Lately J has been coming up to us with his mini-album of our trip to D.C., and requesting that we name who (or what) is in each picture. Mostly, of course, these are pictures of him with us. He doesn’t want to hear that WE were there, but he loves to hear that he was. He hands it over, stands close by, and we begin: J, J, J, J, Lafayette, Rochambeau, J, J, J…Washington Monument, J, J, J, J, FDR Memorial, fountain…FDR…Fala…Jefferson Memorial, J, J, J, and so on and so forth. There are two pictures J took of Dada, several that we took of the three of us, several of J with me, and one of us parents together. He doesn’t mind hearing we were there, but he wants to focus on the fact that HE was.
We wonder if it’s his way of saying he’s ready for us to take to the road. Or, because sometimes he whips the album out when we’re having a tiff with him, he wants to remind us that we can have fun together.
We know fun is possible, just like we know that sometimes it’s the farthest thing from the list of things we can easily accomplish. We don’t want J to think that just because things are rough at any given moment we forget that he is, in fact, quite a charming and fun companion for us.
We think he senses the change in the air, and is starting to stress over it. We are working on helping him understand that this is a good thing, and that we are all in it together. That may be easier said than done, but we won’t stop trying.
By Monday we will have the Gigantic Countdown Calendar of Changes posted on the kitchen wall. We will make note of every little thing that might throw J off, from long weekends to trips to scout neighborhoods to Dada’s last day of work to the slow process of dismantling our local life. Knowing J as we do we are aware that there will be a lot of going back and forth, analyzing the calendar, pointing repeatedly at items that “alarm” him, and repeating that it’s going to be just fine.
We can’t know that. No one can offer any certainty, but we can try to offer some sort of soothing consistency to the texture of J’s life. Anyone can feel stressed out about changes in day-to-day life, and even more so when it comes to major changes in the way we live. We can easily (more or less) get away with swapping J’s Five Guys day from Saturday to Wednesday, but we know that THIS is not THAT. Getting him across a long distance and into a new home, which he will help us find, is not as easy as saying “guess what! We’re not doing our outing today…we’re doing it in a few days.”
This change involves maps, packing, a truck, and leaving behind a family member that had figured in every across-state-lines move up until now. That J is not particularly inclined to interact with TGG is beside the point. This is, more than TGG moving out, a “leaving” and “moving on” for J.
It will certainly be a change for everyone. For the very first time we will be living in different states, and TGG’s life -which has become very much his own- will be even further removed from ours. The prospect is in equal parts sad and exciting. We already operate on different orbits, and we know TGG pulls more to his girlfriend’s family’s side than to ours. We also know that she has very little interest in us, and that she is probably angry because I told TGG that I expect the children to behave properly when they come over. I don’t think that went over well, but I really don’t think a four year-old calling me names and being rude is something that I should give a pass. It’s not like I expect the children to not be children; I just expect them to not be rude. And that, it seems, is an issue for her.
Will the realization that we’re leaving make J soften his stance around TGG? I don’t know. I don’t expect J to behave as I would like him to because feelings are a realm where I cannot interfere. I can tell him that he’ll miss his brother, but he already doesn’t. I can tell him that he’ll come visit, but that -J knows- is either a lie, or involves the presence in our home of five people that don’t belong there, and that will cause him anxiety. My only option is to keep pictures of TGG, his girl, the kids and let J see them on walls and tables, reminders of “there’s more to us than just US.”
Life is strange, and we accept it as it comes. We will adjust, once more, to adjusting. We will figure this out. We might need a bigger, more convoluted Gigantic Countdown Calendar of Changes, and it might take us longer to persuade J to go along for the ride ahead. It has taken us long to convince each other and ourselves, and still we often look around and say “are we doing the right thing???” But we know, deep inside, that this is right, and that it’s going to be difficult and challenging and exciting and a total mess.
I don’t know if you’ve seen this lovely story: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/blockbuster-home-son-autism_us_58ff9cf0e4b0073d3e79fb23
When people ask “why would anyone do THAT?” I can’t help but say “because it makes the kid happy, okay? And it helps the parents feel that they’re doing something right…and that is always a good thing when you’re in this situation.” So, we are not giving J a Blockbuster, but we’re finding him a home where he can have his backyard, his peace, his village and train set, his twinkling lights and paper butterflies, his center of the universe…
And maybe he will make us look through the mini-album of this adventure over and over. Maybe this, too, will become a happy memory that helps him deflect anxiety, or reminds him that the world is bigger than the four walls that now surround us. Maybe this will mean a grand adventure…