He’s coming in a week, and I have this strange pain in my chest: heartache, I guess. I can be tediously literal that way. The copyeditor’s curse.
I am successful in not thinking of him most of the time every day; okay, yes, I do think about him every day, but there are hours and hours when I don’t. There’s this part in Infinite Jest where a recovering addict is in unbelievable pain, but refusing medication for the obvious reason, and he is realizing that since taking it one day at a time is too much, he can split his pain and longing into smaller pieces; no single moment is unbearable, he thinks to himself.
There’s no way not to think about him every day. It’s mostly very small thoughts, and I am usually able to focus on the fact that he seems to be blossoming in the care of Nora, his Daddy. She changed jobs for him, you know—when Ruth found herself unable to have custody of him for long stretches of time, Nora left a lucrative job which required long hours and much travel (for another good job, I hasten to add. She’s doing okay). The pictures she sends show him grinning; when we’ve Skyped, he has seemed energetic and cheery. I am careful when I think about it, almost all of the time.
But then there are these times when some event or anniversary swings around when I can’t think about him without thinking about who is just—not just him, and not just a boy, but a boy who looks like my husband and sons—my boy. Nora’s boy, Ruth’s boy, and a boy who doesn’t know me much. But I miss him, when I let myself. And even if I could help it now, I have to let myself—or it will drown me when he’s here.
I miss him.
Kit and Joey are learning together right now: in ABA, Joey is working on mastering appropriate gestures to the song “Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes,” and Kit is studying right alongside him (right now, they are both stuck on “head”). Neither of them pronounce things very clearly, but Kit uses more words and strings them together—the other day, when they were both weepy and tired (after skipping their naps, and right before dinner) and sitting in my lap, Kit gently pushed at Joey’s leg and said “Mama my turn!” Joey snuggled against me and glared at Kit. It’s fascinating for me to be able to watch them develop a relationship—Kit ends up doing a lot of the legwork, but he doesn’t have to do all of it. Last week, they figured out that the irritating electronic toys they couldn’t find were in the back of the coat closet; Joey opened the door, and when I investigated the mysterious “Lights on! Lights off! Lights on!” cheery electronic chant, I found the two of them in the closet together. They were willing to accept my compromise—I will bring the toys out now if you will stay out of the closet—but now that the toys have disappeared to the back of a different closet, they are exploring together again.
Of course there’s an element, for me, of watching these brothers together and wondering how they will react to that other brother—and he to them. Kit and Cricket have never met. The last time that Joey and Cricket were together, Cricket was going through a lot of mostly lousy life changes, and he took some of that out on Joey. Joey was completely unable to deal with that. Now we’re better understanding what Joey needs—more than one of his behavioral therapists have volunteered to come and help facilitate that first meeting at the park—and he has better skills to express his needs. And Cricket seems to be in a much more stable and nurturing environment. And still there’s a part of me that remembers Joey trying to hug Cricket, and being shoved, and I clench inside. Kit is so cheery and enthusiastic, and Joey—when he’s sweet, there’s no one sweeter in the world. I hope that Cricket is in a place to respond in kind.
Either way, I’m glad to have planned a few hours of just me and Nora and Cricket. It’s true that I’ve decided to prioritize relationships between the boys over a relationship between Cricket and me—but if it’s possible to have it all, heck, I’ll take it.
Nora and I have worked out a plan for the visit; I think it’s a good one. It doesn’t involve me being alone with Cricket at any point, because there’s just no way in the world they’d let that happen. But!
Friday after supper, we’ll meet Nora and Cricket at a neighborhood park. I don’t imagine we’ll spend long together—we’re meeting at 6:30, and these two are usually in bed by 7:30—but it’s a chance to meet on neutral ground and get the measure of each other. Saturday morning, we’re going to the beach; we’ll have lunch there and come back. After an hour or so to let everybody shower and change, Kit and Joey will stay here at the house with the grands and hopefully nap. I will take Nora and Cricket downtown, and we can check out the wading fountain and toy store and suchlike, maybe get frozen yogurt. After that, we’ll part again for a bit, and then Nora, Cricket, the boys, my parents, and I will all go out for pizza at a family-friendly and totally delicious local place. And then Nora and Cricket will leave town Sunday morning.
I’m hopeful. It was my idea to take the two of them to the village without Joey or Kit—I know that while they’re around, I’m going to be focused on them. My parents understand that they need to be careful, and I may end up giving my mom a warning even so: Please, please don’t make any “jokes” or “tease” anyone.
Two weeks from tomorrow. I can’t quite believe it.
We Skyped with Mr. Book this morning, and he and I talked on the phone afterwards—and he mentioned that he could see that Joey is falling behind Kit developmentally. I’ve been seeing the same thing, but it’s still hard to have it confirmed. But this morning, Kit was talking and signing and making a lot of eye contact; Joey was willing to do his latest and coolest thing, which is clapping, stomping his feet, and saying “Hooray [actually ‘hooway,’ which is infinitely cute]” at the appropriate moments of the song “If You’re Happy and You Know It.” Joey has made progress in many areas, and I sometimes lose track of how far behind typical kids he is: His fine motor is so much better! He regularly uses more than a dozen words! But seeing his brother catch up and then start to pass him is a stark reminder of Joey’s delays.
