Tag - surprises

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Traveling and Unraveling
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Words Like Nets
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Movie Date
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Paper Places
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El Gato
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Otter Facts
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The Paintbrush
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The Artist
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Slow Motion
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Jumping

Traveling and Unraveling

Iam three-and-a-half weeks into a month without my boys. This is what happens when you are divorced: you are a child-less mother for periods of the year. Once, when I was going through the throes of my dying marriage I told an acquaintance about our separation. Used to stricken faces and sympathy, her response took me off guard. I think that would be the best of both worlds, she said. You’d have built-in time off.

(Huh. Not my first choice, but Word.)

Four weeks solo yawned with possibilities but it scared me too. My boys are my anchors — what would it be like to be unmoored? Travel and unravel by degrees I suppose, all necessary and good: my first vacation in 10 years! Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, Chicago. Sunsets, sunrises, long walks alone interspersed with visits from friends. You figure things out, you get some clarity, you listen to the silence and hear echoes of yourself, a self you once knew. You try to sleep past 6 a.m. but fail each day, your body has memorized the routine whether they are here or not. You whisper good morning to the air and to the fur-monster sitting on your pillow waiting to be fed. (He misses them too).

This is not the way it’s supposed to be, of course, this month alone without kids. The flip side: I solo parent the other 11 months, weekends included — fair trade? My boys would say not. This is not the way it was supposed to be but it’s the way it is.

“Bottom line is, even if you see ’em coming, you’re not ready for the big moments. No one asks for their life to change, not really. But it does. So what are we, helpless? Puppets? No. The big moments are gonna come. You can’t help that. It’s what you do afterwards that counts. That’s when you find out who you are.” —Joss Whedon

I do love that Joss. The moments, dear god, the moments. Good thing they come in all sizes and that my favorite moments will be home soon.

Words Like Nets

This. This at the end of a long, tiring day. This, when you simply want to put a period on it, as in, THE DAY IS DONE.

This, when the goal is to slide into the evening with your thoughts and a glass of wine, your children at last asleep. Let’s be honest, looking forward to these moments is what keeps you going some days.

So when one of your children refuses to cooperate and instead keeps getting out of bed after lights out and you see no discernible reason other than he quite possibly does not want you to have alone time, you will sigh heavily and say “Alright, then. Come here. Sit on the couch with me.”

The truth is you are just too tired to keep walking him back to bed.

You ask him, of course you do: “John, what is it? Why can’t you sleep?” You ask him, knowing that it’s futile, knowing that answering requires too much and tools he does not have. And then you spot your laptop. You open a blank word doc and you type:

John, why are you sad? Because… ?

You don’t expect an answer, you don’t expect much, which is why when he leans forward you still don’t realize.

a take to bed

“Take you back to bed?” You tell him you still don’t understand. You try again.

WHY is John sad? 
no sad
Okay. Is something bothering John?
Yes or no?
yes

And you tell him you want to help, can he please tell you more, can he type more?

neat mom sat on bed
sleep mom sad wake up mom
back ward school

What does it mean? Backward school? Go back to school? And he continues:

dad grandma house train
dad number 012345
dad grow plant
home mom
dinner
movie popcorn
bath time
bed time
brekfest
dad no hi
dad air up
dad chikfil a
the muppet show season 3
sesame street surprise watch
moo bow elmo puppet
fair boat
hot air balloon
lunch
fair boat home
dinner movie bed
back to school
lost home ant jt
go home
nose
watch to baby da vinci
jelly fish

This. All of this. You need to de-code and you need to alert the press. This is the longest conversation you’ve ever had.

The day you discovered Sesame Street’s “Divorce: Little Children, Big Challenges” downloaded on his ipad without any help you knew that he was taking it all in and processing. And today you see, god how you see, just how much he has to say.

Words

Movie Date

John still eats the same five things but lately has added popcorn. He loves popcorn. After school, he asks: “Watch movie in the basement and eat some popcorn?” I smile and oblige.

He gathers old friends together, a tall boy and his basket of buds from a wide swath of eras. This  boy, this boy who never really got pretend play, has lined them all up in front of the television to watch a movie and eat some popcorn.

You know, pretend play.

I am grateful. Day #2.

