Spider-Vader and The Bee

Not sure what precipitated the change, but Gabriel has discovered his inner “NO!” Okay, I know he’s almost two, but there has been absolutely nothing gradual about his sense of empowerment. Last night I lost track of him for, o, maybe two minutes, and the next thing I know, John is yelling “Did you notice what Gabriel is doing?” Sitting in the bathroom sink, with his pajamas on, water running. Two minutes. As Jonah likes to ask, “Are you seer-ious?” I’m serious.

After coaxing him into his bumblebee suit, G was all over the trick-or-treating gig. Refused to be carried. Refused to give up the candy, once it was in his grubby little paw. Screamed at the top of his lungs if we tried. Insisted on running from house to house in the dark, crumbly uneven sidewalks notwithstanding. Where did my sweet, amenable boy go? I swear, he was here just last week.

Speaking of amenable, Jonah went the Spider-Vader route, except he didn’t wear the helmet. As John commented, it makes a nice and expensive candy bucket. It’s amazing what a year will do. As I remember it, J was all wonder and astonishment last Halloween when he realized that people were just going to give him candy. He repeatedly chanted, “Happy Tricker Treat! Give me something to eat!” This year, he seemed to be (rather rudely) analyzing every piece, his face buried in the bag before he even turned around to head back down the sidewalk. Odds are he was thinking to himself, “Will I be able to eat it?” We’ve cut out all gummy/chewy candy because his teeth are kind of rotten and artificial colors because they make him crazy. Kind of sucks, especially when you get a Sponge Bob Squarepants gummy Crabby Patty, whose creator went to the trouble of stamping the lettuce and the bun to make them sort of look like lettuce and a bun.

I think the best part of the day was the all-city trick-or-treat from 3-5. It was a beautiful afternoon. Just the right degree of cold and sun. Jonah handed out candy while I bagged leaves, and he was beside himself with excitement, especially when the older, more ghoulish characters showed up. “Ooooo, he’s so spooky! Why’s he so spooky mom?” “O! Another spooky one!” He wrung his hands and hopped about, running down the sidewalk to fill the buckets and having to run back for more and spilling a fair share from the Tonka trunk we’d stowed it in (a gimmick G was none too pleased by when he woke from his nap. He stood at the front door pointing and shouting “guck!”). Our winner for best suit: a plasticky grim reaper type with a special button that made the mask fill with blood. “Why does it fill up with blood mom?” he repeatedly asked. I told him it wasn’t real blood. “O yes, it’s red paint,” was his response, followed by an “Is it?” He was alternately fascinated and freaked. One of his favorite spaces to be.

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Shenanigans

What Gabriel learned during our stay in Kansas: how to climb out of a pack ‘n play. Canton translation: how to climb out of his crib.

There will be no photographs accompanying this post because it is dark and my child is too stealthy. I am sitting on the (hard wood) floor outside of Gabriel’s room. I believe that my butt is asleep and my feet are headed that direction. All I have to say for myself is: at least I made sure the window was unlocked before I put him in his crib for the night. I heard him (just barely) dismount but didn’t make it to the door before he locked himself in. Please, no comments about our lack of child-proofing this particular area of the house. John was astonished, Jonah even more so. A ladder was found and little G saved from the horror of his cell. We taped the door latch so it couldn’t latch. Tomorrow we buy (and install) a new door knob with a childproof something or other and transform the crib into a toddler bed. Fun for all!

In hungrier news: I have a third of some Chipotle tacos sitting on the kitchen table. Maybe I will get back to them before the dogs do.

Travelogue

From a certain point of view, the summer was not kind to Kansas. Where lawns were given up to the heat (many on city water couldn’t afford to run their sprinklers), brown swaths of turf keep the dirt from blowing. Lots empty of homes look to have been taken over by native plants. Well, they might not actually be native, but they are hardy and adaptable. Plants you’d expect to see in places more desert than prairie. And I know that Kansas is no longer, for all intents and purposes, a prairie, but it retains that essence. And since I’ve been home, it feels as though the land is trying mightily hard to take back its own. Nothing personal, of course. It just knows how to adapt. It has seen centuries—some lush, some dry. It knows what to do when water is scarce. It never forgets how to bloom come spring or fall. Fall blooms in Kansas can be golden.

