Keeping Warm

Mr. Book is going to be able to visit in April—for his birthday, and maybe Easter. This is a lifeline for both of us right now. We had hoped that he’d be able to visit next month, but then our rent went up, and that was no longer a possibility. Even in April, it’s hard to face losing a week’s pay—but we’ve just got to see each other, and the boys have got to see their Pop. My parents are buying Mr. Book’s plane ticket as a birthday gift, for which we are truly grateful.

I’m still having a hard brain time. This is the most boring non-news, but I don’t know how else to explain why I’m not writing much and why I am not getting done as much as I wish that I was. But I’m trucking along, drinking tea and changing diapers.

When we were first dating, I made Mr. Book a scarf—nothing special, just grey and green garter stitch with a fringe. That’s what he was using at the beginning of this winter, but last month it vanished. Since it is still bitingly cold in the Midwest, I’m knitting him a replacement (almost done!). In some ways it’s nice to have the chance; I had asked him to let me replace that scarf before, as I’m a better knitter now with, I think, slightly more interesting taste. But he wanted to keep the old one, being the sweet, sentimental one of us. Now he’s getting a scrap yarn scarf, nothing fancy, but ribbed and wool and almost long enough. I have as my rule of thumb that your scarf ought to be as long as you are tall, but he is awfully tall, and the scarf is about five feet long and I still have acres to go. But soon I’ll be done and I will send it to him, to keep near him.

We’re skyping with Cricket again this weekend; I sent him a Valentine that Kit made, although it probably hasn’t arrived yet. I’m going to write about this skype call, I think, because I feel like I’m letting too much just slip quietly away.

Contact with Ruth

The other night, when I was woken up at 3 a.m. by the baby monitor, I entered the boys’ room to find a preschooler dance party in progress—“Not cool, Joey” is what I said as I opened the door. I had forgotten to take the light bulb out of their room earlier, so the light was on and Joey was running laps around the room, cheerfully yodeling; Kit was standing in the pack n play, blinking sleepily and saying “Yay.” That Kit is always down for a party.

I haven’t been blogging because it’s taking me forever to answer a question: Have I been in touch with Ruth? Well, the short answer is a “No, but.”

In early November, Ruth posted something on Facebook about a personal accomplishment that was pretty cool—she ran a half marathon! I “liked” that and then messaged her to say Hey, I felt like what happened this summer was probably necessary but I’m sorry that it’s meant that we’re not in contact. I hope things are awesome. She wrote back a few weeks later to say that she thinks that some of the things I said over the summer were unfair, and that she had thought of us as friends, and that her feelings are hurt and that she needs some time. Maybe because of the power imbalance I think that I cannot hurt her feelings, she wrote, but I can and I did.

I wrote back one more time.

Dear Ruth,

I very much appreciate your writing back, especially knowing as I do that I’ve hurt your feelings badly—it was generous of you to explain. I’d like to explain a little more, too, although if this is something you aren’t in a place to engage with, I get it.

I thought of us more as “I wish we could have been friends.” The power thing—it’s so overwhelming, at least on my end. I’m sorry that you regret telling me some of the things that you did about your life; at the time, I was wishing that I could tell you more about my life, but it didn’t seem like I could. Too—and I don’t know that there’s any way to escape this—I was desperate for more news of/from Cricket. I know that you aren’t and weren’t in a position to provide that, and wish that in addition to the human and friendly concern and empathy and love I felt (and feel) for you, there wasn’t this voice in the back of my head going But Cricket, is Cricket okay, How is Cricket Cricket Cricket CRICKET? I think that if we had been in more contact as families, it would have been more possible to have a friendship outside of that connection—but at the level that has been plausible for us so far, it is so much about Cricket for me. I know that you’re a loving mother to him, and have never doubted your care and devotion—but wanting to hear about your life while at the same time longing to hear more about his just wasn’t working.

Catholics lack a holiday for apologizing and making amends—I think that we’re just supposed to feel guilty all the time. But while I think that things needed to change, at least a little, I wish that I had been able to express that with more grace and gentleness. You are, if you can excuse my talking like a Susie for a minute, a good dude: you deserve better than I was serving up. Of course it makes sense for you to rethink and take time to heal, and I won’t contact you again outside of an emergency for a good, long period. In some ways, we’re at the worst possible distance from one another: not like old college friends, able to shrug and walk away without any real pain, but not as close as sisters—I remember being made to sit on the couch and work things out with my sisters when we’d been fighting—and we really had to, because we’re tied for life. Talking out of my pain has never made me a worthwhile person to be around. For what it’s worth, I am slowly growing more patient and gentle—but God, too slowly.

Wishing you a winter filled with warmth and light.

Susie

So. We haven’t had any contact since (that was in December), and I couldn’t even decide whether to blog about it. My plan right now is to leave her alone until her birthday in July, and at that point mail her a card and a scarf that I’ve knitted and then leave her alone some more and see. I still feel okay about how I handled things this summer, and I know that there is a pattern in her life of relationships ending and her feeling betrayed either by that or by the circumstances leading up to that; I don’t expect that she’ll want to be in contact again in the future, and I think that that’s too bad, but I am mostly at peace with it. But I want to send a peace offering after a respectable period of time has passed.

