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.

Thinking in Circles

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.

Be Seeing You

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.

Me Me Me

A little more on my head: it’s not the sort of pattern of baldness that you get with thyroid problems, so I’m not worried about that. It could be alopecia—no health care = no certainty as to a diagnosis—but my father has an auto-immune disorder that resulted in itchy, patchy baldness, and now I have itchy, patchy baldness (two patches so far, with several others thinning out alarmingly), so we’re just assuming that it ain’t nothing but a family thing. The progression of my father’s disease was halted by medical intervention, but it was lengthy and expensive medical intervention, so I’m just looking at getting and hemming some cloth for kerchiefs. Oh, and my mom has me rubbing diaper ointment on my head, since she thinks that it is a panacea. I don’t know whether you saw My Big Fat Greek Wedding, but the way that the father of the bride feels about Windex is the way my mother feels about A+D ointment. It can’t hurt to try, anyway.

In fact, let’s make this the me post. I’m working on two romance novels right now. I’m hopeful about being able to sell them, although we’ll see. But I decided that it made more sense for me to knuckle down and try to write something salable than work on my probably unreadable dream novel, and I’m enjoying the work more than I expected to. Less art and more storytelling. Part of this is because I’d like to be able to do more things for the kids, things that take money, and if I could sell a romance novel a few times a year (of course, one every couple of months is my secret ambition, but I am trying to sound reasonable), that would go a long way toward Music Together classes or what have you. And I need new clothes. Whine whine, we are so poor, but I’m down to two pairs of yoga pants and I’d really like to be able to just get a pair of jeans or something, you know? Unless I wear my nicest clothes (in good shape, because I never wear them), I look poor. And I don’t exactly mind—I am poor—but I’d like to have a couple more pairs of pants, and maybe a couple of wrap skirts, and some kerchiefs. A couple of t-shirts would be good, too. Whenever we get a little money, it goes to the kids—and I think that they should be our top priority, and my small upcoming freelance check is going to get Joey summer clothes—but at some point, I need things. So it’s time to try harder to make some money.

I’ve been in contact with Mom #1, who probably needs a blog name at this point. Molly? She looks like a Molly. At any rate, Molly’s girls got badly sick, so I took them dinner one night last week—I’ve offered to do so again this week, since the girls are improving so slowly and now Molly’s husband has fallen ill. But I think either I will bring dinner by or we’ll have a playdate and I’ll bring something else (I’m thinking homemade twinkies, infinitely better than the store-bought kind). Molly seems like a remarkably sweet person, and now that the Mister is going bajillions of miles away, I’m going to need to make friends here more than ever.

Good News and Bad News

The good news is that I am not losing hair because of the Mirena, and can keep the IUD. The bad news is that I apparently have an auto-immune disorder that is causing me to lose hair in patches. The NP at Planned Parenthood told me that I need to see a primary care provider . . . and then looked at me, realized that I don’t have insurance, and said “Or you could do what my girlfriend did and shave your head.” She was very nice. Suddenly it’s less important that I look silly in hats; I am rocking a kerchief (okay, an ugly yellow bandana, but it’s what I’ve got) every day. I’ve developed a second bald spot and am still losing hair, and that’s that. Eventually, perhaps I will treat myself to a fancy wig. When I told the Mister, I cried—I don’t think of myself as vain, but I suppose I must be, because I’ve been surprised by how sad I am to lose my hair.

There’s more good news. The playdate went well, the bread (apple honey challah) was a hit, and she has said that (although she’s sick right now) she’d like for us to meet up again soon. Phew! I spent quite a bit of the playdate chasing Joey, who was all over the place, trying to flip light switches, yank on the blinds, flip over a lamp—you name it. At one point I referred to him as an introvert and the other mom was shocked; he’s an introvert with, hmm, very robust self-esteem, so he doesn’t look conventionally shy. If you watch, though, you’ll notice that he’s running around and exploring and fearless . . . and not approaching people he doesn’t know well. Joey did not enjoy seeing me exclaim over the other mom’s charming daughters, so clearly he needs more practice at it. Kit continues to love people, and he and the girls played together happily.

I think I’ll make turtles for the next playdate.

WallGlower

I’m terrible at making friends. I mean really lousy; the other day, I said to Mr. Book, “I am so desperate to make friends with another mom from the moms’ group that I worry about freaking them out.” To which he replied, “Good thing that you manage to disguise that with your incredible standoffishness.” This is the same idiotic tactic that I used when dating my husband, and while I’m glad that it worked out in that instance, the experience may have cemented my impulse to hide my friendly interest. There are three moms in particular whom I see at the weekly library storytime whom I want to befriend: one has started conversations with me, which I am desperately grateful for; one is in the moms’ group and just had a baby, so I signed up to bring her a couple of meals; the last isn’t in the moms’ group, but she seems like a cool person and her daughter is bold and enthusiastic in the same ways that Joey is—and she seems to appreciate that about her kid. The third mom I’m having a hard time figuring out how to approach; Okay, yes, “How old is your daughter?” is an obvious start, but she’s usually pretty busy chasing said daughter . . . and I am shy. But I’ve smiled at her! The second mom—well, I’ve talked to her briefly, but the Mister dropped off the first dinner at her house on Thursday and apparently did a better job conversating that I have managed in months. His social skills can be really irritating. But I should be able to go along for the dropoff this Thursday, and will prepare chat. Yes, I am this broken re: people skills.

