Not quite panicked, but a little dramatic, I called out to The Wife — “Pris, does Tyler have a fever? That’s all we need.”
I was snuggling my little boy in my arms, pressing his head against my cheek and lips.
Yeah, I am, or was.
I can’t stop nuzzling my boy’s head now that he has shed his helmet of the last 3 1/2 months. His stinky, sweaty little scalp is finally free of a band he has worn for 23 hours a day to help correct some abnormal growth of his skull caused by flattened areas.
Tyler’s mom and I have missed that feeling of breathing in the intoxicating scent of Baby Head, an aroma that would be an instant hit if bottled and sold as cologne, perfume, or in the case of most parents, a soothing aromatherapy that can make all stress, anger and anxiety simply float away.
It’s nice to shed a piece of equipment that has been the subject of sympathetic stares, giggling children, outright rude gawking and, thankfully, caring questions from complete strangers. All of these affected me and Priscilla more than they did Tyler, who was the best kind of trooper through the whole experience, smiling, laughing and happily spitting through it all.
In a way, the helmet accentuated his happy disposition and carefree spirit, framing his bubbly smile and joyful eyes. (Yeah, I’m his father. What do you expect me to write?)
Tyler’s condition is not unique. In fact, it has become all the more common since pediatricians began instructing parents to have their children sleep on their backs sometime in the late 1980s in an effort to bring down the rate of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. The result has been flat-headed kids, since baby-soft skulls are as malleable as Play-Doh.
Ty’s was a little more pronounced in that he also had flattening from his position in the womb, causing a significant bluntness on the top of the head from being wedged in utero. The flattening was causing his head to grow outward from the sides above his ears. The clinical terms for the condition are plagiocephaly and brachycephely.
Both of our children have sustained certain birth-related problems. Riley, our 6-year-old, was born with a broken clavicle and torticollis, a muscle injury that tightened up on her as it healed, causing her neck muscles to be shorter and tighter on one side. She looked as though her head was permanently cocked to the left.
Tyler and Riley’s conditions were correctable with treatment. Riley went through therapy to stretch out the neck and restore mobility to both sides, and Tyler wore what is called a DOC Band. The band held the sides of his head in place as his normal growth helped to fill in the areas that were flat.
Like all problems with our children, they seem pretty drastic when they are occurring. The treatment itself was easy, and he adjusted to wearing the band within a day or two. It took his parents much longer.
More than anything, though, the treatment was costly, with the travel to adjust the band for growth every two weeks for three and half months. Our insurance covered the band, but with much arguing. Still, we were prepared to pay the couple thousand dollars necessary for the treatment.
That is a sad reality in itself. There are children whose parents can’t afford the cost or don’t have the insurance. It’s not a medically necessary treatment — at least not on the surface — but these skull abnormalities unchecked can lead to both jaw and inner ear problems in adolescence and beyond.
It was worth the cost and effort, and we’d do it again in a heartbeat. As much as I’ll miss pitching the occasional ball at his head to preach the protective powers of the DOC Band, I much prefer a future without it, to nuzzle and bask in Tyler’s baby soft glory.