A popular saying around here: “If you don’t like the weather, just wait five minutes.” Not particularly original, but who needs originality when you’ve got drama? Two days ago, the temperature hit near 85 with a strong south wind blowing through up to 40 mph. By yesterday evening, it was in the forties, the wind had shifted (but not abated) to the north, and it was snowing in Goodland (northwestern Kansas). I had to drag Gabriel and his cousins Charlotte and Isaiah back from the park because their little hands were turning ice cube and I could be buffeted no more.

And here’s a funny observance, maybe a gross generalization, but interesting nonetheless. Kansas’ weather-drama seems to have a direct connection to its inhabitants. Granted, I’ve only lived in Ohio a year, but its natives just seem so sensible. Fully human, yet not prone to the drama I seem to meet at every turn in Kansas. Garrison Keillor makes the same sort of connections between Lake Wobegonites and Minnesotan winters. I think my husband would agree that I’m the most dramatic person he knows in Canton. Not counting Jonah. But how can you not count Jonah Caedmon, who incidentally loves Kansas intensely, having coincidentally been conceived there.

A sort of Kansas photo-journal follows, documenting G and my travels this last week.

Cottonwood arch

Hanging out while mama caffeinates

Gabriel and Fiona (after meeting the goats)

Cheers! Cousin Molly learns a time honored Estes tradition

What Jonah taught me

Sunny dig in my parent's backyard

Horizon bramble

Pining

A funny thing happened in Kansas.

For years, seven to be exact, I’ve rather longingly dwelt upon my beloved state. Laugh if you will, but Kansas is beautiful, and she has carved and whittled away at me over the years. She’s worn me down and toughened me up. She’s left me alone. I was awfully lonely in Kansas, and I started to believe that loneliness was my natural state. Kansas seemed to affirm that in so many ways. But this time around things shake down differently. It’s like I woke up and realized I’m not pining for Kansas. I don’t need her in the same way I did before.

Chalk it up to stage of life, to age or distance—I couldn’t tell you myself. Maybe it takes seven years to make a family. Right now, with John and Jonah camping out in Columbia, MO, on their way back to northeastern Ohio, I see that they are where I want to be.

And really, this post should be called cottonwood, but no one would get that. The cottonwood is emblematic, not only of Kansas soil, but of my own. I came across this picture, and it make my heart ache the way the prairie and the frighteningly open skies make my heart ache, in a mortalizing (yeah, I know it’s not a word) sort of way. The way looking at your child some days can break your heart—for love, for loss, for change. Good hurt.

The person who took this picture says it is visible on GoogleEarth (40 degrees 39 minutes 7.37 seconds north latitude, and 98 degrees, 59 minutes, 16.58 seconds west longitude). Another curious revelation: most photos I post get a good dose of desaturation before they fit my scheme. So many are too bright, their colors glaring. This is the first I didn’t need to tone down. More evidence, I guess, that Kansas has had her way with me.

The Chase

Maybe 50% of the time, my life feels like a chase. Chase the dogs. Chase the kids. Chase the leaves into piles. Chase my thoughts into some working part of my brain, a corral where I can sort, tag, brand, butcher, give birth to, let out to pasture, as I see fit. Can you tell I’m back in Kansas? The livestock metaphors are riding strong. If only it was that easy—the sorting and sifting. Too often my thoughts get away from me. I am not in charge of them; they are in charge of me. Saint John the Solitary said, “It is the senses that are lower down which can chase away hateful thoughts…He judges those thoughts which have a passage into the heart.” If only I could chase my children back to sleep. I hear Gabriel now, just as I was hoping for another good hour about my own business.

All of the cousins on the Jantz side of things were together this morning at the park. What crazy bedlam! The mothers (my sisters and I) tried to keep our heads about us, but it seemed one or another of the happy kiddos was climbing a tree, sliding down a river bank, banging their head on an otherwise incredibly cool they-don’t-make-’em-like-they-used-to metal tornado slide (that’d be G), escaping across a bridge, rolling around in the dirt (that’d be J), racing and chasing, begging for a cinnamon candy (I find them a great incentive to get the boys to do what I want, occasionally), or generally evading the camera as Cammy tried to capture a shot or two.

