Every morning, at around 9:30, I ask J to help with the books.  The project is simple but tedious, and J seems to be enjoying both things.

As I have mentioned before, we have a lot of books.  Those books are catalogued in a spreadsheet, and they are assigned a cube in our library.  We have them listed by title, and by author; we have a list of which book is where.  That’s as far as it goes; I have not succumbed to my inner frustrated librarian and gone Dewey Decimal on the whole thing.

When someone (namely Dada) takes a book out and doesn’t put it where it belongs, I end up with a pile of books on a table in the Diogenes Club (don’t ask), or with books that have been shelved in the wrong cube…a mistake that usually goes undiscovered until I am looking for the same book and cannot find it anywhere.

J’s job is to stamp each book with the cube number it’s assigned to, and to tamp it with a letter G to indicate it is ours.  Ex Libris stamps are lovely, but we couldn’t make up our mind as to what we wanted on it so we went with just a regular old G.

Depending on the type of book that populates each cube, J can do anywhere from 6 to 11 cubes in half an hour.  He loves it.  He sets up his rubber stamps and ink pads on the dining room table, and he helps me move whatever batch he’s working on next.  When he’s done, we carry the books back, and grab another batch.

In the afternoon, after his bath but before his snack, he does another half hour of book-stamping.  His smile broadens and gets brighter as he progresses with this job he’s been given.

I’m pretty sure that he feels included in something that seemed very much outside the realm of his participation before.  He has always liked books, and he enjoys being read to, but the books in the general library didn’t seem to interest him much.  That we have great independent and used-book stores here helps matters.  J has more than B&N to choose from, and he really likes the opportunity to explore these places freely.

Dada says that once J is done with the books we already have, he can take care of doing the same for whatever books come into the house.  I am sure that he will not run out of things to be involved in with the library anytime soon.  Books are to us what shoes were to Imelda Marcos: we can never have enough.

Of course, there are always more books that belong to J, and that he keeps in his TV room upstairs.  He can stamp those, too, but with a J.  This is something he recognizes so keenly that we have to remind him he’s not the only J in the world.  Perhaps I will have a custom stamp made with his handwriting so he will be even happier with the project.

On Tuesday we went to J’s psych appointment, and he did very well.  It was the first time we rode a cab here, and he was relaxed in spite of the more complex traffic patterns in this town.  Because the appointment was later in the day, we met with some hectic driving (including our driver’s), and it was already getting dark by the time we got home.  I made the next appointment for early in the day as I think it will make it easier for J.

The transition to cooler-weather clothing has been easier than expected; the fact that he now will gladly wear a polo shirt voluntarily has been a happy surprise.

We are hoping that we will soon find a group activity for him outside of home.  We think he’s ready to meet some peers and interact with them, even if it’s once every couple of weeks.  J is a person who loves his routine, and he feels comfortable when he’s allowed to ease into new things.  Since school ended he hasn’t had a group of friends, but we know that he like it when he finally finds one.  Because this takes adjusting and learning other people’s rhythms, we know he will come home the first few times wanting to cocoon and relax.  This is the pattern…

J’s life, like ours, is about adjusting to what is new, what is new again, what crops up unexpectedly, and what slowly unfolds announcing itself.  We are all working on being the best current version of ourselves, and we feel we are succeeding.  We expect a lot from ourselves, and from each other, but we’re taking our time in building the life we want.

A year ago we were falling apart.  A year ago we didn’t understand a lot of things.  Now we are in a better spot, looking at things from a better angle.

Little things give J a better grasp of what permanence is.  Rubber-stamping books, drilling holes in walls to install shelves, painting rooms, standing outside discussing next spring’s plantings, and talking about how to make the garage better…  All this tells him we’re here to stay, and it gives him peace.

We work on it everyday…and it seems to be working…

Six weeks later…

I finally spoke to my stepmother yesterday.  She still has no power, no running water, no cell phone service unless she drives to a town twenty minutes away from where she lives, and she is now alone.  Like many other young people who don’t want to lose a term or a school year, her granddaughter moved to the States.

