Although I am often cast in the role of interpreter, self imposed, but I am a very poor candidate for the task. All too frequently I have no idea of the motivations and stimuli that affect my children. Sometimes after much thought, I can come up with my best guess, but there are vast chasms of emptiness in my knowledge. When you're up to yours ears in the here and now, it can prove just too difficult to understand what's occurring or why? Many hours can pass where I am merely winging it, hoping against hope that I can keep my head above water until bed time.
I'm accosted outside school with demands for play dates. I dither and calculate fall out. “Pleazzzzz.” I submit and permit her to visit her pal on a week night. Apparently, logistically it is more convenient for my daughter to be collected from home later. I don't question the decision as it is too difficult to translate someone else’s life. We beetle back home as usual.
My daughter plagues me with the same question 'when will they come and collect her?' The answer is beyond my control, so I guess and placate, as she watches the window for their arrival. I field queries from both boys. Their outrage at being ousted from the play date arena is understandable. Mass hysteria and incomprehension flood the household. Have I changed Thursday into Friday? Is is really Friday and play dates? If it is Friday why don’t they have a play date too? If it is Thursday, why is she having a play date? I wish it was night time and that I was asleep.
Some time later, mother and child arrive at my doorstep. A change of plan is suggested. The plan is that her daughter will have a play date with us, theirs to be delayed until another time. We are mid-way through the boys' routine homework. I am not equipped to supervise another individual on a school night. I dither. “It won't be for very long, something just came up, is that o.k.?” My daughter's eyes plead. The play date girl matches her. “O.k. no problem,” I smile as I remind myself that if you can't do something with good grace then you probably shouldn't do it at all.
She leaves and calls over her shoulder, “I'll be back by six thirty……probably.” I am sure my mouth drops open. I want to mention that at six thirty it will be dark, that I understand that she's unable to drive in the dark, that supper is at six, that I have the maximum amount of sequencing steps to sequence during the next three hours, to include the bewitching hour that some people call the arsenic hour and that I'll never cope on my own……..…but I don't.
My son empties a carton of squeezy yoghourts on the floor boards. “Is he supposed to be doing that?” asks the guest.
“Er yes and no. I'd rather he didn't but it helps him if he can go through them all and choose the one he wants. It's easier if he can see his choices.”
“Oh.” She seems satisfied with my response. I am not satisfied with my response. It seems somehow inadequate but I'm not sure why? I hover over him as he carefully examines each individual tube several times. He cannot be hurried or harried as his body blocks traffic through our narrow galley kitchen. After a successful choice exercise, it takes several minutes to return the rejects into the carton, pick up the carton and return it to the fridge. Why does this make me so uncomfortable? Food on the floor is unhygenic, I know that.
Wibbly wobbly squeezy yoghourts are hard to handle if you have dodgy fine motor skills. If he puts them on the counter, some will fall off or in the sink. On the floor they can’t fall any further. There are lots of other things on the kitchen counter, distracting things that make choices more difficult. There are no distractions on the floor, it’s the logical solution for now, the current stage of development. We have to walk before we can run. A year ago he had preferences but couldn’t choose. Inertia and confusion overwhelmed him. Meltdowns dogged every choice. This is what progress and growth looks like. One tiny huge step in the series of multiple huge tiny steps that fill every waking moment until bed time.
“Are those clean clothes?” asks the guest.
“Oh. Are they supposed to be in a heap like that?”
“Er, well no, not really, but he has managed to choose his clothes for tomorrow but he has a hard time leaving them neatly and ready in the right spot.”
“Oh. What is the right spot?”
“Um, just there on the corner, handy for tomorrow.”
She looks at the empty spot, “I'll do it,” she offers. I thank her and ignore the incomplete sequence for today.
She looks over at the little one at the table. “I didn't know anyone could make rooster noises for such a long time?”
“He hates his homework.”
“Me too,” she agrees with alacrity.
“Gotta go!” announces my other son as he gambols off in the general direction of the toilet, disrobing on route. I scurry after him, a wanton hand maiden gathering the fall out and shutting the door behind him. I return to the rooster and poke a P-tube in his mouth to reduce the rooster volume. I dither. Should I phone now whilst one child is absent? Will I be able to conduct a brief conversation? I remember she said not to phone to early. Not to phone to late. I wonder what time would be the right time? I chance it and dial.
“Hello there! I was wondering if he'd like to come around for a play date tomorrow?”
“Er yes. Friday. After school perhaps?”
“You've left it a bit late. We may have other plans.”
“Oh. I'm so sorry. Things have been a little hectic around here for the last couple of weeks.”
“Well obviously a play date isn't one of your priorities then!” I hear the telephone line click at the other end. I look at the hand set for no particular reason. Cut off? Obviously bad timing on my part. I return the receiver to the cradle and turn my attention back to other matters more closely at hand.
One sheet of homework completed in an hour. Progress is slow. “Shit!” squeaks the visitor, a cattle prod to my brain. I rush back to the toilet, but he is merely undressed on completion, not soiled. I recognize that I am under stress but uncertain as to why this should be so? I suspect that I am inhibited by a visitor, but why?
“Dere's only one fing to do at a time like this,” bellows the little one. He lets rip a piercing scream to shatter glass, to protest the agony of homework. “Geez!” cringes the visitor, “he sure does hate homework. He hates it more than me!” For the benefit of his audience and to indicate solidarity, he stands on his chair to beat his chest reminiscent of Tarzan, a movie entirely out of his knowledge base. She giggles, “he sure is funny.” He grins in return, pleased that he has met his mark and made his point. “I am funny too?” asks the semi clad one, fighting with recalcitrant clothing. She rolls her preteen eyes, uncertain how to respond. “Am I?” he pleads. She gives up, “sure, you're funny too.” He turns to me, “is dat good?” I feel I'm also losing the thread, “yes it's good, but usually we don't ask for complements as it makes people feel uncomfortable.” He turns back to the visitor, “I am make you uncomfortable?” he sputters, solicitous and slightly mis-guided. Why are social exchanges the most difficult to accomplish, translate and execute? Before she has a chance to respond we watch a hard back copy of “Green Eggs and Ham” arc through the air. We duck collectively, “never read dah books dat are orange!” he asserts. The other three blink and look at me for explanations that I do not possess, but it's the visitor who asks, “what does he mean?” All her questions are apt and reasonable but it clarifies for me again, just how little I really know.
“I'm sure I haven't the foggiest notion, but no doubt all will become clear in due course.”
When going home time finally arrives, I prompt the boys to go through their good bye routine. The little one bellows “Thank you for having me,” as he pogos on the spot, flailing one rigid arm in the air. The girls embrace and separate. The bigger one hitches up his pants and steps up to the guest, the same height. He wraps his arms around her body, under the arms and rests his head on her shoulder with tenderness. Her arms are suspended in mid air, her preteen face is a study of startle. Her arms sink as her cupped palms come to lay on his shoulders, a warm smile on her sunny countenance. “I wish I had brothers like you. You are too funny” she beams.
Maybe that’s all the understanding we need?