Patrick spent the weekend with us, something he's done once in a while over the past few years. He doesn't stay over often but every now and then when Cowboy is home and we don't have pressing plans, we ask his mom if the two of them are free to spend some time with us. Patrick's mom works a lot of overtime - her husband died overseas - she needs to provide for the two of them and her son has special needs.
"You sure about this?" my husband asked when I was dressed.
"I'm sure," I smiled and then giggled at his reaction to my costume. I was Santa's elf, dressed in green with a silly hat and even funnier slippers. We were going to the children's "Christmas in July" party at the base. Our friend David was Santa and Cowboy was going to play Christmas carols on his guitar.
"You look like one of the kids," he remarked as he circled me, then patted my rear end with a chuckle.
"Admiral!" I giggled. "You're fresh! What would Santa say?"
"He'd probably tell me I should forget the love pats and warm your tush," he smiled and caught me up in a tight hug. "I have a feeling you're a very naughty elf."
"Wait till we get home again," I winked. "Then I'll show you how naughty I can be."
My dogs wait patiently in a "sit and stay" while Patrick gets out of the car. Cowboy waits patiently, too, his hand holding the door open but ready to catch the boy if he needs help. He's encouraged Patrick to be more independent and has to remind himself to let the boy fall now and then but it's hard to watch him falter and not reach out a hand to help.
Patrick's face lights up when he maneuvers his legs out of the car, bends down to straighten his braces and then grins up at my husband. I don't know which of us is prouder of his accomplishments. He has come such a long way since we first met.
"Whoa Nellie!" I whisper when we arrive at the base gymnasium. "The crowd is a little bigger than I anticipated. Bet there's 200 kids!"
"And everyone of them wants to give you a message to take to Santa," he laughs. "Just don't let them pinch your butt."
"Ho! Ho! Ho!" Santa bellows as he comes up behind me. "And what have we here?" he asks as he lifts me and sets me on his shoulder. "A wandering elf? Could have sworn I left all the elves at the North Pole with Mrs. Claus!"
"Put me down you ol reprobate!" I hiss but smile and wave at the kids.
"Naughty elf," he admonishes with a wink.
"Pinch me and lose more than your beard, fatso!" I continue to smile.
"Tsk," he tuts and hands me over to my husband. "This imp just might need a reminder of the kind of manners I expect from my elves, Admiral."
"I'll remedy the matter after the party," Cowboy says with assurance and a very naughty wink.
"Admil!" Patrick laughs when Cowboy can't wait any longer and tosses the boy in the air and then swings him around and around.
"That boy can fly!" Cowboy yells and hugs the child who is deliriously happy to see him.
"Thank you," his mother says softly. "You always make him feel so special."
"He *is* special," I assure her.
"You wanna see my truck?" Patrick asks Cowboy. "It's new. The tooth fairy left it on my pillow!"
"Of course I want to see it, buddy," my husband says with the same enthusiasm for trucks he probably had when he was a boy.
"It's black," Patrick announces as his mother retrieves the toy from the backseat of the car. "And it's shiny with real lights that light up."
"Ahhhh," Cowboy intones as he looks it over. "The tooth fairy didn't leave this for you, son."
"Nope. This is a bribe from Darth Vader himself."
"What's a bribe?"
"It's something you get so you'll do something evil," Cowboy says solemnly and in a hushed voice. Patrick is immediately intrigued. At 7 years of age, evil deeds sound suspiciously wonderful.
"What do I have to do?" he asks in that same whisper.
"You'll have to brush your teeth every morning," Cowboy says.
"Already do that," Patrick smirks.
"And..." Cowboys adds with an arched brow. "You'll have to brush your teeth *every* night."
"Every night?" Patrick grimaces. "*Every* night?" he asks again.
Cowboy nods, very solemn about the whole thing and tries to smother his laughter. Patrick is eyeing the truck and it's easy to see he's debating if it's worth having.
