Tag - language, words

Looking Up (And Moving On)
Of Slides and Such
El Gato
My Sons, Pure Poetry
Tigers Roar
Trials and Triumphs
Sam’s Schedule – 4/08/08
Words, Glorious Words
My Kingdom for a Book

Looking Up (And Moving On)

Signs are everywhere, did you know? They are on houses and in stores, they are on TV and in school — and of course they dot roads and highways. They are part of the landscape but you don’t really notice them, do you? You just accept that they are there, all with messages we’ve heard before: No u-turn, slow down, curved road ahead.

Hexagons and triangles, like STOP and YIELD, are John’s favorites. From the time he could walk, he’d race towards the tall and towering: his gaze up, his feet fast. Strapped in a stroller, he’d lean forward and flap with excitement at the sight of the 2-hour parking signs that lined our road. At each one, he’d turn and follow it as we passed, like they were having a conversation.

signs1 copy I’m not sure when he began counting the signs as we drove past them, but maybe he was all along.

“ONE sign,” he says as we drive to the library, passing a YIELD.

“TWO sign,” as the SPEED LIMIT 35 MPH appears.

“THREE signs,” he says, U-turn ahead.

He counts not just the ones on our side of the street, but the ones with their backs to us on the other side too (so that now even I’m craning my neck to see what they say).

He is my backseat tour guide.


After school we drive down our long dirt road and here? Here there are signs posted on trees. So many trees, so many signs — mostly with warnings about not going too fast. I don’t see them anymore. Why? Because I am gripping the wheel over potholes and bumps. I KNOW the speed limit is 10mph, thankyouverymuch. The talking from the backseat goes up and down with the car’s movement. At first I think it’s Elmo’s World, He’s scripting a video. It sounds like Wansinitry, tasinitry, thrasinitry — Elmo talk.

And suddenly I understand he is saying:

“ONE sign on tree… TWO sign on tree… THREE sign on tree.”

When we get to the last one before the driveway, he proclaims, “SEVEN SIGN ON TREE! WE’VE EARNED A STICKER!” and he waves Elmo high, triumphant. Now he does it every day and each time I smile. His face is so happy.


The comfort of these symbols nailed to trees and on posts — that at the end of a long road you are home. You struggle with disappointments big (we already know those) and small (the clouds for the beach, the Teletubbies CD already checked out at the library) — but at least the signs are there, if you’re looking and listening for them. Signs to point you home.

I suppose we all do the same, marking off touchstones one by one: The morning alarm clock, the coffee brewing, the cat rubbing against a leg to be fed. Meals made, lunches packed, work at the computer. Time passes and you trust in the familiar signs you’ve come to recognize as yours.

And if all the signs, ALL the signs were there all along? What else is to be done but to forgive and move on? Not the ones who hurt you (although they say that is necessary to your survival and you know it and you’re working on it but it’s not easy and not imminent). You stopped looking up, you see. Signs all the way back to the very beginning had you known to look. Like magic, you believed in the trick and ignored the sleight of hand.

No —forgive yourself. It’s time.

January 2007

January 2007

Of Slides and Such

We are surrounded by hundreds of sunbathers at a very public pool. Even though you are nearing me in height I must hoist you up into my arms (to the amusement of those around us), and walk deliberately into the water. Long ago I mastered the ability to keep my face calm as the icy water envelops us.

We are in now, and as always, you are glommed onto me. Every 30 seconds I say, “John, not the neck!” and pry you from my windpipe. We bob on the water, you and I, and I see you relax in increments. We look for Sam and I point to him high up on the water slide.

You say, “Go water slide?” and I repeat, “Go water slide? Yes or no.” You say, “NO!” Okay. We bob some more, we glide from one end of the pool to the other. With a splash, Sam lands in front of us. You grin. Sam says, “John! Go water slide?” You are excited and flap your hands, I know you want to, how you want to!

“John,” we say together, “Go water slide? Yes or no.”

“YES!” you say. So out we get and Sam grabs your hand. I am hopeful but this scene has played out before: we always come down the slide… just always the wrong way.

We begin our ascent and fall into line behind at least a dozen kids. You are still excited. Sam says, “John, it’s so much fun! Go water slide?” and I see your face waver and fill with doubt. You say, “Go home.” I tell you that it will be great and not to worry, Sam will go first.

Finally we arrive at the top. There are two slides, a blue and a green. Sam shoots down one and I hold your shoulders until the lifeguard gives us the signal. I glance behind me: the line snakes below.

This is it.

“Green!” shouts the lifeguard. You break free, scream and say, “GO HOME!” I glance at the guard, certain that what I see will be impatience and I steel myself for the long retreat down the stairs. Instead I see compassion. He says, “Take your time.” Other kids fly by us while you stomp your feet and yell “ALL DONE!” We are quite the spectacle up here at the top. A few kids stare at you but most smile and tell you, “Hey, it’s fun! Don’t be scared!”