We’re coming into a slightly busy season; two weeks from Friday, Cricket and Nora are coming. Then, a week and a half after that, the boys and I are going to visit my sister Kate in the Midwest. And then, at the beginning of October, Mr. Book is coming to see us and we’re taking the boys to Disneyland.
I still haven’t really accepted that Cricket and Nora are coming. A week ago, Nora sent me a short video of Cricket riding his new bike (he is amazing!), and so I sent her a short video of Joey dancing at a concert in the park. She replied with “Cricket says I like the way you dance, and I’ll see you in a few weeks!” There have been a few situations like this, where Cricket say over Skype or in a text sent by Nora that he’ll see us soon, and I’ve always been awkwardly silent in response. I haven’t said anything of the kind to either one of them. But we’re supposed to Skype again on September 1; I have to try and say it.
I have two fancy little boys at home. In early July, my sister Kate came for a weekend, and she had her toenails painted; Joey was captivated. Kate, charmed, arranged for a friend of hers to bring a few bottles of nail polish for him. When I first picked up a bottle of polish, Joey—who had never seen anyone actually paint her nails—thrust his foot into my hand. I painted his toenails a brilliant blue, and he was beyond thrilled. He has been checking other people’s toenails ever since, and many of his service providers paint their nails. (I am a grave disappointment, not having painted my toenails since my wedding, and before that—jeez, maybe six years?)
Every so often, I pick up another bottle of nail polish for Joey. I’ve enjoyed having this small quest, to find colors that I think he’ll like. At this point, his Oma (my mother) is seriously considering going through his stash and using one of his colors. Of course, Oma likes red, and Joey doesn’t have any red. But give it time. 😉
Joey is remarkably patient about having his nails painted—he wants to touch them as soon as possible, but will hold still and let me clean, paint, and blow on his toes without complaint. He smiles and laughs and wriggles with excitement. Currently, he is sporting sparkly orange nails. I only paint them about once a week, although—being an active toddler boy who goes barefoot outside—he chips them on day one. But he doesn’t care. He knows that he is fancy and beautiful.
I haven’t painted Kit’s nails. He doesn’t seem interested. But he loves to wear capes and hats and to drape scarves over his shoulders like stoles. He also likes to snatch the kerchief off my head and wear it, which is fine at home—but I don’t want him taking it off when we’re out and about, so he has thrown a few remarkable tantrums at the park. Soon he’ll be big enough for me to pull out the bin of dress-up clothes, and I can’t wait. I have already pulled out all the hats that we got or were given for Joey—they’ve been living in the back of the closet, since Joey hates hats with a passion.
Seeing both boys find their own fashion sense has been delightful.
Since Joey is barely verbal, there are some situations in which he isn’t able to use words to get his needs met. Twice now, it has happened that he has pooped at night—but not said anything or cried or rattled the doorknob or anything, so I didn’t know and he just had a dirty diaper until morning. While gross, this wouldn’t be too bad on its own; his skin doesn’t seem to suffer so long as I clean him carefully when I get him up in the morning. But these two times, he has dug around in his diaper and then wiped his findings all over his pajamas and sheets. So I get him up, strip him and clean his bottom, put him in the shower, clean the dried crap off of his hands, scrub it out from under his nails, strip his bed, wash the sheets and pajamas, and get Joey clean clothes and diaper. He’s pretty stoic about all of this—except the nail scrubbing, which tickles, and which he enjoys.
I mean, poop is gross. Granted. But while it’s a lousy way to start your morning, this hasn’t bothered me nearly as much as I would have guessed if you’d asked me a decade ago. My mother told me (before we were concerned about Joey; I can’t remember how it came up) that if a kid smears their feces, it means that the kid is seriously disturbed and probably mentally ill. (She does not know about Joey’s night painting.) But I’ve heard other moms talk about having to deal with poop decorations; I think that the unusual part of Joey’s situation is that he can’t just say “Hey, Mom, I need a diaper change.”
As I was getting to the point of being willing to fire Joey’s speech therapist (with encouragement from his occupational therapist), she abruptly got better; she started being willing to take suggestions from the other therapists and seemed more empathetic with Joey. And the very next week, he abruptly started talking a lot more in speech therapy. Most of the sounds he makes are not recognizable as words outside of this therapeutic context, but he is trying hard and making more sounds than ever. I don’t know whether he’ll ever be fully verbal. I would really like to be able to talk with him. But he talks less than Kit does, and I don’t think that gap is going to close any time soon.
After the most recent poopstravaganza, I was dressing Joey; I put on his diaper and then his shorts. I picked up his T-shirt, and he patted his shorts and said “Sort.” The thing about Joey is that he keeps reaching out to me—even when he hits me, I really think that it is him reaching out, and trying fiercely to talk to me.
“That’s right, sweetie! Those are your shorts! Time for a shirt!” I grinned at him, and he smiled at me. My own sweet doodlebug.