December 22, 2010. The other night, while listening to the cold, slanting rain pelt against our house, I realized something extraordinary. Sophie is beginning to keep us honest, and maybe even more noteworthy, participate in her brother’s care. Peter was having yet another one of his becoming-too-frequent screaming fits – this time over having not earned enough points on his chart to play video games, so I looked at him, not so calmly, and suggested that he scream louder, which he did. His face crimson and his mouth stretched wide, he let fly a primal howl loud enough to be heard from the moon. And then he did it again and then again. When the fit finally abated, and he went upstairs to change into his pajamas, Sophie turned to me, hands on hips, her face a little flushed, and asked, “Why’d you do that, Mom?” Hesitating, I finally stuttered, “Sometimes its good to get the anger out. I was trying to help.” One look at my savvy daughter told me she wasn’t buying it. “Well,” she huffed, “will you please not do that again?” Accepting my reprimand with as much grace and aplomb as I could muster, which wasn’t much, I hastily agreed. Pat’s tiny grin did not go unnoticed. He knew as well as Sophie that I was wrong to have done that, and perhaps even more wrong to try to cover my tracks in front of our precocious daughter. One thing I love about Pat, and I hope he’d say the same for me, is that he tries hard not to over condemn my slip-ups when it comes to coping with and teaching our children. We often talk about each other’s mistakes later, usually while we’re watching TV at night, but we’ve taken a solemn vow of solidarity when it comes to our respective parenting slips. I think it comes from a place of deep respect and love, and the knowledge that our relationship and commitment to each other is more important than anything else we’re doing, including raising our kids. I’m not sure we’d have been able to stand the pressure cooker that our lives have become otherwise. Case in point: our recent day trip into the city to see the Nutcracker. We arrived early enough to see Santa at Macy’s beforehand and devour too much pastrami at Carnegie Deli. Despite his recent volatility, Peter handled the day’s excitement pretty well, at least until the ballet. Unfortunately, he felt the need to spray the walls of the Lincoln Center’s Men’s Room with urine and then offer an encore performance during intermission right in front of his seat. A twice unlucky porter spread cat litter on the floor to sop up the mess, which I must say was embarrassing, and poor Pat had to get Peter cleaned up, for the second time in an hour. At 9 ½, he’s really too old to take into the Ladies Room. I thought Pat’s aorta would burst, he was that mad. His body shaking with frustration, I watched nervously as he hauled our soaked son into the restroom. As for me, I was more embarrassed than angry, and so I dug through our backpack in search of the “You have just experienced a child with autism . . .” cards that Lindy gave me for just such an emergency. I swear I could feel the humiliating stares and angry eyes all around me but as it turns out, it was just my own paranoia at play. The people around us were incredibly tolerant and understanding, as were the porter and ushers. I don’t know whether Pat is hiding pints of whiskey in his trousers these days (I certainly wouldn’t blame him), but he emerged from the Men’s Room in relatively good shape, his anger dissipated and his temper in check. Our eyes met briefly as we negotiated stepping over the piles of cat litter, and that’s all that was necessary to communicate that we were both okay, that this particular disaster was survivable. Despite Peter’s behavior, born I suppose from over-stimulation and fatigue, we were able to rally as a family and enjoy the rest of the performance. Amazing. We’ve actually gotten to the point where our son can paint one of the most magnificent performance venues in the world with urine and still proceed with our plans. Now all I have to decide is whether this fact represents personal triumph over extreme adversity or the inevitable decline of our already dwindling rationalities! When the ballet ended, Sophie exclaimed that the worst thing in the world was that now she would have to wait 365 days to see it again. She is a lesson in resiliency, our daughter, and my eyes filled with tears to watch the awe and joy in hers. A few years ago, an episode like this would have ruined the day, but we’re learning, Pat and I, from each other and increasingly, from Sophie. We are so careful with each other, not always 100% successfully, but we try. Knowing that we have each other’s back, as well as appreciating that we’re the sacred guardian of each other’s heart, keeps us moving forward as individuals, as a couple, and ultimately as a family. At 62, my husband finds himself in the middle of a situation from which most men would run, and yet he doesn’t. He allows me to talk him down from the ledge when he’s at his breaking point and somehow, always, he comforts me when I’m at mine. Sophie suffers from tremendous anxiety and control issues but at her core, she’s a consummate survivor. I have to believe that the very qualities that allowed her to endure, and sometimes even thrive, in the orphanage, the ones that too often cause her trouble in school and at home, can and will be massaged toward more healthful pursuits. Just like she reminds me when I allow Peter to influence my behavior, I need to gently help her learn to control her impulses, her survival drive, so that these traits don’t wind up controlling her. I think we’ll get there, I really do. It takes real pluckiness to be able to lift your legs up so a porter can spread cat litter beneath your seat while pouring through the Playbill, completely unphased, in anticipation of Act II. Anyone who can survive what Sophie survived, and who endures what she must endure on a daily basis, will find her way in the world. After all, she’s already taught us a trick or two.
