Crazy (Joy)

Energy–need some. Wild and screaming boys–I’ve had quite enough this week thank you.

I love having boys and playing with boys. Love rough-housing and teasing. Love hugging and cuddling and only having to make sure their heavy machinery pajama pants are clean. I love not doing their hair. I love the relative lack of drama and their daredevil natures. I love that the tears are usually real and only last a short while, that they forget I yelled irrationally, impatiently at them five minutes after it happened. I love that a hug changes everything.

But they Wear Me Out. They are crazy. Are all boys crazy like this? Every one says so. But when I say it, I mean crazy like wild, primitive, undomesticated, feral crazy. Crazy uncivilized. Maybe I am just getting old. I am tired of hearing myself yell at them to stay out of the street, to be gentle, to not run each other over with their bikes/trikes, to refrain from hitting each other over the head with their snow shovels.

Too much going on lately. It’s leaves-falling-off-the-trees-season in Ohio, and there’s a lot of trees. This fall has been the most golden since I moved to Ohio, but fall means winter is on deck, and my whole person fights against that dormition. A sadness sets in; it is one of the hardest transitions for me to bear. Once I’m really in it, I adjust and love the snow and am grateful that the bare trees open the sky again, but every year it’s the same. Fall hurts.

So there’s that. And then a couple of nights ago, G spent the night throwing up while Sophie (the most voracious of our voracious mutts) ate a mass the size of a half tennis ball off her back hip. Just gnawed it off. She had to have emergency surgery the next day. She is recovering, must wear boxer shorts (it took three trips to Target to find the right size), and the cone of shame. We must cordon her off in a small room so that she doesn’t pop her stitches, which irritates her to no end. Thank God for the sedating effect of pain killers.

And let us not forget Albert Einstein. That’s who Jonah chose to be for Famous Person Day at school, and yes it was a perfect fit, and yes it was hilarious. He gave a 45 second report that began with “Albert Einstein was a thinker” and ended with “He gave his brain to science” (click HERE for video). Much important shuffling of notecards perfected his routine. I also learned a great deal about Maya Angelou, Marie Curie, and Madame C.J. Walker (an entrepreneur and philanthropist who developed hair straightening products). Unlike these famous persons, I’m no genius, especially when it comes to hair. I spent 45 minutes trying to make J’s hair stand on end, only to end up with a sticky, stiff mess. He was a little disappointed with the effect, or lack thereof, but he got over it.

Sometimes. Life. You stack it all up and think, I can’t live through another week like this. I’m still reeling now. Comes of not being a very flexible human being. O yeah, and a lack of sleep. And a dog who eats tumors. But back to those boys. I failed to mention joy in all that crazy. Come to think of it, joy is certainly at some core of their wildness. I just started a French novel called Joy of Man’s Desiring. I’m only twenty pages in, but I’m pretty sure it’s going to be a keeper.

“Youth,” said the man, “is joy. And youth is neither strength nor nimbleness…it is the passion for the useless.”
“The useless,” he added, raising his finger, “as people say.” –Jean Giono, Joy of Man’s Desiring

This is just to say…

“Where was I? O yes!”

Sunday at church was pretty typical, except that it wasn’t.

There was the Gabriel chasing—the barely catching him before he was halfway up the center aisle, heading for the priest at the altar.  There was the moment when all we could do was sit in a huddle on the pew, my arms wrapped tight around Jonah, my hand covering his eyes as he loudly whispered, “Harder, harder, harder, harder!” We made it to the homily, then surrendered ourselves to the freedom of the nursery.

I had brought a Toot and Puddle book for reading. Two pages in, Jonah proclaimed, “I need a paper and a pen for writing.” How did I not have a pen? I stealthily swiped one from behind the counter where they sell candles and J set up shop. In neat script, he copied the title of the book, then turned to his favorite page and transcribed “mope.” The end result read something like “toot puddle toot mope and am I was.”

So what’s the big deal? My kid copied some words from a book. That’s the big deal: my kid copied (legible) words from a book! On his own initiative. Gladly. With intense focus. And he was proud. He had me read back his work again and again. He was making his own story.

This is just to say…this has never happened before. Okay, so later John told me he had been doing something like this the week previous at John’s office. But this was the first time I was witness. Historically, Jonah could care less about writing. It’s been a non-preferred activity, even an avoid-at-all-costs activity. Maybe his rough patch, in part, has led to this. A small shift in interest. A jump in development. This happens to all kids, but with our sensitive J, the steps leading up to and proceeding from are more dramatic and pronounced—so finely have we tuned ourselves to his every step. I felt as proud as when he took his first steps. It was that big of a deal.