But the first mom? Well, to be fair, she has been friendly with me from the start. She has two little girls, one a few months older than Joey and one three days younger than Kit—and I asked her about and then arranged a playdate. I know! I felt amazingly forward, but she seemed enthusiastic about the idea, so now I just have to make sure the kids are clean and well-fed. I’m assuming that this is the kind of playdate where I stay with them—I think it’ll only be an hour or so, but it will be at this other mom’s place—and I will need to be (or fake) socially competent for at least an hour. Still, this feels like a good step. With the kids not going to daycare, it feels especially important for me to make mom friends so that they have a network of little playmates in town. My loneliness is just a footnote to this. I have a hard time doing things for myself, but am able to push myself for the kids.

I think I’ll bring her a loaf of bread. Do you bring hostess gifts to a playdate?

Not the Winner

I hope to God that I don’t sound as though I’m trying to make myself sound good when I talk about the visit—of the five of us, I think I come in fourth in terms of how I did by the kids and how much I was what I would hope to be. Ruth explained her theory as to why Cricket and I don’t click well; she says that we’re too alike in temperament, so that our particular kind of reserve keeps us apart. I would add to that that we’re both stubborn (yes, I can be as stubborn as a toddler. I’m working on it), and there were times when being shouted at by him to do something made me dig in my heels in a “For God’s sake, woman, remember that you are the grownup” kind of way. No, I choose not to be a passenger on the train (real, shameful example); I will be a union worker moving cargo on the platform. We had a couple of good conversations (one about crackers, and one about how the numbers on his pants let him shoot parts of his car seat at other cars), and that was in part because the circumstances were just right—he was strapped into the car and not actively competing with Joey for anything. Heck, I was even able to make Joey a part of one of those conversations in a way that worked for all three of us. But when he was shouting and running around and near Joey in a less restrained environment, I was mostly watching him warily. <–That was crappy of me, I’m not defending it. Right now I’m just describing my visit.

I’m trying to imagine what it would have been like if the boys’ positions had been reversed—Joey big and bossy and constantly trying to shove/hit/yell at/lie about Cricket, and Cricket smaller, good natured, and bewildered. To some extent, I can say, Well, I would have handled it differently than Ruth; we discipline Joey differently than she does Cricket, and that would have meant interventions and time-ins and more hands-on interfering with his wildness and aggression. But the two things that are the most different are that I would be able to intervene with Joey, and that I know Joey. On the intervention front: not feeling able to say anything to him and not hearing his mom say anything to him was very difficult. After talking it over, Mr. Book and I have decided that if it comes up again, there are ways in which we would be comfortable speaking up in future that we did not this time—nothing parental, of course, but “If you kick me again, I am not going to read to you” instead of just letting it happen and wondering whether Ruth would please step in. That would have made it easier to interact with him instead of hunkering down and just letting him happen. And the knowing? I do think, and I’ve said (however clumsily), that if we already had a base of knowing and liking Cricket, and a pile of common experiences with him, then this would just have been a patch of rough weather, and we’d be more able to work through it with him. When it’s all that we see, and when this would have had to be building instead of maintaining a connection, it’s much harder to react as I would ideally like to—I pull back instead of reaching out.

Cricket wants to come and visit us again—I am clinging to this fact. I want very much to do better by him. I am working on small, practical changes (we can’t play during Joey’s nap because Joey can’t sleep unless Cricket is sleeping, because Cricket won’t stop shouting so loudly that even with a white noise machine on, Joey is disturbed—that was a good suggestion that I wanted to address, because I wish it could work); I am also bearing in mind that Joey will keep getting bigger and better able to express and defend himself. Ruth and Nora have said that they want to go away for visits in future and get a beach house or something—that is off the table for the foreseeable future, as far as we are concerned, because everyone who said it is right, and I wish I could have seen it ahead of time—we all need our own space. It seems very unlikely that we’ll see him before next year, and Cricket’s life will hopefully have settled down somewhat by that point. But I really do understand now that I need to make changes to myself and my behavior for his sake before we see each other again.

Holy Crap

Ruth and Nora are matched! They haven’t told us, but I check the agency website almost every business day, and today they are gone. The urge to let Ruth know that I know is strong, but hopefully not as strong as my common-sense desire to hide the fact that I’ve been checking up on them.

