Pocobadobean and Other Not-So-Nonsensical Words

Need a pronunciation? That’d be “paw-coe-baw-doe-bean.” On our walk today J said, “It means is when you crash and fall down and get back up again.” Yes, there should be a word for that. Pocobawdobean.

Let’s apply it to our situation this evening. G has become quite attached to the stuffed Curious George my mother gave to Jonah. He (George, not Jonah) has been abandoned to the window box for months until G claimed him as sleeping companion. This went unnoticed by J for many days until one night it was proclaimed, “But that’s MY Curious George. I don’t think you understand! He (G) doesn’t know the rules!” Still, somehow G continued sleeping with George for another week or so.

Then all hell. Broke loose. Major meltdown the week before Christmas. After much negotiating and appealing (using the “You’re the older brother; G just doesn’t understand yet” line of reasoning), it was decided that J would get G his own Georgie (as G calls him) for Christmas. Jonah was excited and waited daily for a box in the mail. George was wrapped and given. All seemed content. (See video.)

In the meantime, Original George went missing. This was not catastrophic, as J’s main complaint was that G had claimed George, not that J actually wanted to sleep with him (after all, he’s got the ultimate lovey—my husband). Until tonight. I found Original George under a pile of folders in my closet. Much happiness all around. We continued to supper, then bedtime.

Then all hell again. Broke loose. But this time, we experienced simultaneously meltdowns. It was hilarious really, if the boys hadn’t been so distressed. Turns out, G really does know the difference. New George doesn’t hold a candle to Original George, and no substitute would be had. This put J into conniptions. Somehow G snatched Original George away, and I spent a good fifteen minutes consoling Jonah, trying to work out a deal (again using the older brother line). Much to Jonah’s credit, he did not do his brother any physical harm to get Original George back. Just when I had him turned, John reappeared with Gabriel (not knowing what had transpired between Jonah and I), and tried the ‘ol switch-a-roo. Simultaneous meltdowns again ensued.

While Jonah and I cooled down in the kitchen (as John and G read a book together upstairs, with Original George), we started talking again about pocobadobean and how it might apply to our situation. Yes, I brought it up, simply as a way to distract him from the terrible injustice he had undergone. J seemed to understand the concept of having a bad time of it (meltdown=the crash and fall) and the need to try again (getting back up). “Sometimes I mess up, and I have to try again,” he said. Me too, buddy. Like every five minutes. I am grateful for his (at least philosophical) interest in persistence. Coupled with his Jonah magic, persistence is what will help him make his way through this crazy and confusing world.

That, and his knack for making up great words. My maybe most favorite is fransome (his personal take on handsome). It means beautiful and good. And he completely cracks me up when he says it. He gets this little-girl-who-just-fell-in-love-with-the-prince(or pony)-of-her-dreams-voice on: “Isn’t it fransome?” (Heavy accent on the “fran”.) I’ve said it before. I’ll say it again. There just isn’t anybody like him.

Mr. Bean Robot

(A comic book. By Jonah.)

Mr. Bean Robot was trying to fight a robot named Glue.
Glue was trying to fight Mr. Bean.
Mr. Bean ended losing the battle at first but
he fought it. The robot Glue. Then
he fought faster and faster. Mr. Bean robot
turned into a circle so he could win.
The bad guy fell in water. (The End)

(As dictated to Miss Cynthia, J’s intervention specialist.)

Christmas 2011

“O (one second pause), my gosh.” –Jonah Caedmon

That pretty much sums it up. Just when I think Christmas has finally lost its magic, as I’m wondering Christmas Eve if the fuss is more trouble than it’s worth, Christmas day dawns and the magic’s still there. Because of the boys and their glee. Because people are shouting throughout the liturgy “Christ is Born! Glorify Him!”, without self-consciousness, for the pure joy of it. Even when the elderly woman next to us hissed at Jonah (who had accidentally, or not, pulled the kneeling bench down on her foot), “What’s the matter with you?!” Okay, that one took a little time to get over, but we managed.

Jonah did remarkably well, all things considered. The kid had to wait until one o’clock to open his presents for crying out loud. By the end of present unwrapping, G definitely had the hang of it and was ripping them up left and right (whether they were his to open or not). Best moment of the day: when Jonah opened his sphinx/mummy/sarcophagus toy. “O, my gosh. I can hardly believe it! Did you know this was just what I wanted?!” G’s guitar was his big hit. Also the tool belt. And George. Click on the links above for video, and click HERE to see the sphinx under missile attack.