Early January

Cricket is gigantic. We Skyped a week ago, and he is going through an adorable phase and was also more interested in talking to us than he had been the time before—it was nice to see him and Nora. I also got a photo book from Nora and a thank-you note from Cricket for his birthday present; all in all, it’s been pretty good days in adoptionland.

I am less worried about Kit and autism than I have ever been. He’s talking and talking and talking and TALKING and making jokes with people and bossing us around and just generally on fire with sociability and communication. My parents enrolled him in a dance class as his Christmas present, and while he’s only been to one so far, I think he’s going to have a blast. His temperament is slow to warm up, so he spent most of his first class clinging to me and frowning at the dance instructor, by the end, he was clapping his hands and doing a little soft shoe and just generally enjoying himself. Of course there is always the possibility, but—he’s thriving.

Joey is really enjoying school, and seems pretty glad that his winter break is over; he is in a period of not making much progress right now, and while I know that that’s just going to happen sometimes, it makes me worry more about him. I’ve been taking more care to get some time alone with him—he is so not pushy that it is easy for Kit to just take over my attention. I keep pulling Joey back in, but he is so unwilling to compete that he’ll just slip away again. So yesterday morning, when Kit was busy charming his grandparents, I cuddled with Joey and talked to him, and he seemed as happy as can be.

Turning Over

I hope you all had lovely winter holidays and turns into the new year: Happy 2014! Joey’s been having a bit of a rough time, with all the disruptions to his routine (school starts back up on Monday, and I don’t know whether he or I will be happier), but harder than that has been the fact that he is more and more obviously different from other kids his age; he stands out quite a bit, now. I know that that gap is likely to widen. We’ve had professionals tell me (and I’ve read in more than one book) that some autistic kids are totally indistinguishable from their peers by age six, so don’t lose hope! But that doesn’t seem like where Pete is headed, and I sort of wish that people would stop raising the possibility. If it does happen, I’ll be glad. But if it isn’t going to happen, I don’t want to have my hopes up, you know?

I know other mothers who have children with autism; one woman in particular has a son six months younger than Joey, who seems both more obvious affected by autism and brighter than Joey. It is hard for her to see how unable he is to reach out—but it’s sometimes a little hard for me to see how intelligent he obviously is. Once he starts getting therapy, it seems likely that he will improve enormously. And Joey, too, has improved enormously—and he still has autism. When the school district tested him, they also did an IQ test, and the results were problematic. On the one hand, the IQ score may not have been accurate because of difficulties in taking the test that affect Joey without diminishing his intelligence; on the other hand, the results suggest that Joey will not be living on his own or going to college as an adult. Nothing has been ruled out for him, of course: he’s only three, for God’s sake. But—so I read a couple of Temple Grandin books. And I recommend that to other people, for sure; she talks in detail about her experience of autism. But it becomes clear that she is only able to really explain her autism. Not that I should have expected anything else. But Dr. Grandin talks a great deal about finding an autistic person’s special gifts, and while I know that Joey has gifts, they so far do not appear to be the kind with which Dr. Grandin is most concerned.

I’m grateful for Joey—I hope that always comes across. I’m the mother of a special needs preschooler, so there are of course times when I have a harder time feeling that gratitude keenly; recently, Joey screaming in my face has been especially hard for me to accept graciously. He isn’t doing it to bother me—it doesn’t have anything to do with me—but it’s just wearing on me.

On the other hand, Joey has learned to correctly answer the question “What’s your name?” Small, great things.

Summing Up

Joey seems to be enjoying school. I plan, once the Christmas break is over, to try to arrang a morning when I can observe the class; I don’t really know what it’s like for him there, and it still feels weird to me not to be present for his speech therapy and so on.

Joey’s occupational therapy assessment happened, and the therapist rated him as doing very poorly in every measurable way . . . so I guess he will be getting OT. She also recommends that he get clinic-based OT, but I don’t think that will happen. I will ask his new worker at the regional center just as soon as we find out who that is. And if she (or he) doesn’t get in touch with us before Christmas, I’l just call the RC after the holidays and try to find out what’s going on.

Kit is also enjoying Joey’s time at school; he and I are going on play dates and outings, and he is getting me to himself for the first time in his life. The two of them are having more pleasant interaction with one another, playing gentle chasing games together. That has been lovely to see.

MY husband and I were talking about the family Christmas letter that my father will be writing; it has been yet another year of hard news. My father’s cancer came back and he went through radiation and also broke his hip a second time; my mother’s stepmother has been diagnosed with breast cancer; my brother is still waiting on his kidney transplant; Mr. Book and I are now in a long-distance relationship; and Joey was diagnosed with autism. But, I said to Mr. Book, Joey is so much happier than he was a year go. It was hard for us to understand how sad and angry he had gotten—and his increasing inability to communicate with us was obviously distressing to him. He has been getting real help since May, and is again the sunny, sweet boy we knew before his regression. Everyone he works with talks about what a happy, likable kid he is.

