A comfort object by any other name…

Yesterday I mentioned a certain Herman the Pet Rock.  I’d like to point out that, from the age of eleven, Herman was to me what Slinky is to J.  Yes, I eventually outgrew him…when I was about fourteen.

Herman the Pet Rock was delivered to me by my oldest brother who, perhaps in an altered state of consciousness, dropped a quarter in a prize machine and received for his trouble a clear-plastic acorn with a pet rock and a short bio in it; I don’t know many 21 year-olds with the IQ of a genius who would find any use for a pet rock.  Unceremoniously -and uncharacteristically as he’s never particularly nice to me- he handed me the clear-plastic acorn and thus a friendship (one-sided, of course) was born.

I carried Herman in my school uniform pocket and, in moments of anxiety, I’d slip my hand into that pocket and hold on to Herman for dear life.  Puberty had arrived for the entire population of my grade…and my school, but it was taking its sweet time finding me so I was tremendously awkward and ill-equipped to socialize with all the other living creatures surrounding me.  Not even the boys were as excited as I was about Star Wars!  I, on the other hand, well…I stood in line with my dad, dressed in my brother’s hand-me-down jeans, a pair of Keds and a Miami Dolphins t-shirt I’d had since 1972 waiting to buy tickets for the first show…nary a classmate in sight.  I was a dork, a nerd, a geek…and Herman was my Slinky.

I worry about J’s ability to fit into the world with as little anxiety as possible, of course.  Every day I go about my business wondering, at the back of my mind, if he’s having a good day, if he’s enjoying his activities, if he’s not anxious to an intolerable or unmanageable degree.  I wonder about these things as we walk home from the bus, while I’m carrying on my monologue and he is either smiling, squinting, giggling, grimacing, shrugging or keeping a neutral expression on his handsome face.  Sometimes, before I open the comm book, I try to ascertain what kind of a day he’s had by the state of his clothes: he had spaghetti for lunch or too much ketchup on his fries; he painted!; he helped mix the dog biscuit batter; he used markers; that’s glue; he ate Doritos; he had a bit of a tiff and cried because J’s the type of person who doesn’t look ethereal and beautiful when he cries (much like his mother…)  When I open the comm book (if it hasn’t been an overwhelmingly busy day) some of the blanks are filled in, and I know that J will find a way to “regulate” the day’s events through his music selections as soon as he reaches his room.

As we approach each and every tiny milestone (hey, sometimes they’re more like “inchstones”,) I realize that J is definitely maturing and that things are developing in ways I never dared hope.  For one: the shoe box is totally working; J not only respects the contents of the box, he actually has figured out he needs to pace himself or the box will be empty and not replenished until the next day.  He is not being starved, don’t worry; he gets his mac and cheese snack (which is about 3/4 cup of the veggie-smart variety,) his crackers, a very small soda, a cup of cereal and a small serving of pretzels.  He eats his meats and, hopefully, veggies at dinnertime and has realized that the meat serving is the size of his fist (lucky, big-fisted dude!,) the “white” stuff is the size of his fist flattened out, and the veggies are the size of his open hand.  So far he’s not really into the veggies, but we’re really working on it and being patient.

The boxing gloves are remaining in the basket at the foot of the stairs from the moment he gets home to the moment he decides to go to sleep.  They no longer are an absolute necessity when he goes out to the store, and we feel this is a huge amount of progress.  I’ve wondered if I should just offer him a rugby ball to carry around in lieu of the boxing gloves, but I guess that’s something that should be left up to J to decide.  We get the World Rugby Shop catalog in the mail so I might make that suggestion one of these days, when he looks receptive.

A creature of habit, J has learned a few new ones.  He still goes for the first piece of underwear in the basket when he gets dressed in the morning.  Because we do laundry every day and every day it gets put away, it’s usually the same piece of underwear.  I felt compelled to send a note to the teacher: “please, be advised that J always grabs the same piece of underwear from his basket.  He has at least 20 pieces of underwear in the basket, in various colors, but he always grabs the same one.  It’s clean.  EVERY DAY it’s clean.  Thank you.”  On my list of “things to do today” is dumping the whole basket on the floor and having him re-fold and re-store his undies…I’m sure he’ll put the same pair on top when I’m not looking.

(If you are wondering HOW he ends up with the same one when we do laundry every day, keep in mind that J changes into his jammies when he gets home and has a strict self-imposed “no underwear with jammies” rule.  I asked my husband and my oldest if this is OK and “normal.”  I’ve been told that it’s not just OK and normal, it’s also very comfortable and liberating.  The look on their faces gave me the impression that I had just asked the most amazingly stupid question in the history of woman’s interaction with man.  Excuse me, I don’t have that sort of stuff dangling so I couldn’t possibly KNOW, could I?)

So, yes, Herman the Pet Rock was eventually sent to the shoe box where I kept all my treasures (baseball cards, Bazooka Joe jokes, mood ring, cigar paper rings, bottle caps, marbles, pictures of Harrison Ford torn from Tiger Beat magazines dressed as Han Solo and Indiana Jones, love letters, decoder rings, The Clash and Elvis Costello buttons, my First Communion prayer book…) as a sort of depot from where said shoe box was sent to oblivion.  Maybe that’s what will happen to Pinky and Red (who still sit on J’s shelf, staring at everything like shell-shocked victims of his childhood,) to whatever generation of Slinky he carries, to boxing gloves, Rasta hats, rugby helmets.

Next door, in a room with Led Zeppelin and Cowboy Bebop decorating the walls, Don Corleone stills and quotes, high school acting awards and an action figure of Kiefer Sutherland pointing his weapon at terrorists in 24, sleeps Mr. I-Drink-Rum himself, with Chompers the T-Rex hand-puppet from Jurassic Park 2, a “friend” he’s relied on heavily since 1997…  There’s another kid who’s not as fierce as he wants to look!!!

I wonder what Herman is doing now…

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