I was worried about Tessie.
I knew that Paul thought that I was crazy.
"She doesn't look at me." I'd been saying since she was a month old. "She smiles, but she's always staring off over my shoulder."
"I don't see it." He said.
But I did. I'd lean over her bassinet and try to catch her eye. I'd cradle her in my arms while she nursed and she'd look past me, rarely making eye contact.
Was I just paranoid? I asked myself. Yes. Partially. I mean, it's impossible not to be after the last six years. I am especially alert when it comes to developmental milestones. How can I not be? But that didn't mean that something wasn't off, did it?
Still, with the exception of mentioning it to Paul and the pediatrician at the one month appointment, I kept my concerns to myself.
One day when James' physical therapist was here, Lily was barking not far from where Tessie was sleeping. "Is she really sleeping through that?" She asked. I said that she slept through everything. Paul had used a screw driver and a hammer in the room with her and she hadn't batted an eye.
I knew that she could hear, I explained, because sometimes the smallest sounds startled her, but by and large, extremely loud sounds didn't phase her.
She suggested that day that I refer Tessie for an evaluation, at the very least to check her hearing across different wavelengths. It could just be that she was used to loud sounds. But it could also be a cause for concern.
In the days that followed I watched Tessie and continued to fret every time she didn't look at me as I attempted to capture her attention.
The next week I took James to his early intervention playgroup. Patch's speech therapist from a few years back was there and I asked her if she could hold Tessie while I signed us in. I told her about the physical therapist's concerns and she continued to hold Tessie and walk around with her for most of the hour that we were there.
At the end of playgroup she brought Tessie back to me and finally, and for the first time in the whole hour, Tessie looked at her face and smiled. She told me that she thought an evaluation was a good idea, because of that lack of eye contact, and I knew that they were both right.
When James' early interventionist came last week I made the appointment and this week she came out so that I could fill out the paper work and so that she could do the initial part of the evaluation and see if a further evaluation was warranted. Throughout the hour Tessie seemed to avoid looking at us. She was happy and calm. She smiled now and then. But she studiously seemed to avoid focusing on faces.
I explained that this was entirely new to me. Maggie loved smiling into our faces when she was tiny.
She had me hold Tessie on my lap and try to catch her eye. Tessie turned her head from side to side and refused to look at me. We tried different angles but Tessie seemed determined not to look at my face.
At the end of the hour the therapist told me she was pretty certain that Tessie would qualify based on her refusal to make eye contact. She managed to catch her eye for a few moments, but then Tessie would immediately look away again. We scheduled an appointment for rest of the evaluation and I continued to watch Tessie and wonder what was going on with her.
On Thursday James had PT again, and for the second half of the appointment Tessie sat on my knee. "She's looking right at me right now," his therapist said. "This whole time she's been watching me and making great eye contact from across the room." I brought Tessie closer and from a few feet away she smiled and cooed at the therapist. "I wonder if it's just a matter of finding the right distance" she said.
Last night, after failing to get Tessie to look at me for most of the day I put her down and stepped back. When I was a little over three feet away I saw her face light up. She looked straight at me and smiled and cooed.
I stepped forward. As I stood next to her bassinet her smile faded and she began to look around, focusing mostly on the light on the ceiling. I bent towards her and there was no sign of recognition on her face. I stepped back again. At the same point, a little over three feet away from her, she beamed up at me, again focusing on my face as she smiled hugely.
Moving forward one more time to test the theory again I could see the moment when she lost me and began looking from side to side, clearly not seeing where I was.
All day today the situation repeated itself. When I'm near to her she smiles at my voice, but looks around as if she isn't seeing me. When I take an extra step back she focuses easily on me and makes eye contact.
And that explains why Paul kept saying she was making eye contact with him. He's about a foot taller than me and when he stands over her bassinet he's a foot further away. She can see him more clearly since he's further up, even when he's standing next to her.
I still find myself surprised every time I move back into her line of vision and I can tell by her expression the exact moment that she sees me. We were already discussing hearing and vision tests, but now that vision test most definitely seems like it will be a priority.