A short picture show follows. (Beware the last photo if you’re squeamish about squishy/grotesque zombie toys. It’s Jonah’s Christmas tree ornament for the year and is currently lodged between a couple of branches.) I had to doctor up the photos because the quality ain’t so good. But the day sure was.

O my child, child of sweetness

[The following has been amended to include some thoughts from Christmas day.]

It’s Christmas Eve. After seven years of marriage and the making of my own family, Christmas Eve still feels a little blank without my sisters and parents. Granted, they’ve multiplied in numbers and the reality of being in the same house with six kids under the age of six as well as four couples and my grandpa wouldn’t exactly harken to the Christmases of years past, but it would still be great (in measure). O wait. It is the same, only I used to be one of the kids.

The excitement of Christmas coupled with the change in schedule makes for a manic Jonah. Crazy in the body, as we like to say. (Click HERE to see him “reading” and spinning in the kitchen this morning.) John’s got some manic energy of his own. He’s hanging blinds in the playroom, and every so often I hear “shit” or a groaning kind of sigh drift my way. We are already calculating all of the ways the blinds will be destroyed by the dogs and boys. What we won’t do for a little privacy and draft control (the playroom used to be the garage, and it’s downright chilly in there for most of the winter).

The cookies are made. Today we’ve been delivering. G was raring to go. “Coo-kie! Coo-kie!” he kept chanting, ala the furry blue monster. Though I don’t think he even knows who the furry blue monster is. I discovered a new found enjoyment in dough-rolling this year, though the tedium of frosting still irks me. Still, it’s good to give something made. I’ve got a pile of Christmas cards yet to write and send. If you’re reading this, please don’t expect yours until after the new year.

I feel strangely unoccupied, like waiting. It’s mostly peaceful, but a little empty. Which I suppose is a good thing. We’ve been trying to keep the Nativity fast this year, and one of the points of abstaining is to make room and make ready. And also to consider the immensity of God become man. Speaking in the voice of Mary, St. Romanos the Melodist hymns:

O my child, child of sweetness,
How is it that I hold Thee, Almighty?
And how that I feed Thee,
Who givest bread to all men?
How is it that I swaddle Thee,
Who with the clouds encompasseth the whole earth.

“O my child, child of sweetness.” As a mother, I can wrap my arms around a baby God who needs nursing and changing and tending, but wait, this is God we’re talking about. As John recently asked, “Am I the only one who thinks the Incarnation is weird? Why would God become a man?” The poet Christina Rossetti famously wrote in her poem “A Christmas Carol” (better known as “In the bleak mid-winter”): Our God, Heaven cannot hold Him / Nor earth sustain… How does the uncontainable contain himself? Christians say, “because of his great love for us.” Even as a parent, even for all I would do or change or sacrifice for my children, I cannot approach that kind of surrender, a surrender that is complete abandonment of the self for another. John’s right: it’s weird (for lack of a better word).

Which brings me to the idea of gift. In the Kontakion for the Nativity, Romanos surveys the gifts of the Magi and the angels, the shepherds and the heavens, asking what we can give the Christ child:

What shall we present unto Thee, O Christ,
For Thy coming to earth for us men?
Each of Thy creatures brings Thee a thank-offering:
The angels — singing; the heavens — a star;
The Wise Men — treasures; the shepherds — devotion;
The earth — a cave; the desert — a manger;
But we offer Thee the Virgin-Mother. O Eternal God, have mercy upon us.

We give him our humanity. And it’s really all we have to give. Ourselves. Our emptiness for him to fill.

Merry Christmas and Blessed Feast of the Nativity to you all.

Christmas. Vacation.

Here I sit, taping spiky sycamore tree seed pods to a stick, the top of which has been adorned with a dirt-stained weatherproof velvet bow. All items scavenged by J on our just-returned-from twilight walk. “Do you know? I am going to make a Christmas tree! It will be for me!” Jonah proclaimed as he gathered. I silently responded, “No, Mommy or Daddy is going to make a Christmas tree.” And here I sit. No J. No G. No John. Brave man that he is, Dr. Estes took them to see the Mall Santa. “I will tell him I want a mummy with a sarcophagus!” Jonah told me as we shoved him into his coat. Do you think Mall Santa will know what a sarcophagus is? Let’s hope.

Christmas. Vacation. Those two words don’t really belong together. “Christmas break” might be worse. Here I will interject a Mall Santa update, courtesy of John:

5:45 p.m. “Santa is at supper. Jonah thinks he [Santa] loves pizza and gummies (he will tell him that they are bad for his teeth).”

5:51 p.m. Jonah: “Why is it hard to wait?”

