perched, I heard him doing a perfect impression of W.C. Fields. “I ran away from home the day I was born because my mother was ugly.”

Then there was the time we were planning a trip to see the great-grandparents in Missouri. He had picked up some, shall we say, colorful language from an individual who’s name I shall not reveal, and I cautioned him against using such language at the ggp’s. His reply? “S### f#####’ a##.”

The time he did not want to go to the farm to see the grandparents, he almost broke my finger trying to pull it off the door lock when we were backing out the driveway.

I believed in the autonomy of the individual and tried to “let” him be his own man. But it was scary, all the same. As the boy approached junior high, he started hanging out with skaters and having sleepovers in culverts. Once a cop brought him home in the middle of the night and one policeman even—very considerately, I thought—called me from Austin when he noticed the the underage youth waiting outside a bar for a friend (who had just got his driver’s license) to finish whatever business he had inside the bar. It seems hilarious, now. Back then, I cried every day.

When people ask me how long the terrible twos last. My answer always ends with a question mark. “Thirteen? Fourteen?”

Blessedly, he started to make a turn-around during his time as a foreign exchange student. For the first two years of high school, he moved to the big city and lived in the home of some wise and wonderful family friends. He had a haircut. He learned to play tennis (at the country club), joined the LaCrosse team, read books, and did homework. Whenever I’d visit, he seemed the most pleasant, well-mannered of individuals. “Where’s my son?” I’d wonder on the drive home.

When he was a senior in high school, now living with his dad in a nearby town, he let his hair—that had been clipped short during his time abroad—grow out for a part in the school play. It was around then that I realized his way-down-the-back hair had become a mass of golden curls.

“Boone,” I asked, “your hair … how did it get so curly?”

Boone smiled a sheepish grin and there was a little twinkle in his eye. “They switched me back.”

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