Six weeks later…and Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands are still reeling from being smacked head-on by a massive hurricane.  If you have ever lived on an island, you know how it is when something happens and you’re far from hubs of “civilization”.  If you have ever lived on a small island,  you know how the distance between the two farthest points can seem greater when things are bad.  If Puerto Rico got royally screwed by this storm, the Virgin Islands (which are quite small in comparison to the 9104 km sq that makes up PR) must be in really, really, really, REALLY bad shape.

We are still waiting for packages we mailed in early October to be delivered.  For all intents and purposes, the packages are in the post office, but they remain there because when someone goes to claim them they “can’t be located”.  This doesn’t make sense to my organization-oriented brain, but there must be a kernel truth or I am having my leg royally pulled (and manipulated) by people who need the help, but want it taken to them…  Sigh…

Did I tell you the story about J and the waitress?  I don’t know if I did, but I will do a quick recap for you now:

A few weeks ago we tried a new place for lunch.  It was J, Dada and myself, and there were two other tables with customers.  This is a very informal place with quick lunches for busy people.  Our order was taken by one waitress, and another was serving nearby, but every time she walked past she would glance at J and smile.  Very pretty girl; young, sweet-looking, very kind demeanor.  At some point we noticed she had become our server, and even the owner came out to say hello.  J, of course, was focused on his food, and in his little internal universe.  He was smiling, though, and he was happily enjoying his meal.

We asked for the check, and the young lady brought it…she bent her knees a little to take a peek at J’s face.  She said: he has beautiful eyes.  I turned around and said to J “she likes your eyes”, and she then said (with a HUGE smile on her face) “it’s everything…his eyes, his eyebrows, his face…EVERYTHING!”  J just kept smiling as he looked down at the table.

We thanked her…we were tickled pink.  If she did it for the tip, good for her…she got a nice one.  If she meant it, well, even better…J IS beautiful and he deserves to be noticed by pretty girls, even if he can’t do anything about it…

There are bad things happening out there: shootings, violence of all sorts, hunger, strife…and then you find a nice little thing.  And it makes you smile, and you say “yes, that was lovely…thank you!”

Maybe those packages will materialize today.  Maybe things will get better back on the island.  Maybe J will look up at a girl who smiles at him one of these days, and maybe he will understand that someone has smiled because of him…or just to make him happy.

Even when it’s not all good, it’s good…



The old normal is the new normal…again…

Dada started working yesterday.  J was surprised by this development, but he took it in stride…at first he was mildly confused (“what?  We’re not in a perpetual state of vacation????  I wasn’t consulted about this!!!”), then he moved into guarded acceptance (“Ok, go to work, I guess.  We’ll be here…waiting!  We can do stuff together…right?  Am I right, lady who is usually around and has looked less frazzled than I’m accustomed to in the past few months?”), and into being over it by six o’clock last evening (“Where is he?  Why isn’t he here?  He has to go BACK?  Tomorrow?  What madness is this????????”).

Interestingly enough, Dada reports that this is pretty much the way things went for him, too.  He likes what he’s doing (even though he’s new to it).  He wouldn’t mind getting the position (or a similar one in the same place) on a full-time basis.  That being said: going back to work (wearing a tie and slacks) after months of walking around (in jeans covered in paint, t-shirts with holes in them, and socks) at a more leisurely pace, and with the benefit of choosing his activities for the day can’t possibly be easy.

My life, with Dada working or at home, doesn’t change much.  I’m still the one who figures out what goes where, when and how things get done, and I am always with an eye peeled and an ear cocked for the next development.  Laundry always has to get done; meals have to be cooked; someone has to figure out what thingamajig is required to make life more, well, efficient.  That’s me…whether I have Dada at home (which makes it possible to delegate a task here and there), or he is at work (making it possible to not be distracted by one more person who requires my attention).

And so our life goes back to the rhythm that it was accustomed to before we shook it up, tossed it in the air, and grabbed it with a whoop and a holler.  We can hardly believe we’ve been in this house for exactly three months, and that we were in an entirely different city or state before then.  Dada looked surprised when he realized he’d not worked for five months, and then he looked thankful that he could (with extreme economies and limited resources) afford to do that.