I think this gives us both courage. I kneel in front of you. “John, I know you want to go down this slide. Mommy is going to help. I will put you on it and meet you at the bottom.” You yell your protest again but I see a small smile, which baby, is your dead giveaway. I explain to the guard what I’m about to do and I hoist you again (you are getting so big) and sit you at the top of the slide.

One push and you’re off.

Even though I know the pool at the bottom is just three feet deep, I panic for a second — now what? The guard, who is the calmest, most adult teenager I’ve ever seen, says, “if you shoot down the blue slide you’ll beat him down.” Now your mom hasn’t been on a water slide since the 1970s and really doesn’t care to change that but here I go. I hurl myself down the tube and land what seems like an eternity later with a splash below. I look everywhere for your bobbing head. Are you okay? Did you already get out?

Thirty seconds later you appear (indeed your slide is slower), and the grin plastered on your face is a beautiful sight. I catch you, and hug you. “John, you did it! Baby, you did it! I am so proud of you!”

I see that you are proud too.


El Gato

Dear John, as I awoke to your smiling face I could see you were in a hurry — I figured you wanted to get back to your papers full of pink words — the ones I made you leave downstairs on the kitchen table. It was time to stop sleeping with them when you began to get up in the dead of night like the old days, clutching them and demanding to start the day at 2 a.m. Oh no, no. We are not doing that again.

I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that you’ve now taken to watching youtube videos in Spanish. You hit pause when a new word appears and demand that I write each one down. You listen to the word, repeat the word, “Nutria,” then say, “Write nutria?”

What a lengthy relationship you’ve had with Baby Einstein. All of the DVDs, all of the puppets, all of the books and bath toys and plush characters: I’d guess the entire merchandise line, even the music.

“Time to get up, Mommy? Go downstairs? Ooh-kay!” I was about to oblige but you pulled me to you instead and gave me a hug. That was just fine with me. I wasn’t ready to slide my feet on the cold floor just yet.

One quick hug and then you were ready to split but I stopped you and said, “Hey John? How do you say ‘cat‘ in Spanish?” I waited one beat, two beat, three beats — and you whispered, you said, “Ga-to.”

Seriously. I stared at you in disbelief — could you have memorized a bunch of Spanish words? I tried another: “How do you say ‘dog‘ in Spanish? “Perro,” you said a little louder this time. “How do you say ‘blue‘ in Spanish?” “Azul,” you said.

I laughed aloud at all that you keep hidden, at how very smart you are. And in the silence that followed you said to me, “How do you say ‘red’ in Spanish?” I waited and you answered yourself, “Ro-jo!

And I chased you downstairs to begin our day.


At the pool during adult swim: 
I want to go swim big pool with Mommy Daddy Sam John?
Holy macaroni, a 12-word sentence uttered by a most quiet boy.

Time to eat scrambled eggs s’ghetti meatballs dinner time?
A most quiet boy who this summer is something else: a boy who wields his words instead of pulling me places. Not all the time, of course, but people!

Tubby custard, I want go airport library grocery store?
Most of the time I get the gist but sometimes…? He stomps and yells if I don’t understand. I so want to understand! As his language has multiplied, his temper tantrums have intensified.

It’s a beautiful puzzle.

My Sons, Pure Poetry

If there’s one constant about my boys, it is this: John is always in motion and Sam is always talking.


John’s hands flap, fingers flick, solo then together. Legs skip to a beat he surely feels but we don’t hear. He jumps and runs and flies through the air. Give him a wide open space: the backyard, or a football field, or a park in springtime and he’s off. Movement is his poetry.

When he was younger — two and three and even four — he was oblivious to everything but his pursuit of lines and shadows and above all, street signs and lampposts. There’s this new documentary called Loving Lampposts? and I can’t wait to see it — I have dozens of photos of John doing just that. When I think about that time, which is not so long ago, I think about the panic that tinged every facet of my day with them. Normal trips to the grocery store or to the playground were wrapped in a layer of impossibility and responsibility. While most children stay with their parents when they go out into the world, John’s first instinct was to bolt. I felt like his very survival depended on my not letting go of his hand.

I still think that it did.

But something has changed with my boy. He stops when you tell him to stop. He turns when you call his name. When we go to the playground now he is still drawn to the same things but he’s also the boy going down the slide and the boy saying “Swing Mommy Push?”

Sometimes when he strays too far, that familiar panic begins its rise in my belly. I’ll begin my sprint after him but just as quick am frozen in my tracks when he turns and stops at the sound of my call. It’s kind of a freaking miracle.


Ever since Sam was two and learned his alphabet, he started to talk and has not stopped. If he is not talking about anything and everything under the sun then he is humming. He hums while drawing, he hums while playing, he hums while eating, he hums all the while. When I draw his attention to it, he’ll be quiet for maybe 15 seconds and then busts at the seams with sound. It is his poetry.

Sometimes, shame on me, I tune out. I almost missed this loveliness. Something about the language was different and so I stopped cutting vegetables and exclaimed, “Wow, Sam, was that a poem you just spoke aloud?”