Yeah, so we’re all a little out of whack around here. Gabriel’s not used to having Jonah around all day. Loves it, but he gets in the way of J’s nebulous projects and it’s a wonder his little hands haven’t been slammed in Jonah’s bedroom door. I should start counting how many times I hear J say, “No Thank You!” Door slam. No, maybe I shouldn’t. The weather’s been dreary rainy, so there’s no digging outside and no snow to brighten things up a touch.

I often struggle to discern the source of Jonah’s “the-world-is-entirely-about-me-and-I-must-get-what-I-want-the-moment-that-I-want-it” behavior. Simon Baren-Cohen developed a theory called mind-blindness, which refers to an autistic’s inability to see things from another’s perspective. Call it lack of empathy if you will (and many people do).

This is a particular snag we came across repeatedly in the first few years of Jonah’s life when various people told us we should get him evaluated for autism. We’d go down the checklist, and when we came to the “lack of empathy” box we wouldn’t know what to answer. Even as a toddler, you got the sense that Jonah truly cared about people, though he may not express this in a typical way. He’s terribly interested in people, and he’s incredibly curious about lots of things in his environment. His natural response is to ask a bazillion questions (maybe best described as avalanche questioning—his questions coming harder and faster than we could possibly ever answer them).

But there’s still the difficult behavior to deal with. The meltdowns when Jonah doesn’t get his way. The tears. The screaming. The inflexibility. I appreciate this challenge to Baren-Cohen’s mind-blindness theory (posed to Professor Baren-Cohen himself) by Karen McLaren:

I have a question about the hypothesis that people on the Autism Spectrum lack empathy. I went into a job supporting college-aged Spectrum students, and I read everything I could get my hands on—most of which follows your hypothesis about low empathy and incomplete or missing theory of mind. From all these books, I thought I knew the kind of people I’d meet, but I didn’t see a lack of empathy—rather, I saw people who were often overwhelmed by incoming stimuli and who had a very hard time organizing and understanding emotional cues. I’ve since worked with many Spectrum people, and I really think the theory is leading the data-gathering.

Is it possible that people on the autism spectrum actually have a normal range of capacity for empathy, but are often overwhelmed and unable to organize incoming emotional and social stimuli?

What I saw was that labeling Autism Spectrum people as unempathic obscures deeper inquiry. Sadly, that label also helps people treat Spectrum folks as aliens. The lack of understanding I saw “neurotypicals” show for Spectrum people made me ask: “Just who is the unempathetic person here?”

This is incredibly helpful to me. I don’t necessarily see Jonah as overwhelmed. He’s innately exuberant about life and intensely seeks out sensory stimulation to the point that it’s sometimes hard to know when he’s had enough and when he’s working himself into a frenzy. I do see him unable to organize emotional and social stimuli. Especially when he’s tired or hungry, or when we’re in a new environment or situation. So in response to McLaren’s question, “Just who is the unempathetic person here?”—well, sometimes I’d have to say that’d be me.

To give myself a little bit of a break, I am still grasping to understand so much about Jonah, and about autism. And I’m trying to assimilate what I’m learning with my responsibility as a parent and mother, which is a ragbag of how I’ve been parented myself, my own intuitions about parenting, and the particular child God deemed fit to grace us with.

Speaking of…that’s “Butterfly” on the left (I think he and John used components of almost every costume J possesses) and his sidekick, “Little Chef” on the right. I tried to get them in a photo together, but one or the other always came out fuzzy.

Superhero Super Power

Please forgive me if you find the following image disturbing (though it causes me to consider what fun the caricaturists and Saturday Night Live impersonators would have with Newt, were he the Republican nominee, and God forbid, future president). I myself was struck by the likeness. When I pointed it out to John, Jonah piped up, “Let me see! Let me see!” And what do you think he noticed first?

Nope, not the sweeping bouffant. Wasn’t the prominent ears or bushy brows. Immediately, and by immediate I mean a split-second, the J-man asked, “Why does he have such a little nose?”

Okay, so I had to search for a few moments even to find Newt’s nose in this picture. And I’m pretty observant. His nose? What kind of eyes does this kid have? We call Jonah’s attention to the smallest details (often at the expense of the much larger picture) his superhero superpower. His teachers regularly comment on it. The flip side is he doesn’t have much in the way of a herd mentality (one of John’s favorite Jonah-rific traits). He may have trouble working with others. And as much as most all of the kids in his class seem to truly like him and even seek him out, he’s just not sure what to do with them when they do.