"Boys who brush their teeth every night get to have waffles with ice cream in the morning when they come to my house," I tell him.
"Promise?" he asks, waffles and ice cream one of his favorite food combinations.
"Cross my heart," I tell him as I bend down to give him a hug. "The Admiral will take us out in the morning, won't you, dear?" I smile sweetly.
The squid grins - he'll take all of us out for breakfast in the morning but his look says he'll get even with me later tonight.
Santa "Ho! Ho! Ho's!" as he walked around the gymnasium asking clusters of children if they had been good all summer. All said yes, of course, and I and a few other elves handed out little gifts from a huge sack. Refreshments were served, cake and ice cream and cold milk and for the older children, soft drinks were available. There was entertainment - dancing reindeer and singing snowmen and while all this was going on, the children were led one row at a time to sit on Santa's lap.
I was organizing a row of children to go see Santa when some odd movement caught my eye. A boy about 8 or so was pushing a smaller child and as I walked closer to them, I saw that the bigger boy had taken the smaller child's plate of cake and ice cream and shoved that child to the floor.
"He can't eat by himself," the bigger boy sneered. "Probably can't even taste this."
Cowboy saved the bigger boy from my wrath, getting to him before I did. He swooped down and picked up the smaller boy and arched a brow at the bigger one. "Sit!" he commanded in his officer's voice and the boy sat, immediately ashamed. "You disappoint me, son," he told him. "Sar..." he said softly, that warning note in his voice.
"Shame on you!" I said quietly to the child and walked away from him but my hands itched to smack him hard.
The little boy was crying very softly and... was drooling on Cowboy's shoulder. He seemed so small, about 4 or 5 years old and was wearing heavy leg braces.
Patrick has cerebral palsy.
When we met, he couldn't walk, had trouble feeding himself, had slurred speech - dysarthria - and was terribly shy.
"I think this young man needs to sit on Santa's lap," I told Cowboy. "Maybe you could work that out."
"I'll make sure of it," my husband said, "but first, I think we need some cake and ice cream. What do you think Champ?" he asked the child. "Cake and ice cream sound good to you?""
"For me?" a little voice asked.
"Yes, for you," Cowboy said and I retrieved plates for the three of us and we sat at the end of a long table, the child on Cowboy's lap, his hand clutching the squid's shirt collar.
"What's your name, son?" he asked as he held a spoonful of cake near the boy's mouth.
"Patrick and I'm this many," he said slowly as he tried to pronounce each word and held a hand up, his thumb tucked under his other fingers.
"Twenty years old?" Cowboy exclaimed. "You're older than me?" His eyebrows shot up and his eyes went wide and he sat there amazed at the revelation.
Patrick giggled and my husband's heart melted - so did mine. He's such a sweetie, sometimes.
He continued to feed Patrick and we made small talk so he'd be comfortable around us. His mother came over smiling and we got better acquainted with her and her son. When Cowboy declared he couldn't eat another bite and Patrick looked like he might nod off, he announced that Santa needed to see him.
David took one look at Patrick, his heavy leg braces so prominently visible, evidence of tears and a wet chin and reached out for the boy with both arms. "I've been looking for you everywhere," Santa said as if he knew the child. "Where have you been hiding?" he asked as he settled the boy on his lap.
"Here," Patrick pointed to Cowboy.
"Admiral!" Santa David admonished. "You can't keep this good man to yourself!"
"My apologies," Cowboy said with chagrin. "Couldn't help myself; he's a fine young man."
"And what does this young man want for Christmas?" Santa asked.
"Walk," Patrick said. "Want to walk."
David and Cowboy looked at each other. Patrick's mother bit her lip; I was close to tears.
"Hmmm," Santa intoned. "Let me think about this. That's a tough present to deliver. Can I bring you something else while I think about this?"
"Friend," Patrick said.
"You'd like a friend?" David asked so softly I almost didn't hear him but Patrick did and his head bobbed up and down.