December 22, 2010
December 12, 2010
December 12, 2010. Nothing I’ve done to squelch the flow or urine at night, whether purposeful on Peter’s part or involuntary, has worked. I literally have zero idea how he’s outmaneuvering us, but I’m nonetheless giving in and raising the white flag in surrender. At this point, I have no idea how we’ll cope with the next ten years or so of nightly bed and pajama soaking; I only pray the output doesn’t rise to the level that it overflows the mattress, leaks onto the floor and eventually splatters the living room below. If that happens, my contingency plan is to design and install a self-cleaning waterproof bubble in which he can sleep, thereby allowing the four of us to continue cohabitating without the threat of ammonia asphyxiation. In the meantime, I need to turn my attention to Christmas and more pleasant preoccupations. We’re scheduled to go into the city on Tuesday to see the Nutcracker and visit Santa at Macy’s. I made the reservations six weeks ago, before Peter’s breakdown. His behavior, meaning his self-control and frustration tolerance, are still well below what we consider his “norm”, and his grip on reality, though not slipping any further, is nowhere near where it was before this happened. I hope he can endure the day’s events, and accompanying excitement, so that all of us, Peter included, can enjoy the experience. Though it’s my most recent, and fervent, Christmas wish, I must admit I’m a little apprehensive. On the way home from Sophie’s swim meet today, Peter asked why I didn’t just jump over all the icy puddles in the road when he heard that my car had slipped earlier that morning. “We’re Rudolph now, Mom. You can fly!”. Lindy gave us a Rudolph car kit for Christmas last year and though I dutifully installed the antlers on the front windows and red nose on the grill, we lost an antler the very first day. All that’s left to adorn our vehicle is the big, red nose on the front. “Really, Mom,” he persists after listening to me explain how tying a red-stuffed nose onto the front of the car doesn’t transform us into Rudolph. “We magic powers now.” At this juncture, I don’t dare argue with him or even try to restate my point – he’s been very combative lately when someone challenges his fanciful ideas, and so I let the matter slide and signal Sophie to do the same. She gets the message and stops trying to convince him of the folly of his thinking, but she resents the request and makes sure I’m looking as she roll her eyes and proffers an ominous, low growl. To de-escalate the mounting tension, I turn on the radio, hoping for a Christmas tune. Instead, Peter’s nemesis of a song is playing, and I find myself laughing over the sheer absurdity of what was about to unfold. “Mom,” he pipe’s up, exactly on cue. “That is not a nice song you are hearing.” He’s talking about “I Shot the Sheriff” by Eric Clapton. “I can see why you’d say that,” I respond, having heard this lament at least a hundred times before. My favorite radio station plays this song often. I’m seriously considering calling the manager and asking them to delete it from their playlist. “The sheriff would not like that,” he continues. “Oh come on,” Sophie bellows, unable to tolerate an iota more of this Who’s on First routine. “It’s not a REAL sheriff, Peter! It’s just a S-O-N-G, get it?” Despite her obnoxious tone, I can’t get mad at her. It bugs me, too. As in R-E-A-L-L-Y bugs me, but he can’t help it. He’s completely black and white right now – even more than usual, and as inflexible as a flagpole in his thinking. The other day he orchestrated the perfect storm in the playroom, throwing toys, furniture and other objects against the walls and across the room, all because Lindy wanted him to acknowledge that it doesn’t always snow at Christmastimes but every now and then it snows over the Thanksgiving holidays. This threw a wrench in his rigid construct regarding the seasons – “the leaves fall down at Thanksgiving, the snow comes at Christmas”, and that’s all it took. Lindy said she was about to “take him down” in one of her last resort restraints because Sophie was on the verge of getting hurt, but somehow this was avoided. Though licensed and certified to restrain a child who is in danger of harming self or others, Lindy’s as wary as we are of CPS after the school psychologist fabricated abuse charges back in the “Pre-Due Process Victory Era”. Despite Peter’s significant setbacks however, I’m still returning to good cheer, and I want to count my blessings. Peter was an angel today – a polite, model citizen during Sophie’s swim meet, and he kept himself nicely together for the rest of the afternoon, until dinnertime, when he fell apart again. It’s the best day we’ve had with him since early November. Pat’s upstairs, showering Peter, and Sophie’s dropping chocolate chip cookies on a cookie sheet. She’s handed her baby doll over to me to “babysit” as she works, and I can’t help but grin as I listen to her belt “Deck the house with balls of Howie”, more or less in time with the CD playing in the background. I’ll stop writing now because she needs me to put the cookies in the oven and we have a family date to watch A Charlie Brown Christmas in front of the fireplace together. I’ve always had a soft spot for Charlie Brown. Maybe because he was meant to remind me, even when I was a child, of the son I’d one day have. After all, except for the not so small matter of fetal alcohol, those two boys have a lot in common.