I may live with two of the most interesting children in Canton, Ohio. I know, everyone thinks their kids are all that, but these two really are—entertaining, dang cute, so engaged with everything all the time—us, other people, the outdoors, us, toys, iPads, us, bikes, trikes, pogo sticks, us, dirt, bubbles, water canons, us. You get the point. Their need for constant engagement has been getting to me. And I’m a little stuck as to handle myself.
Okay, it’s mostly Jonah. If he’s within earshot—which could mean I’m sitting on the upstairs toilet with the window open and he’s outside in the backyard on his tree swing—he’s talking to/yelling at me or John. Asking a long series of questions. Yesterday he went through very particular questions about John and my courtship, as it was. Or repetitive questions about an upcoming event and when it’s going to happen. Questions about the nature of the universe. Questions about what’s real and what’s pretend. Questions about how to make his own light saber or movie or bow and arrow. Questions about what his voice sounded like as a three-year-old, which he insists (he and G put their own intense spin on the word insist) I replicate. Questions about bats. Questions about light sabers. When is church going to be over? Can I go to the Girls house?
Mommy I love you. Mommy I love you. Mommy I love you.
Mommy you’re the best. Mommy you’re the best. Mommy you’re the best.
He is an auditory homing device. He calls out these loving phrases (and they are loving) to keep track of where I am, to ease his anxiety, I’m pretty certain. And wow, it must be pretty intense in the world of his body, because intensity, in some form or another, is constantly flowing out.
I’m exhausted. It’s not even mental, I think. It’s auditory. Auditory exhaustion. The past few days I’ve had to institute a mommy-doesn’t-want-to-talk-right-now edict. This is hard for J, and I find he is soothed when I place a hand on his head or give him a smile. It’s just that I cannot talk (sometimes I cannot smile), because—and it’s true, so I’m going to say it—what I want to say is Would You Just Be Quiet For Five Minutes?
But instinctively I know I can’t, and should not do that to J. The quiet game, as it is called, would be a torture to him. I really kind of mean torture. To get a better sense of the meaning I want to impart, please read this: Quiet Hands.
The autistic woman who wrote that piece is primarily talking about hand stimming (flapping and the like), and Jonah certainly has some behaviors like that, but lately, and most often, it’s vocal. As we walk some days, I struggle to manage my irritation and keep the snap out of my voice. But then yesterday it (being understanding) dawned on me: “Hey, this is a vocal stim. He’s stimming.”
That was huge. The simple remembrance put me in a better spot. I was still exhausted, but a little more compassionate and a tiny bit of mercy entered me too, which I promptly squandered. But still.
One response to Quiet Hands reinforced my feeling that I should only very rarely, especially when I sense anxiety in J, tell him he needs to be flat-out quiet:
I love this post. It’s why I’ve never tried to control how my son moves his body, expresses himself through his movements. It’s why I’ve never learned the phrase “quiet hands” and have never told my son to stop flapping, jumping, hopping, dancing, or talking. It’s why I’d rather homeschool him than get him “table ready.” Just because it looks different doesn’t make it wrong. — Mama Be Good
Mama Be Good also recently posted this to her Facebook page, which addresses my struggle with myself in all of this:
We mothers can actually learn to regulate and heal our own brains and nervous systems by choosing loving relationships and by treating ourselves in a loving manner.”
— Sil Reynolds, Mothering & Daughtering
But, I’m still a little stuck as to how I ought better to act. To love. To direct, or rather, cease to direct.
I am led to another book (this is one I’m actually reading and not just co-opting): Meditations on a Theme, by Anthony Bloom. While discussing the parable of the Prodigal Son, he writes about how necessary it is to recognize the reality of one’s situation in order to experience the mercy of God:
It is of the utmost importance for us to learn both how far we are outsiders and how richly we are already endowed with his presence, by the light enclosed in our darkness; our very potentialities can be an inspiration, a way, a hope; how little we need hurry but how important it is to be real, to occupy in relation to God and to the world around us the true situation which is ours, within which God can act…
These things are important because unless our point of departure is a realistic one and we are aware of the true nature of things and accept them entirely as a gift from God in response to the situation in which we are, we shall pass our time in trying to force a lock in a door which will open of itself one day. St. John Chrysostom tells us: “Find the key to your heart; you will see that this key will also open the door of the Kingdom.”
And so I need slow down yet more, or yet again. Less force, less fix—“to consider the significance of our actions, to appraise the impulses of our whole being, to ask ourselves whether our will is really orientated towards God or if we look to God for a moment’s respite from our burdens, only to forsake him the next instant, as soon as we have recovered our strength, to squander that energy he has given us like the prodigal son” (Anthony Bloom, from the same essay)
I really am a slow person, and I wonder what it is, why it is, that I repeatedly try to be otherwise. Nevermind our culture or technology or all other manner of external realities cajoling me to be other than the way I am. I have always felt this pressure to push myself, to be more. Internally I am slow, but I insist that my outer person do more and a faster rate than what I can often maintain. Maybe that’s why every time I see or think of Eric Carle’s book, “Slowly, Slowly, Slowly,” said the Sloth, I breathe a little deeper and feel a little bit more myself.
The beauty of Jonah is that he is incapable of being otherwise. And I don’t want to be the one who makes him feel as though he should be. The real feat is to accept the ways in which I cannot be otherwise and find a way to life full-up in the “situation which is ours” (Bloom).