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.