Slaps and Spats

Both Kit and Joey hurt me on purpose every day, multiple times per day. They each do it in different ways; Joey pinches and chins, which is a term I learned from his behavioral therapist and refers to digging his chin into me, hard, whereas Joey slaps me. Most of the time, I can just get through it—mostly I move away from the kids at those times, tell them that it is not okay to hurt people, and that I don’t want you in my lap if you’re going to hurt me—but sometimes especially slaps in the face really bother me. I don’t hit the kids, and I want only to use time in—but I have put Kit in time out a few times when we were just both at a point where we needed a couple of minutes apart. At those times, I put him in his room and tell him that I’ll be back in two minutes; then I come back and talk to him about how we need to be working together better than we are, and here is what I need from you (stop hitting me, quit rooting through the trash, stop shoving Joey, etc.): What do you need from me? And then we go back out together, and mostly things are better after that—at least for awhile.

There have been periods when the kids were less aggressive with me, and I know that there will be more of those in the future; I expect Kit to grow out of using violence with me altogether.

In the meantime, here we are. I’m not enjoying the hurting, but Joey has otherwise pulled out of his rough patch; he’s having a good time and really engaging at school. Kit and I are going on and hosting more play dates, and he is more and more often able to enjoy the company of other kids—although in a group of five or more other kids, he is unhappy. We had a lot of rain over the last few days, which is a rare occurrence in these parts, and both boys have been mesmerized. And I bought the boys matching Easter outfits and can’t wait to dress them up.

I hope all of you out there are getting some spring weather, and keeping well.

Toddler Time

I think I am having the authentic toddler experience. Kit is shockingly funny and wild and wow, such big feelings. I think most people have an idea of the downsides to the toddler experience: screaming, freakout tantrums because I won’t let him empty out the silverware drawer, for example. But he’s such a bright light, and I’m really enjoying him.

Probably everyone who parents more than one kid has the experience of having her every expectation violated by kid number two; I’m having an extreme version of that experience. Joey is autistic and also a very sweet, mellow kid; Kit is typical, very verbal, and a firecracker. Joey cuddles in my lap and Kit jumps on the couch, pointing out the window and exclaiming: “A car! Over dere!” Almost a week ago, Kit developed a game in which he would throw a (clean) diaper into the air and I was supposed to provide sound effects. I am truly awful at sound effect production, so after a few attempts (“ka-pow!”) I started exclaiming at the diaper as though it were a cop on the edge in a ’70s film: “You’re a loose cannon, diaper!” “You’ve got no respect for authority, diaper!” and so on. He loved it.

Skype with Mr. Book is getting better and better; Kit is always thrilled (and Joey is usually quietly pleased), and has started showing his daddy favorite toys and saying “I yuv you!” This season’s hottest toy at Casa Book is a broom whose handle snapped short (and has been wrapped in electrical tape). Kit is also very into building with blocks recently—he builds tall towers of single-block stacks, and when they inevitably fall over (at seven or eight blocks tall), he screams at me to help. I don’t want him to get the idea that I won’t help him, but at the same time, it doesn’t seem super productive for me to just build block towers for him. What I’ve been doing so far is just to start building something different, like a pyramid, and then Kit usually starts adding blocks to my structure. He’s still incredibly mad whenever the blocks fall down, but I guess that’s just something that’s going to keep happening for right now.

 

Secret Identities

I sent Cricket a letter; I think I mentioned that here. On Saturday, I got some texts from Nora giving me his answers to my questions (he likes chicken tacos, and his favorite movies are Frozen and The Lorax) and explaining that he wanted to sing “Happy Birthday” to me. She explained to Cricket that it isn’t my birthday, but he still wanted to sign—so she sent me a video of him doing so.

This is great. I keep being surprised by how nice it can be to be in contact with Cricket now that he’s old enough to take an interest and now that Nora is willing to facilitate communication. I get to hear him tell me that he is a super hero who has every power and no weaknesses. I’m still wary of being too often in touch and exhausting Nora’s patience—but I sent a letter in November and one in February, and they both went over well. I’ll send another letter in a few months with new pictures of Kit and Joey printed inside.

Green Coffee

As soon as we were connected, Cricket burst out: “What’s the funniest thing that Kit has done recently?” Apparently, over breakfast, he and Nora had gone over some things to talk about and some questions to ask—and thank God, because I am Jenny Socially Awkward. As it happened, the night before, Kit has been telling the world’s funniest toddler joke; since Mr. Book was on speaker phone, I was trying to get him to show off, so I asked him what color his (blue) pajamas were. He said “G[r]een!” and signed <green> and then started laughing hysterically when I said “No, they’re blue!” He stopped laughing, said and signed green, and then cracked up again—he did this over and over again, and it was adorable and hilarious. Occasionally he’d throw in a “yeyyow,” but mostly he just insisted that his pajamas were green.

I don’t know whether this is a universal, but I’ve noticed that at least for me, contact with Cricket makes me want to reach out more; we hadn’t had any contact for six weeks before the Skype call, and I was sort of halfway thinking of ways to get out of it. But after we talked, I wrote him a letter—with a shouty Kit suspecting that I wasn’t paying 100 percent of my attention to him, it was hard to talk much to Cricket. Mostly Cricket told me about a book he was reading and showed me pictures (Franny K. Stein, if you’re curious). He played a little with Kit; they pointed to their facial features together. Cricket wanted to give Kit a “challenge” (a math problem, I think) and was a little irritable when Nora pointed out that while Kit can count to 10 and read the numerals 0–10, he’s still a little dude and probably not able to do addition. Cricket asked me whether I drink coffee, and judged my answer weird (correctly; I have rules about coffee being permissible on some days and not others). I miss that kid.

In the letter that I wrote, I talked a little bit about Joey’s occupational therapy and about how many people with autism crave physical input—I included a picture of Joey in the squeeze machine at his OT gym. (I’ll put up a few OT pictures after this post, including that one. Email me if you need the password.) I said that Joey can’t do some of the things that most kids his age can, so therapists work with him to help him learn to do those things. I decided sort of abruptly that I didn’t want to leave explaining autism to Ruth and Nora, because while I trust that they wouldn’t say anything hateful or dismissive, they can’t explain it as well as I can. They don’t know Joey well enough, or autism well enough. And on previous Skype calls (Joey slept through this one), it has been apparent that Nora doesn’t understand where Joey is at. She is friendly, but she gives up when he doesn’t respond the way a typical kid probably would. So in writing to Cricket, I’m going to tell both of them more about Joey’s condition—and hopefully I can get across how great he is.

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.