Kit, too, is better off than he was, now that I’ve identified his dietary sensitivities—and now that he can run and climb and talk. He is ridiculously charming, and less heedlessly adventurous than his brother, which I am perfectly happy with.

Cricket seems to be in a happier and healthier pace as well, from what I can tell. His parents are legally divorced, but Nora has brought more emotional stability to his life than I think had been present for some time before.

My mental health is worse than it has been in awhile, but I am able to hold on to a certainty that things will get better. I don’t know when, but I am sure that they will.

 

Means

I have wondered, recently, whether Nora and I might have been friends. When I was growing up, I remember having conversations with my sisters about whether we would have been friends if we hadn’t been sisters—at least for me with each of them, I think that the answer was no, which always bothered me.

Situationist Grafitti May 1968

Situationist Grafitti
May 1968

I think that the people we are now could be friends even outside of family, maybe: but when we were growing up, they were sociable and outgoing and successful in school, whereas I was moody, odd, and plagued by social anxiety. I hope that when the two of them had this conversation, it went better than it could with me. My mother has had this conversation with me, and I suspect that she must have done with my sisters, as well. So maybe this is just a conversation that happens in my family, but it does, and so I’ve been wondering: If it hadn’t been for everything that connects us, could Nora and I have been friends?

Probably not: I’m better at faking it, and understand now why one might, but I’m still not an extrovert; I suspect that no amount of therapy and self-improvement is ever goin

g to change that. But Nora is a kind of person I like, and would have quietly wished that I could be friends with if we’d been in high school or college together. She’s gentle and affectionate with Cricket, too, and interested in him. Seeing them together when they visited in September—it was very much like seeing a tired parent who was travelling alone with a four-year-old who was completely, head over heels with her kid. There’s nothing more winning than seeing how good someone can be to other people.

Back way back when, when I was pregnant and then when Cricket was a baby, I used to wish that I could be friends with Ruth especially, but with both of them. But even if we were all in high school together, it just wouldn’t have played out that way—and as adults, we are separated by socio-economic status as much as we are by our love for the boy we have in common. At the moment, that is somewhat disguised by our circumstances; living with my parents obscures our poverty. But I remember a conversation with Ruth quite some time ago in which she talked about the benefits of preschool and I talked about my plans to home preschool Joey. And the thing that no one said was that of course we could not afford to send our boys to preschool—I still believe in the benefits of home preschool if that’s the right choice for the family, and am cautiously planning that for Kit. But I’ve seen preschool programs that would be amazing opportunities for a kid, and that cost more than our entire income last year. Cricket can go to those schools; Kit can’t.

It’s hard to talk in any detail about adoption without talking about the money. When I planned to place Cricket, money was most of the reason why; certainly if I had won the lottery or gotten a good job I would never in a million billion years have placed my son. When Ruth included me in a mass email in which she asked people to support renewal of the adoption tax credit, I was horrified; if I had gotten from the government that exact sum, I would not have placed my son. And things would be tighter now with three boys—and God, how I wish that they were.

I know and consider friends a number of adoptive parents, and I don’t think there is anything wrong with being in a financial position to adopt. But adoption breaks us, the mothers and fathers, into two groups: those who place, and those who parent. And those of us in the first camp tend not to share a SES with those who raise the kids we bore. Of course there are any number of exceptions, and people who aren’t poor place, and people who aren’t well-off adoption; I would not for a minute dispute that. But looking at the big picture—and at my picture—well, it is maybe not the most shocking thing, that I’m a socialist.

Scrutiny

The clock starts today. Today, Kit is eighteen months old, and for the next six months, we will all be watching him for markers of autism. Not that we haven’t been; my father mentioned that it is stressful to see him spin, even knowing that all little kids spin.

I know exactly what he means, and I probably make it worse—if Kit twirls in a circle, I freak out, although in practice this means that I open my eyes slightly wider and grow very still—this is what it looks like when I’m panicking, and Kit knows it, and he is fascinated by his own power in this situation. If I spin a couple of times, my mama is terrified! I know that little kids spin, and I know that Kit is mimicking his brother sometimes, and even so.

In most ways, Kit seems deeply nonautistic; he is incredibly social, he does pretend play, he mimics people’s expressions. None of those things have ever been true of Joey, pre-regression or post-. Kit is also using language in different and more sophisticated ways than Joey ever has. Today alone, Kit expressed his ambivalence about being offered a cracker when he really wanted to nurse (on and on, forever, after just having finished nursing): “No! No! No, Mama! Okay. Yes. No! Okay. Cracker. No! Okay” and then a grudging acceptance of the cracker; saw himself in the mirror and said “Pretty!” which I don’t think I’ve ever called him (“cutie,” “biscuit,” and “sweetheart” are more my speed); and brought me a small knight stuffed toy and said “Doll!” although this toy has never been pointed out to him, or called a doll, at least by me or in my hearing. He’s not just echoing or memorizing labels—he’s generalizing and complaining and comparing. But I know that there are no guarantees, and so I’m just going to cultivate an ulcer until, oh, mid-June or thereabouts.