The truth is he needed it.  His old job was going to kill him either very slowly (with the gradual onset of high blood pressure), or quickly (a stroke or heart attack).  Our marriage was suffering, and so was our family life.  It hasn’t been a bed of rose petals (the idea of a bed of roses implies thorns, doesn’t it?), but we are all a lot calmer, happier, relaxed, and our focus has shifted to a more positive place.  The focus is on us…we are the thing that matters, and we are giving ourselves our due.

J has learned quite a bit in the past few months.  He has learned, for one, that this is home, and that he doesn’t like the idea of it not being home.  Packing of any sort (even if it’s just for storage) requires clarification: we’re not going anywhere, but we don’t need this right now.  His vocabulary has expanded to include the names of places he wants to go to, and we think this is a reflection of what variety he has available now.  J has, thankfully, broken out of some ruts, and -regrettably- has tried to plant himself firmly in others.  We have made a point of not becoming too attached to his structures, and we’ve discovered that -if we wait to make a suggestion while driving around- J is more amenable to breaking away from what he has firmly set his mind to (as in wanting to go to Farmers’ Market on a day when it was, inexplicably, closed).

Another thing we have noticed is that J’s enunciation has improved massively.  Those K, T, SH, CH sounds are coming out much more clearly.  He will never speak with the crispness of a Shakespearean actor, but he now makes sounds that used to be challenging.  On Sunday evening, for example, he went to his board, rummaged through his tray, and announced -quite clearly- that he wanted to go to Costco.  What used to sound like “cocoa” now sounded precisely like what J meant: he wanted to go to Costco.  This from the kid who used to say he wanted to go to “Sham’s” not that long ago; he is, we’ve noticed, a Costco convert…there wasn’t a Costco in Morgantown, but there is one here, and J has his own card…he is smiling on the photo…broadly.

Of course, the one downside of Dada going back to work is that J’s internal clock is entirely off-kilter.  This morning, it being Wednesday and pizza and Lego, he was up by 5 a.m., and has been trying to make the day go faster since then.  Thank goodness it is also paper-shredding day, and this has kept him occupied from time to time; that I was outside at six a.m. (it was forty-something degrees and I was in my nightgown and robe) feeding the fish in the pond because The Supervisor decided it was time to start micro-managing my task list is entirely beside the point.  Things are, in spite of these small quirks, a lot better now that we’re all more relaxed.

I think, quite honestly, that it’s the windows.  J can look outside from just about any room in the house (his bathroom, the half-bath downstairs and the laundry room being the exceptions), and he can step out on the patio if he is so inclined.  The only glitch there is the frantic bird activity (so many cardinals and chickadees!), and the fact that there is a cat (we don’t think she’s a stray because she has a collar) who spends the livelong day under a bush, and the nights under the grill’s vinyl cover.  We don’t feed her in spite of her friendliness because we are not looking for a cat (since the demise of one of ours, and the disappearance of the other…we assume some animal took her, or someone offered her fresh fish and a lifetime of not brushing her luscious mane), and because it doesn’t look to be hungry.  We are pretty sure she just wants to be friends, gain access to our home, and scratch all the furniture that survived our previous pets.  She is rather insistent, and we refer to her -tongues firmly planted in cheeks- as Elizabeth Warren.

J is not into this whole cat situation.  He’s having none of it.  When he finally saw her, happily running up to Dada as he fed the fish, he screamed as if he’d just seen an angry gollywoggle.  It took all my charm and patience to keep him from locking the cat (and Dada!) out on the patio.

But all is well in spite of these little things.  And we will catch up on our new routine and vary it as needed, and add more places J wants to go and use them for vocabulary (would you believe he knows how to say Cost Plus?  Doesn’t call it World Market…but he tells you he wants to go there…cookies…they have good cookies, and he likes their tableware…)  He is also happy because this is a recycling-friendly town, and people take their own bags to the store.  J will not allow us to leave the house without those reusable bags…

See?  Old normal is new again…familiar but interesting.  Comfortable but exciting…

Ye-ay us!