My Own Bump

Just over a week ago, my mother decided to start telling people that I’m pregnant. I am, okay, certainly past the twelve-week mark now, and she was mystified to discover that I was enraged. Even now, I’m not sure that she knows why I was so angry. No, I know that she doesn’t understand; but we’ve moved past it, and I’m unlikely to explain and thereby get mad all over again.

In some ways it is my own fault—she told me that she had told her stepsister, a woman I haven’t spoken with in years, and since she seemed apologetic, I told her that it was okay—it’s not like I will ever see this woman. But she apparently took this to mean, “Please, Mrs. B, tell everyone you can reach—what exciting gossip! And tell people Susie sees on a regular basis: Why would she want to handle that herself?” And she told people in a way that made it clear that she was just gossiping, and I was incredibly mad, told her to knock it off, and contacted the people she had told to ask them to please not spread the news yet because we aren’t and my mother just had a wild hair up her hinder and no sense of the appropriate. (Okay, I just thought that last part.) I am not ready to talk to people about the pregnancy, which is unfortunate, because I look pregnant and a half. Some of my reaction is I think fair—my mother cannot for the life of her understand what “Not your place” or “Not your business” might mean, and when that runs up against my private life, it makes me crazy. But there’s another piece to my anger that seems blog relevant.

The last time I was pregnant here, my family mostly pretended that I wasn’t pregnant until I lost my son. I was right here, in this house, and being back here and pregnant is more emotionally complicated than I had expected. I’m not talking about the pregnancy—I’m mostly dismayed about already having a bump. I’m glad about the little Possum, no question; I talk to him and take my vitamins and look forward to meeting him. But it’s all intensely private for me, which makes my mom’s chatty spree feel like “You’ll never guess what happened in Susie’s vagina!!!” Whoa, mom. Not cool.

I’ve got to find a way to think differently about the pregnancy, because I know from experience that a pregnancy isn’t entirely private—even when I was pregnant with Cricket and feeling weirdly invisible here, strangers at grocery stores would smile and hold doors for me. People can tell—if not now, then soon. (I am wearing baggy tops most of the time, but if I wear something that fits, voici la bump.) And they don’t think of the belly as a secret vagina thing (reasonable!), and so won’t pretend that they can’t see it. I will be asked rude questions; my mother will, uninvited, touch my stomach. Unless I flip my lid, that will happen a lot.

And in My Mind, I Still Need a Place to Go

I’m thinking about the blog and what it’s for now, pushed by a couple of comments. I certainly don’t want it to be just me whining, as sulky and self-centered as my grief has largely been; I don’t want it to be a baby book; certainly I haven’t enough adoption news to fill a blog. Heck, I’ve semi-seriously considering making it mostly a food blog, since I do a lot of cooking and keep making new things that turn out well.

 

I don’t go back and read the early blog, just like I don’t go back and read the emails I sent during the match and then after. I started the blog as a diary, but left it open to viewership because the theoretical possibility that someone might at some point read it made it more likely that I’d keep writing. Just an internal motivation problem. So I mostly feel free to just shoot my mouth off—and, my God, people respond. It is the most peculiar thing. I don’t regret that last post, as I ended up having a pretty good email conversation as a result, but the fact of the matter is that I know less about foster parenting than any foster parent ever and probably approach it from a different angle. Certainly my cousin posted something gracious about what she was accomplishing while the baby girl had a visit with her mother.

 

At heart, for me, this has got to be a place where I say whatever I want to—and if that results in a pretty unflattering picture of me, well, that is unfortunate and ideally will lead to soul-searching and self-improvement in Susie’s house. Certainly the comment pointing out that I whinge on and on about Ruth and Nora’s parenting struck home; I absolutely do, and I feel entitled to do it where they and those they know will never see it, but wouldn’t it be preferable if I wasn’t preoccupied with those things? Cricket and his mama seem to be a pretty bad personality match, and that’s surely harder for all three of them than it is for me.

 

There have been other things I couldn’t talk about recently—my dad had a reoccurrence-of-cancer scare that turned out to be nothing, thank God—and feeling like there’s something I can’t say tends to drive me a bit frantic. I want to say that complaining here lets me get it out and then be genuinely concerned and engaged when Ruth talks to me, and I think that’s partially true; again, however, it would be better if I could just not get angry and frustrated in the first place. It’s not as though we have a relationship with Cricket right now—perhaps I should stop worrying about his day-to-day and just focus on being there in case he ever wants us (and sending holiday cards). I wonder this every so often, and certainly Joey means that I focus mostly on the boy who is here and trying to crack his head open on the fireplace, but I can’t quite step back as far as I imagine.

 

This little identity crisis has been brewing for awhile, and is the main reason why I’ve been posting less. But I suppose now I will probably work on it out loud.