Paper Places

Trust:
1. assured reliance on the character, ability, strength, or truth of someone or something
2. one in which confidence is placed

I used to give trust freely, like a gift, but I’m not so giving anymore.

“Mom!” says Sam, “You are QUASHING my CREATIVITY!”

Amused, I ask how cleaning up his mess — the scraps, the tape, the crayons, the scissors — how is that quashing his creativity?

“I need it like this,” he explains. “Don’t you trust me?”

“Trust? Sure — but can we clean up some of it?”

“Now you’re starting to BREAK my creativity. When you tell me to clean up, it is BREAKING me. Don’t BREAK me, Mom.”

Seriously. I sound like a kneecap smasher or a wild horse wrangler — instead of a mom who’s just trying to clean the freakin’ kitchen and make dinner.

I simply do not understand how creativity can arise from this chaos. Even while I see it everywhere: the  complex structures made out of paper and tape, the “water slide”; the “amusement park”;  the “life-size Sam figure” lying in front of my dishwasher — this chaotic jumble of mess is too much.

“Sam!” I try again. “Just clean some of it then. How about all the scraps, we can put them in recycling,” I say, hoping to awaken his earnest “Go Green” crusade, when he will tell me again that he thinks we should ditch our minivan and walk everywhere.

But even as I say it, I realize that I spend far too much time trying to create order from chaos and despite my best efforts, chaos has chosen to land smack in my kitchen and my life. Why fight it any longer. Perhaps the best I can do is grab my own paper and tape and start rebuilding. Trust that a form will take shape.

He pulls me to the kitchen floor, right next to Life-Size-Sam and in front of the Fun House made of orange construction paper. “I’ll show you how the roller coaster works!” How do I not grab the paper car he gives me and vroom vroom it up his paper roller coaster. How do I not smile, here on my dirty kitchen floor surrounded by paper places and crayons and tape.

Always the tape.

Give me a paper house built with tape and conviction any day. It’s the effort and actions that count. Charming words, facile and glib, are like a beautifully wrapped box that is empty inside. Unlike my boy’s paper places, they collapse at the slightest breeze.

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.

Otter Facts

“Otters are fun creatures to watch and they are highly intelligent.”

—from Top Otter Facts, otter-world.com

My child is in love with otters. Lately Baby Einstein’s Neighborhood Animals has been on high rotation around here. Who knows what it is about the otter that is fascinating him so, but he’s been taking more photos of the TV screen (*note new image count: 1,067):

And he was so adamant that I spell OTTER for him that he spelled it all by himself after I told him that if he did he could have chocolate ice cream.

Last night after I had tucked him and his brother into bed, I heard his little feet scurry across the room. He had pulled a book off the shelf and had torn out the page on Otter Facts. When I went back up to investigate, well…

… he read it to me. He stumbled over “often” and “webbed” and “waterproof.” But he read it to me.

This morning he brought me paper and a crayon and said “Mommy draw otter.” I looked at him and said “No. John draw otter.” And then, even though it was 6:30 a.m., or perhaps because it was 6:30 a.m., I said, “John…Paint otter?”

“Paint?” he said. And so there we sat — did I mention it was 6:30 a.m.? I handed him a brush and paint and water. He caught my gaze, unsure. I told him he could do it and  a split second later he began. He painted.

Fact: Otters are pretty darn cute. And intelligent. Not unlike this child.

The Paintbrush

Oh, John. After years of making Mommy spell words for you, of pulling my hand and insisting that I draw pictures for you (in crayon, in pencil, on paper, on the computer, once in the sand), after an eternity of my being Chief Scribe — now you’re ready to do it yourself?

balloon1The watercolor paints are new — we have not cracked them open since Christmas — so when you brought them to me with a paintbrush and said “Open Blue?” I took in the situation and your earnest face and thought, Well? Let’s give it a shot.

Of course I hoped that you would paint yourself but I wasn’t optimistic. I mean there’s precedent and it usually ends up being me. But still, I got a cup of water and showed you the basics: dip brush

in water, mix brush in color, paint on paper. I waited for the inevitable “Mommy paint?” but instead you pushed me away and started coloring in a hot air balloon. Like I was in your way! (I was, I hovered.)