“Yep.” he said. “It’s called All Around the Year.” I asked him if it was in a book he was reading and he said no, his teacher had read it aloud to them in class. And he remembered it.

“Honey, do you think you could write it down for me? I’d love to have it,” I asked, once again completely and utterly amazed at his memory.

A Poem
All Around the Year
Now, winter that
mean polar bear. Goes loping
inside its lair. A melting
river tugs loose its terrible
bear hug.
As Earth starts to seethe
As plants grow. Willow
branches grow high.
And so will I. And so will I.

Tigers Roar

John surprised me today…after reading a book about animals, we pulled out toy animals (tigers, bears, birds) and John began to do some pretend play! He took two tigers and made them roar at each other and march along the table. He played with the animals for 15-20 minutes… Go JOHN!!

—John’s teacher

This child amazes. The many things this boy could not do and is doing. He is reading books. He generalizes words from his programs and can transfer knowledge to a book he’s never seen before. There used to be a time that bed time consisted of my sitting on Sam’s side of the bed to read a bedtime story but every night John demands: Read story? and I plop myself between them.

Amazing that we are here.

Trials and Triumphs

John is in day five of his summer ABA program and, well…Wow.

“J, J, J is jump, jump, jump” he says, as he skips around the house during his break between sessions. Here he is pressing his nose to mine: “a pig, a pig, a pig,” he says and laughs. Nonsense for sure, but repeated with such mischief, such engagement, that I wonder whose child this is.

I wasn’t sure if we should do this, I had doubts. His ABA therapists are not strangers to us — they came to our house for eight full months, after all, before he and Sam turned three. But at our summer kick-off meeting last week, John was defiant and angry. He was so eager for us to leave that he called me Mommy (that’s the third time ever for those of you who count these things) as he flung his little body into my arms. I tried to interpret what he was feeling: was it boredom? exhaustion? sadness? I imagined he wanted to say, Please don’t make me do this again mommy.

I watched as trials were practiced at the table: “Do this!” “Match!” “Come here!” and saw how he used his arm like a weapon to send everything flying to the floor in protest. I thought of how some regard ABA as robotic and cold. I thought about what a miserable mother I was to force my child to repeatedly drop a block into a cup — especially since he had mastered this task long ago.

“Isn’t this a bit boring for him?” I asked. What I thought was, How is this helping him? How is this making him want to engage in our world? How can this make a difference?

I know it’s about interspersing achievable goals into his program, to give him tasks that he can complete amid ones that he is learning. And then I heard myself admit to his ABA team that John has only become more interested in being left alone to stim, not less. It is something to hear aloud thoughts you’ve sidestepped just to get through the day. That’s when I realized that dropping blocks into a cup is hardly the point at all.

Anything that pulls him back into our world, to look into my eyes and laugh, is the prize — whether he joins kicking and screaming or willingly into my arms. A Mommy here and there doesn’t hurt either.

Five days in and already I see a change. A calm, a contentment even. Today, he actually said his therapist’s name as she arrived. Huge things, folks.

Sam’s Schedule – 4/08/08

1) Get up
2) Grumpy!
3) Go potty on floor
4) Refuse to get dressed
5) Accept juice
6) Push cereal away
7) “No school today!”
8) It’s a cloudy day
9) “Stay home!”
10) Mommy feels Sam’s forehead — normal
11) Mommy threatens Sam
12) “New schedule! Number 1. Sam get up, 2. Sam go to doctor, 3. No school today!”
13) John’s bus comes
14) Mommy almost gives in, tries different tack
15) “School, then doctor, then store!”
16) Mommy scores
17) Sam goes to school
18) Home
19) How does Sam feel?
20) If still grumpy, go to doctor

Three hours later he bounces off the bus and up the drive.
Sam, how do you feel?

“Sam is happy!”
Mommy is tired.

Words, Glorious Words

It’s hard not to get excited by this three-letter word, exclaimed as its yellow majesty lumbered up to collect John this morning:

“BUS!” he said.

As if he’d been saying it for quite some time (so why is your mouth open, mommy?).

If that itself is not enough to celebrate, I’m afraid there is an embarrassment of words. He came home happier than usual, pulled down a book and, yanking my finger to use as his pointer, said “BOAT,” “DOG,” “MOON,” “SUN,” “CLOUDS,” “STAR.” And smiled.

Wild happy wailing ensued. Can you hear it?

My Kingdom for a Book

John said a word.

The scene: Three Dr. Seuss board books lined up (upside down of course) for John’s silent inspection. A common pursuit in the slow hour between ABA and dinner — but today, instead of pushing me away as I tried to intrude in his play, he handed me one book after another and spoke.

“Booo-,” he said, looking — not down or away, but intently into my eyes.

“Yes, book!” I said, and gave him a squeeze.

“Booo-!” he repeated, jumping up and down.

Just like that — snapJoint Attention.

Proud mama. Proud little boy.

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