We returned to church. Gabriel tried several times to escape under the pew as Jonah lay on his stomach, face down, scooting himself along the length of the pew. Something of a caterpillar crawl as he pushed off with his feet, using his arms to inch forward. As we go.

Regression, Suppression, Progression

I’m finally here. All morning I’ve had a need to be here, watching out this narrow leaded window as the squirrels hunt for acorns and the the canvassers scurry for votes. Ah, Ohio in the fall.

There’s a lot I need to tackle. Besides my bookstore work and the laundry and the dog hair floating about and collecting in corners or under the felt pads I put on the bottoms of chairs to protect the wood floors. It seems like all sorts of things are accumulating, so the dog hair is an apt analogy. In addition to “All deese leaves!” (Gabriel’s words) making their annual fall, puzzling behaviors are cropping up. Intensified reactions. There’s enough of them to gather in piles, separating mine from Jonah’s from John’s. Gabriel still has the get-out-of-jail-free-card: he’s two.

For purposes of clarity, I’ll stick to Jonah and myself. What’s really got me thinking is a book I started a few days ago, Impossible Cure: The Promise of Homeopathyby Amy Lansky. Now before you go all “Jennifer’s joined the Jenny-McCarthy-autism-can-be-cured-camp” on me, let me say that no, I don’t think autism can be cured (or that it should be). But in the case of Lansky and her son Max, the evidence—gathered and compiled by the PhD Lansky, who’s something of a braniac—that presents an incredible turnaround in Max’s “autistic state” (as Lansky puts it) is compelling. Beguiling even.

I didn’t pick up this book because of Jonah. I picked it up because of me. I continue to be skeptical of isolated drugs that “treat” isolated symptoms in, frankly, an isolated manner. My fear that one drug leads to another then to another is starting to play out (in much the same way that women during childbirth find it increasingly difficult to resist interventions once labor is artificially induced). Without getting terribly specific here, I can chart out a constellation of symptoms/issues/personal susceptibilities I’m prone to and now have drug remedies for. And the drugs work, dramatically; but I must add that they bring with them their own constellation of symptoms I can now also unfortunately chart. My innate suspicion that these drugs only palliate or suppress is playing out. They do nothing to treat the underlying cause. That said, they have been incredibly helpful. They have improved the quality of my life in important ways. The trouble is, as their side effects pile up, their miraculous effect is being revealed for what it is: a miraculous (possibly short-term) relief.

Jonah has his own constellation. He’s going through a rough patch of late. As his OT put it, “Jonah is maybe…growing a little bit into his autism diagnosis…as these kiddos grow up, the demands placed on their life advance more quickly than their social-emotional skills. It appears as though maybe things are getting worse but really the kiddos are the same but having difficulty adjusting to the current demands of their life. A lot of development in maturity is expected between the final years of preschool and first grade.” Behavior that was previously chalked up to being a boy in preschool is now being categorized under sensory integration disorder and/or worthy of an ADHD evaluation. Stomach problems have ramped up. Hyper-emotionality and anxiety. Back come the tics and the scripts and the maniacal laughs. He yells at me to “Do something about my brother! Stop him from being a baby! I don’t like it!” The good thing about that last statement is the fact that he can make it. He can tell us how he feels (most of the time). The trouble is, he and we don’t know how to help him make it better. We have some techniques, but they don’t always work, or work well. We must shift and change with him. We must adjust expectations. It’s a constant process of sorting out what’s sensory, what’s avoidance, what’s a six-year-old boy being a six-year-old boy.

A big part of Jonah’s mystery (I like that better than puzzle, which implies he simply needs to be put together correctly) is the connections he makes, and the lack thereof. Landon Bryce at got me thinking about this. He writes:

My brain makes some kinds of connections– those having to do with sounds and words– very quickly, and very well. It makes other kinds of connections– those having to do with spatial relationships, social relationships, emotions, and some functions of my body– very slowly and not very reliably. This is what my autism is.

Autism is a neural tendency towards hyperconnectivity is some areas of the brain and hypoconnectivity in others. This tendency makes communication and socialization difficult for many of us, but those difficulties are manifestations of that difference in neural processing  They are not what autism is.

So what I initially assume to be a “regression” really isn’t. As much as I’d sometimes like for Jonah to simply calm down and quit the scripts and the guttural voices, as much as I’d like the peace of him not bouncing off the walls (I mean this quite literally) for my own sanity, suppressing him isn’t the answer either. He is living out his own progression. And if he stays true to patterns of the past, these difficult behaviors (difficult for me, not necessarily difficult for him) will probably precede another big jump in his own maturity academically, emotionally, and socially. Or not. As J likes to say, “Where was I? O yes!”