Day 118…moving away from the Lego Village.

My memories of reading the Bible all hark back to the days when I attended Catholic school. Of all the Bible verses that stuck in my head, the one I most revisit is 1 Corinthians 13:11: When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things. My aunts were not, of course, very strict in their adherence to this tenet. No one could possibly expect women who could laugh so freely and tease each other so relentlessly to have any affection or inviolable respect for putting “away childish things.”  

Although I was, by far, the youngest person in the household, I was spoken to with the implicit understanding that I was capable of grasping all that was said to me. Whatever difficulties of vocabulary or complex abstract ideas more easily understood by an adult were approached with a dictionary, and my aunts formed a multitudinous committee of experts who kindly conveyed even the most unpleasant aspects of being a human. They each had their forte; one was kind and wise, another was firm and straightforward, and the third was anxious and funny. Between the three of them, they helped me navigate the Scylla and Charybdis of childhood, adolescence, and early adulthood.

The world and the dynamics of families are such now that we’ve had to be J’s multitudinous committee. The finer points of adulthood, translated for a person who is playing with non-verbal Autism in his kit, are a little trickier to handle than we would like, but there isn’t much we can do about that.

Sometime around Day 115, we started wondering if there was anything, aside from tiling a bathroom, painting cabinets, organizing closets, that we could address to make J’s life more, for lack of a better term, “age-appropriate.” The discussion was not prompted by any discontent on J’s part; he’s been quite cheerful and relaxed during these strange times we are living. We simply looked around and started thinking: “well, he’s TWENTY-FIVE!”

How do you “upgrade” and “update” the living area occupied by a twenty-five-year-old who loves Disney Princesses, jazz, classical music, lava lamps, and his extensive animated movie collection? This is what we are wondering, dear reader. Out of a too-big-for-us-old-people house, J occupies two big rooms and his own bathroom. That’s what he wants: two rooms and a bathroom. The largest room is intended for daytime use, and the other is purely and exclusively for sleeping. He is happy with those, and he is appreciative of the two ladies who come to help me with the housecleaning (because it has become harder for me to keep up, I admit) because they respect his areas and leave them pristine.  

What to do, then, to make these rooms more like a twenty-five-year-old man’s, and less like a kid who lives with his parents? The first thing we pinpointed as “needs to go” is the Lego Village. Over the years, it has grown into a sizable chunk of floor space; J doesn’t really pay as much attention to it as he used to in the past. With distinct “zones” in it, the Lego Village is fun, but it also occupies a large corner that would work for other things. Perhaps we can find someone who will be happy with boxes and boxes (and boxes and boxes) of Lego pieces and all the assembly instruction booklets for all the sets. Perhaps someone will be glad to have all the train tracks and additional pieces of “vegetation” that have become a part of this project over time. A home for it will be found, I’m sure.  

The second layer of the issue is, we think, the carpeting in the rooms J uses. In the whole house, these are the only two rooms that are still carpeted, and I’m already budgeting for a new floor that will better suit J’s status as an adult with his own “pad” as it were. The rest will be paint, artwork, better lighting, and a more suitable layout for his dining and sitting areas. When presented with the question of J’s style, we concluded that our youngest son, contrary to his older brother’s morose approach to life, is a cross between Harry Styles and Jack Black. Where our oldest son would have chosen all-black clothing, a slouch, and a growl, J is drawn to bright and attractive colors and shapes, and a sunnier disposition than one usually expects when faced with a diagnosis of Autism and Anxiety.  

Like many others that I undertake in moments of romantic enthusiasm, this endeavor will involve a lot of sorting and giving away of things. J and I, together, will face the boxes, bins, shelves, and cubes to determine what still appeals and what is just there because, at one point, he felt affection for it. I am sure we will hesitate from time to time between letting go of something and keeping it “just in case,” but we will figure it out as we go along. There are, of course, items that are so bordering on “sacred” that they will remain as part of his decor. I don’t think that, 20 years later, J would want to get rid of Pinky and Red, the two little bean bag dogs he bought at a Borders in Orange County, CA and which, upon arriving at home, were subjected to one (Pinky) witnessing the dunking of the other (Red) in the toilet.  

A few weeks ago, J’s older brother (remember Gonzo? He’s now a father of six!), during one of his rare phone calls to check in with us, asked what we’d been up to. I told him we’d been streamlining, downsizing, organizing, paring down. He got angry when I answered his query regarding the reasons for this by saying that we won’t live forever and don’t want to leave a mess behind. “Well, it’s true!” I said. This led to an even briefer call than usual. The truth, I suppose, hurts?

When my children were children, I spake to them as children; they understood as children; they thought as children: but as they’ve become men, I -their mother- put away their childish things and tried to approach them as one should other adults. One has made his own life and seems to chafe at the realization that ours is closer to its natural conclusion. J, our lifelong commitment, is being shepherded into the stage where his surroundings are age-appropriate without forgetting childhood is another part of who we become as we age. How much of this J can fully grasp we are not entirely sure of, but we do know that he sincerely appreciates and enjoys the life we’ve built together with him.