According to the pre-installed dictionary on my computer, “chase” originated in Middle English and was based on the Latin captare, “continue to take,” from capere, “take.” I like that aspect of continuing to take or pursue. There’s no completing the chase. Okay, so obviously there’s an ultimate completion (read the beautifully written sci-fi Never Let Me Go for an interesting, if disturbing, take on that idea). Jonah asked me again today if I was going to die and if he was going to die. I am appreciative that he keeps death an active member of my consciousness. If being amidst six children under the age of six is exhausting and disorienting, it’s also a little exhilarating (provided enough sleep and caffeine have been secured). Delight comes into play. There’s also grief. Loneliness sometimes. A little danger. I don’t think a one of the cousins escaped the morning without a head bonk or unintentional hurt feeling or two; but I don’t think a one of them would have missed the morning for anything.

Versions of the truth

Which version shall I tell? And who’s truth? Am I telling my truth or John’s truth? Jonah’s or Gabriel’s?

Writing daily about personal experiences, I can’t help but consider the way I represent myself, my husband and my children. I’m a newcomer to the advocacy/self-advocacy issues passionately debated in the autism blogosphere, but I have been thinking a good deal about the way I represent Jonah, in particular. And what’s even more important than represent is the way I regard him; the way I interpret his behavior; the way I respond.

Jonah’s issues can be tricky, because he is so high functioning. Take last night, for example. We’ve gotten into the habit of “watching,” as J like to say, at suppertime. This started with the special event of experiencing the entire Star Wars saga but has become more of a coping device since then. John finds something on Netflix we can all moderately agree on, and we settle in. It’s a little sad, I know, and not my ideal way to spend what little daily time we have together as a family, but it helps Jonah eat his food without regular prompting. It helps him focus, or seems to, counterintuitive as this may be. Often though, it’s too much for me. Overstimulating. I don’t like being sucked into a story (many of which are mediocre at best) when my attention is already scattered. I get snappy and overloaded. The opposite seems to be true for John and Jonah. G’s okay either way (though his attachment to Bob the Builder has been bordering on obsession). So last night I said, “No watching.” Trouble is, Jonah was extremely tired (he’d been up since 5:15 a.m.) and hungry. He also has something of a cold, which mostly involves a hacking cough. Not such a good time for me to take a stand. Things were bound to get ugly.

They did. Get ugly I mean. Jonah wouldn’t touch his food. He cried and yelled, irrational things like “stop saying that over and over” (we kept reiterating that there would be no watching) and “I want to live in a different house,” to which John responded, “That would make me so sad. I don’t want you to live in another house,” to which Jonah shrieked, “I don’t want to life in a different house. I want to live in this house!” That said, it still felt more tantrum than meltdown to me, the line between the two being very hard to discern. Both are usually precipitated by lack of sleep or hunger, but the meltdown seems to involve the way Jonah understands or doesn’t understand things. If a situation doesn’t adhere to the way he orders his world, all hell can break loose. It doesn’t always; sometimes he can be remarkably flexible. Other times, he is immovable. The situation last night seemed centered on him not getting what he wanted, pure and simple; I categorize this as a tantrum.

I was at my wits end before this incident, and John could tell. So, trying to be helpful, he and Jonah took their food to John’s office along with the iPad. My ire began to rise. Within minutes Jonah was perfectly happy, chatting away about some anime feature they’d found. G and I were alone in the dining room reading the same truck book over and over and over again. About ten minutes later John and I had it out in the kitchen. In short, my bullheadedness butted up against Jonah’s (yes, I know I said I had it out with John, but John is absolutely the least bullheaded person I know. He is water—he bends and moves with the tide—and in these situations, he usually takes up Jonah’s cause with admirable evenhandedness and pragmatism). Some days, I just get sick of catering to Jonah’s needs first. And I tantrum a little bit myself.

When what is overwheming to me is in conflict with what is calming for Jonah, I usually try to accommodate J, but not this time. I chose to make my stand for better or worse. Call it selfishness. Call it self-preservation. Call it self-advocacy. All depends on which truth you feel like telling. I caught a segment of an interview on Fresh Air last week that struck me with some force. Terry Gross was interviewing the author Jeffrey Eugenides about his new book The Marriage Plot. They got on the subject of truth-telling, and the differences between memoir and fiction. You can click HERE to read or listen to the interview entire, but below is the bit that lit a match for me:

EUGENIDES: The hardest thing is writing about yourself.