I lost it - had to turn away so my tears wouldn't embarrass anyone.
"I'll make sure of it," David promised. "You have my word."
I release the dogs from their "sit and stay" and tell them "easy." They don't really need the reminder; they know Patrick and are always gentle around him. He laughs as they come close and Cowboy puts him on his feet so he can pet them and they can kiss him.
Animals are uncanny around children with special needs; they seem to know these youngsters are special and treat them that way. My dogs are certified therapy dogs and are used to having children pet them but Patrick is family. They treat him with deference and it makes my heart swell that they are so good with him. He leans on the Mastiff while he pets the Rott's muzzle and when he looks like he might fall, the Rott moves closer to his side before Cowboy can reach for him.
The Mastiff moves closer, too, standing so that Patrick is positioned between his front legs, a stance it took weeks to teach him. The Rott has his other side and in this position, Patrick can turn to either of them to pet them or just rest against them. Cowboy and I are both pleased by their behavior and Patrick's mother is almost weepy.
"You wanna see me walk all the way to the door?" Patrick says after a few minutes, his crutches under his arms.
We nod and smile and encourage him.
"He'll never walk," his mother says sadly. "He'll always need a wheelchair but his legs are still going to grow and the braces will keep them straight."
"Mind if we come to visit?" Cowboy asks.
"I don't know," Patrick's mom says. "My place is kind of old and..."
"Don't care where you live," David says. "We don't want to impose, would be happy to pick you and Patrick up, take you to a park, Burger King, wherever. Just give us a chance to get to know the boy, take him out a little, be a father figure or a big brother to him. That okay?"
It wasn't long before we knew Patrick's schedule - pre-school, physical therapy, speech therapy, numerous medical appointments, and what he liked to eat. David befriended him, Cowboy spent time with him when he wasn't at sea, and I introduced him to my pups. Occasionally, one or more of us took him to his various appointments and sat through them with him, giving his mom a little time to herself. It was enlightening for all of us.
We all helped the boy with his speech, rewarding him with hugs and kisses and special treats when he tried so hard to speak clearly. I read to him and then asked him to tell me stories from picture books. My pups would sit next to him and appear to listen attentively which encouraged him. As he was learning to read, he also learned to swallow better, controlling excess saliva which did a lot to improve his image and his self-esteem. His speech is slow and controlled but so much clearer now.
One night his mother called us in tears. Patrick needed to be fitted with new braces and from past experience, she knew the new braces would give him quite a bit of pain until he got used to them. He was already crying. Cowboy said he'd take Patrick to his appointment.
Cowboy never told me exactly what happened that day - but Patrick came to our house afterwards wearing his new braces. He told me the "Admil" said he showed courage and then asked me what courage was. My pups sniffed the new braces and Patrick told the dogs how he had lain on a table and got his legs stretched and that it had hurt a lot but the "Admil" had held his hand and told him how proud he was of him. I admit I was proud of both of them.
Cowboy and David visit Patrick often, taking him to ball games or other events, all of them feasting on fast food. They've introduced him to other sailors and marines and some of the time they spend together is not something they share with me. I know this: David and Cowboy both spend a great deal of time helping Patrick stand without assistance and one day, they surprised his mother when the child got out of his wheelchair by himself and took a few steps.
My pups watch Patrick lean on his crutches, his head held high as his left foot moves forward. Step... pause. Then his weight shifts and his right foot slides along the ground. Step... pause. My pups are on either side of him watching him closely. The Mastiff's tail is a metronome, slowly swinging back and forth; the Rott's tail is short and stubby - hard to see it wag but his eyes are focused on Patrick's face and I know he's concerned about the boy.
Patrick takes a big breath and then step... pause... step... pause... until he's at our front door.
I whoop with joy! Cowboy yells "Hoo-Yah!" And his mother is in tears.
David drives up before Patrick reaches the door and as he gets out of his car, I hear him whisper softly. "Ooh-Rah, my little friend. Ooh-Rah!"