Case in point: on Friday a boy in J’s class called out to him from behind the playground fence as we were walking home from school. “Hey Jonah!” he yelled. I had to remind J to say hey back. “Jonah, I’ll miss you.” J just kind of stood there, stone faced and dumbfounded. “You could say I’ll miss you too,” I suggested. “I’ll miss you too,” Jonah repeated. Then (we’ll call him) A called out, “I want to hug you.” I’m sure Jonah heard him, but he just kind of stood there, stuck, until I asked, “Do you want to give A a hug?” Still seeming confused, but willing and wanting to return the gesture, J ran to the fence and two very funny five-year-olds attempted to hug through a fence.

Here’s the thing. I bet you that if A was all the way across the playground yelling out to another kid, J would have piped up and exclaimed, “Hey, I hear A! A is so funny! Do you know something? Today A said…” and fill in the blank with a nonsensical incident that only two five-year-olds would find hilarious. Or say that A had a tiny tattoo of Spiderman on his arm, just barely peaking out from under his coat. J would be All Over It.

So is this why, when asked to brush his teeth before bed, Jonah (I mean, The Pink Panther) responded: “Do you know something? Pink Panther doesn’t brush his teeth? I don’t think you understand. I’ve never seen him brush his teeth. He doesn’t talk! He just coughs! Why don’t you understand?” I was trying desperately not to laugh, because The Pink Panther was entirely serious, and even a little distraught. The other morning before school he asked John, in all earnestness, “Why didn’t God make me a cartoon character?”

Sorry J-man. Sometimes life just ain’t fair.

On Tenterhooks

There’s just nobody like him.

We had a surprisingly settled Saturday. Well, Jonah had a surprisingly settled Saturday. I woke up slowly and sadly, though not unsettled. I’ve been experiencing a string of maladies over the course of the last few weeks, one of which has required me to wear my glasses for ten days. I commend you all, brave glasses wearers. They drive me nuts. The boys bumps them. The snow spots them. There’s those painful little divots they make behind my ears and the way they fog up when I come in out of the cold.

John was all kindness, despite his own crunch to get papers graded at the end of the semester. He made me breakfast. He did the dishes. The boys and dogs and I walked in the snow. Jonah ran from wonder to wonder:  “I can hardly believe it! It’s sticking to that rock! Look at that bush! It’s sticking to the leaves! It’s sticking to the dirt! Look at your coat!” Part of my reluctance to set forth in the world today (something Jonah had no qualms about whatsoever) had to do with my intention to go to confession.

I both look forward to and am more than slightly agitated by the thought of going to confession. Taking a good clear look at yourself (as much as that is possible) is actually a clarifying experience; it’s the thought of doing it and then spilling that to another human being in the presence of God that puts me on tenterhooks. That person having been given the authority to forgive and absolve. When I stop and consider this, it’s a little whacky, but I cannot deny what the act of confession does. C.S. Lewis’ “keep the clean sea breeze of the centuries blowing through our minds” comes tangentially to mind. Read in context, it’s a prescription to read old books (from the introduction to Athanasius’ On the Incarnation):

The only palliative is to keep the clean sea breeze of the centuries blowing through our minds, and this can be done only by reading old books. Not, of course, that there is any magic about the past. People were no cleverer then than they are now; they made as many mistakes as we. But not the same mistakes. They will not flatter us in the errors we are already committing; and their own errors, being now open and palpable, will not endanger us. Two heads are better than one, not because either is infallible, but because they are unlikely to go wrong in the same direction.

I love the word “palliative,” but it seems as though Lewis actually means something more along the lines of corrective. Even restorative. Palliative seems to connote an alleviation or a soothing, but Lewis is talking about being kept in check, about keeping our perspective wider than our immediate circumstances and experiences.

For me, the buildup to confession is much worse than the confession itself. As I sat and waited my turn, young and old approach the kneeling bench. The priest put his stole over each head. He counseled them. He repeated the same prayer he repeated over me, granting them absolution. I realized how effortlessly I forget that we’re all in this together. I don’t even know any of these people (yet), but I’m in it with them. And if I not in it with them, I’m not in it at all. Without them, there’s no me.

St. Symeon the New Theologian wrote, “For Thou knowest, O Lord, that I want to save myself, and that my evil habit is an obstacle. But all things are possible unto Thee, O Master, which are impossible for man.”

The fast leading up to the Nativity of Christ is nearly over. As usual, I’ve failed pretty miserably. In the last weeks, my body has failed me too. It’s out of whack and stressed out. Flipping back to that phrase, on tenterhooksI read that “tenter” comes from the Latin tendere, to stretch. Left in the open, stretched to dry and straighten my weave. I love how physical words are. Enlivening, aren’t they? This morning Jonah said, “Dad, I’m counting on you. One, two three, four…”