The ever-growing laundry pile…

TGG won’t budge.  Neither will I.  I have bypassed his laundry basket several times when working around the house, and I will continue to do so.  J thinks this is amusing.  When TGG gets home from work, we greet each other in the usual affectionate way, but a quick look over my shoulder tells him I haven’t washed a stitch of clothing belonging to him.  J looks from one to the other of us and smiles…

Because I am bound and determined to not jump in and save him from himself, I haven’t even checked if there’s toilet paper in his bathroom.  Don’t worry, there’s a caddy with plenty of extra TP in there, but by now it might be running low.  If TGG needs more, he will have to actually walk down to the garage and find the spot where we store a treasure trove of toilet paper.  I won’t tell him where it is.  I will tell him he needs to look for it.  Dada has said “well, nothing’s stopping him from going to buy some, right?”  I fail to see the downside of this alternative…extra toilet paper at no charge to us…hmmmmm…

We have also stopped worrying about whether we hear him move around upstairs after a certain time each morning.  We know he sets his alarm.  We can hear it blaring all the way down in the dining room.  We also know that there have been times when he has risen from his bed, turned it off, and crawled back in to sleep.  On Monday I sent Dada upstairs to check if he was stirring as we couldn’t hear him walking back and forth from his room to the bathroom.  He was up.  He was also being stealthy so he could go A-HA!!!!! when we slipped back into being “parents” and yelled at him for not getting up.  Since I was definitely not born yesterday, I wasn’t going to fall for that…  J, who doesn’t believe in people lingering in bed, inevitably opens TGG’s door on his way downstairs to leave for school.  The only adjustment we’ve convinced him to make is not leaving the glaring hallway lights on, but there’s no way to talk him out of trying to jostle TGG out of bed.  I can guarantee you we don’t put him up to this tactic.

This is neither all-out war nor cold war.  This is Mother Hen clucking a resounding NO to herself whenever she’s ready to swoop in and treat a chicken hawk as if he still was a baby chick.  This particular chicken hawk is more Henery Hawk than fierce hawk, by the way…

200px-Heneryhawk

 

Every morning I used to ask TGG if he wanted coffee, if he was having breakfast.  I always got a grumbled NO and “it’s too early.”  This morning, in light of a batch of chocolate chip scones I made yesterday, TGG bounced down the stairs asking what was for breakfast.  “You had me at chocolate chip,” he said.  I should put a bag of chocolate chips at the bottom of his laundry basket, at the bottom of the washer and dryer, and in his closet…but only after he has folded clothes and brought them upstairs to put away.

If you think I’m being intractable and unfair, welcome to the club.  TGG agrees with you.  He, after all, has to get his intractability from somewhere.  I don’t want him to merely acquiesce, though.  I want him to understand.  That, perhaps, is the most difficult thing for a parent to achieve.   I think this, among all the others, is our main struggle in the parent/child relationship.

Take, for example, J’s insistence on repeating a phrase or word over and over again until HE is satisfied.  Last night was such a night, my friends.  First we went through a constant repetition of a request for CANDY that was, of course, turned down in the same constantly repetitious way.  Before bed, the phrase was YELLOW BUS, but broken into YELLOW and BUS until we echoed the words.  This pattern usually lasts for about 20 repetitions per night…last night we went well over fifty repetitions.  Trying to get Dada and TGG to understand why I had to play along until J was satisfied was not easy, and it made me look more J-friendly than TGG-friendly.  I won’t give in to one kid, but I give in to the other.  I could tell that TGG was not particularly amused by my willingness to answer back through the closed door while J kept saying YELLOW and BUS.

I can reason with TGG.  I can’t always reason with J.  The burgeoning pile of laundry is not something that, until he’s ready, will alleviate an anxiety for TGG.  The repetition of words and phrases is soothing to J for reasons I can’t quite explain.  Repeating things, for J, is like “stroking the furry wall” in Get Him To The Greek; it brings him down from some sort of spin his mind is in, and I have to actually help him focus (which is what he’s trying to do) rather than leave him to obsess on his own.  There you have an instance of me absolutely NOT understanding something, but wanting to figure out what to do with it.  My way of negotiating these things with J has to be, because circumstances force it, different from how I negotiate with TGG, and yet…J gets a lot of my intractability, too.  I sometimes dig my heels in even though I know it’s going to create a temporary crisis in our midst because it is, in the long run, more productive to do so than to not do so at all.

It’s not that I don’t understand TGG.  I do.  I understand that he’s been forced, in many ways, to grow up beyond his years because of J.  I also understand that I have to, whether I like it or not, force a little more independence out of him if he is to claim his independence fully at all.  I am, I know he feels this way at times, the albatross around his neck, the main reason a covenant exists between him and his brother.  I have made it clear that this is a relationship that requires a great deal of commitment, and I’m sure TGG feels that he has some leeway to ease into adulthood at his leisure.  Regrettably, as John Lennon wisely put it, “life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.”  At one point or another, that laundry basket will have to be addressed…

I’m adding chocolate chips to the list, just in case…