How did I not figure it out sooner?

balloon2It’s the medium. It’s the amount of strength required of your little hands, of your fingers. Painting is fluid and smooth. Your body does not protest or resist or get in your way (like with the crayon or the pencil or even the marker). Painting allows you to execute one smooth movement after another.

It’s not (as I sometimes wondered) the repetitive nature of having us draw picture after picture for you. It’s that YOU want to be able to draw yourself. And we’re as close as you’re able to get.

And then it dawns on me that this must be what it’s like when you try to talk. I see how you struggle to find words when it’s so plain that you want to communicate something — your body doesn’t have a paintbrush to help it find expression. And just like when you make Mommy draw for you (i.e., be your hands), you stop in your tracks and cry. Or flap with frustration. I see how frustrating it must be.

What if the answer to both is… painting? So I’ve decided: No more crayons or markers. We are filling this house with paint and easels and smocks. Let’s see what you’re trying to say, baby.

The Artist

Well my child? You sure have been busy. We were running out the door and I yelled “John, where is my phone, honey?” because truth be told, you use it more than I do. You stopped in your tracks and disappeared downstairs. When you returned and gave it to me, I was incredibly proud that you listened, followed a direction and brought it to me.

Then I looked at my phone. I scrolled and scrolled…Seven hundred and twenty photos of the TV screen? Seven hundred and twenty?

I’m thrilled you mastered changing the DVDs without breaking them — we did lose a few to your learning curve. I was curious why you kept changing the disks over and over and why you’d fast forward to a scene and pause it on a specific frame.

When I showed you how to take a photo with the iphone, 720 pictures is not what I envisioned, but wow. I see how you experimented and took photos from afar and then how you focused in on the details that you most love. Beautiful, just like you.

Slow Motion

Three weeks ago my life imploded and ever since it feels like I’ve been moving in slow motion. I think this is what happens when your life shifts — and mine is definitely shifting — your vision is crisp, the blinders are off. So many things are clear right now, here’s one…

…John’s brilliant light.

This boy’s light is dazzling. I’ve always known he was special, but god is he smart. So smart. His teacher reports that he is close to one of his classmates, a little girl. When other children cry he claps his hands over his ears, but when M. cries, he goes over to her, puts an arm around her shoulder and says, “S’okay Mo-mo.” I kneel down in front of him and ask him whether he would like orange juice or apple juice and his eyes, god his eyes, look me straight in the eye when he answers, “Orange juice?” I catch my breath.

Small things to other families, incredible for mine. Empathy, expressiveness, comprehension. This is what else I see…

…Sam’s tenderness, his heart.

He worries about everyone and wants to name feelings. I try to give him kid-size words for adult problems. I tell him he is a kid and the grownups will fix the grownup problems. I tell him that everything will be fine, that he is loved, so loved. This is a boy who studied Thomas the Tank Engine videos for clues on facial expressions, and who could probably lead his own social skills group. He says, “I love you so much, Mom.”

Jumping

A little boy jumps on the couch, a grin spread ear to ear. He says, “Mommy sit? Mommy play?” and I stop in my tracks. I look again, pretty sure I passed Sam upstairs before coming down here.

John?

You bounce up and down, up and down, and now I see the squint in addition to the grin, the finger puppets dancing by your face. Since when do you ask to play? I grab you and give you a big hug. You laugh and say again, “Mommy sit? Mommy play?” I tell you that first I need to help Sam get started on homework.

Then you say the most amazing thing: “Sam downstairs play?”

Who cares about homework. I yell for Sam, Come downstairs and play with your brother! He asked to play with you! and Sam comes running.

IMG_4193ASam in John’s space at three.

It’s hard to explain how my heart fills and overflows at the sight of you two laughing together, jumping together up and down, up and down. It may not last for long, and who knows when it might happen again, but this moment leaves me breathless.

The things that other people take for granted with their children.

You laugh and jump and plop together on the couch and it seems to me that for the briefest of moments there is no autism here, just two brothers doing something so ordinary that it qualifies as extraordinary.

John, your brother has never given up on you — he’s climbed, chased, pulled, turned, followed, and sometimes hit you — all in an effort to get your attention. He loves you so.

And today I see just how much you love him.

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