GROSS: A lot of people would say the opposite, that, you know, writing about yourself is easier because you know the details of the story. You know the essential truth of it. You’ve lived it.

EUGENIDES: Well, you need to write about yourself in terms of how you feel and the things you’ve seen. But when you put it into someone else, another character, you don’t—you free yourself from having to be accurate and truthful. You can actually make a different kind of truth, whereas if you write about yourself, there is an actual truth that you’re trying to get to that you can never get to.

I think that people who write memoirs must constantly really secretly be fearing that they’re not saying the truth about what happened. But with a novel, whatever you say is true. And of course it’s just as—I think it’s more true than memoir. You’re still putting your thoughts and emotions and beliefs about the world into the character, but the facts don’t all have to line up.

Getting to the actual truth is hard. He’s saying impossible. I’ll say incredibly difficult, in part because of another passage I came across, from another novelist, the Nobel Prize winning Gunter Grass. And it’s ironic, because this comes from his memoir, Peeling the Onion:

An imprecise memory sometimes comes a matchstick’s length closer to the truth, albeit along crooked paths. It is mostly objects that my memory rubs against, my knees bump into, or that leave a repellent aftertaste: the tile stove…the frame used for beating carpets behind the house…the toilet on the half-landing…the suitcase in the attic…a piece of amber the size of a dove’s egg…If you can still feel your mother’s barrettes or your father’s handkerchief knotted at four corners in the summer heat or recall the exchange value of various jagged grenade– and bomb splinters, you will know stories—if only as entertainment—that are closer to reality than life itself.

Grass is writing about a kind of personal fiction we tell when we write or speak about ourselves and those around us. I think he’s spot on about memory being grounded in material things. We are humans who live in bodies who see/touch/hear/taste/smell our way through the world, sensing our way through just about every encounter and task we come upon. Because this is the way we know, we can get at reality. We can get at the truth, as imprecise as we may be. I may have been “right,” but that doesn’t necessarily mean I was being true. What my memory rubs against is Jonah’s eyes that night—the anger and the pain. The confusion from me changing the rules. His version of the truth was decidedly different; and this time I think it trumps mine.

Ignore the floor

It’s trip week at the Jantz-Estes manor. John and Jonah head for Kansas via Indiana and Missouri, reading poems along the way. Gabriel and I will fly and stay longer. It’s hard not to freak a little. Getting us all out the door is never easy. Besides the obvious laundry and packing, there’s a house/dog sitter to train, John’s mid-term grading to complete, the car to ready, a GILLIAN WELCH CONCERT TO ATTEND (this is a real hardship), boxes of books and clothes to load, house keys to make, multiple chargers to locate, three yards-full of leaves to rake, a catalog to finish. Do I have quart-sized ziplocks for the plane? Will we be seated by someone who despises children? How many episodes of Bob the Builder can I purchase for $10? How long will my iPhone battery last?

These are all good problems to have, mind you. Both John and I have jobs we find fulfilling. Two irreplaceable and spirited boys. Loyal and gentle, if intensely eager hounds. A beautiful home. Enough money (most of the time) to pay the bills. To quote the gritty sentimentalist Coach Taylor of Friday Night Lights: “This is not a burden. It’s a privilege.” Or something like that.

Still…there’s the floor.

Living with three boys and two ever-shedding dogs requires a good deal of vacuuming. Today I am trying to practice a mindful forgetting. It goes something like this:

Ugh, I need to vacuum the living room floor.
I am going for a walk. It is beautiful and Not raining. My guts will thank me.

Ugh, I need to vacuum the bathroom floor.
I am taking G to the hardware store to play with drills (okay, and to get an extra house key).

Ugh, I need to vacuum the kitchen.
Catalog. Laundry. Dishes. Not necessarily in that order.

I wish I could apply my so-very-Zen-ness to leaf raking. It does seem that God made north eastern Ohio to satisfy his love of Trees. And then he let the wind blow.