One of my children plays away on a Friday afternoon, so I only have two of mine and two others for the play date. Two boys down stairs, two girls upstairs, that is the overall plan.
I’ve been borderline before, but now I’m teetering on the edge. I already knew that she was an assertive child. Although she exudes confidence I know that the truth is otherwise. Aged 8 she comes to play with my 10 year old daughter. She is two months older than my son.
I drive them all home. The girls chat in the back of the car.
“Your car is huge.”
“Yeah. My Dad bought it for my mom for a Christmas present.” I decide not to mention it, that it was a replacement car that happened to arrive at Christmas.
“Geez, you must be real rich!”
This is how the myth survives.
“Why is he all……you know……floppy?” she asks me.
“He’s tired, it’s been a long day for him.” I avoid the subject of poor core body strength and vestibular issues.
“He looks all…….you know……weird.”
“Tired! Aren’t you dear?” I say by mistake. Should I have mentioned that ‘weird’ is a banned word?
“Why isn’t he answering. Hey you! Your mom asked you a question.”
“It’s ok, he’s tired. He doesn’t usually talk at the end of the day. He needs a rest.”
I want to shout ‘drop it!
The boys giggle and squirm together in the back of the car.
“What are they laughing at? Hey, whataya laughin at?”
“They’re just a bit wiggly after school,” I offer weakly but my daughter adds her support, “you know……boys! They can be kinda silly sometimes, just let em do their thing.”
“But they’re so loud! What’s so funny?”
I don’t want to explain that his word bank is exhausted, so I distract instead.
“What are you going to play when we get home girls?”
Once home the boys are out and gone in a flash. The girls saunter into the house, “eeoow! What is that?”
“Oh dear. I think one of the cats must have had an accident. Looks like he’s been eating grass again.”
I rummage under the kitchen sink for equipment.
In the family room I set about cleaning up. She stands over me as I crouch on the carpet scrubbing, “eeow! Are you going to clean that up?”
I lift my eyes to her face which is screwed up in an expression of disgust. Sarcasm tickles the edges of my lips but I resist, “why don’t you two go and play upstairs together?”
They move off, into another room but I can hear their conversation.
“Say it again!” she teases.
“Monna Ray Bay.”
“Hee, hee! He called in Monna Ray Bay! He got it wrong!”
“Das o.k. I know it’s ‘Monterey Bay’ but I like Monna Ray Bay betterer.” He grins at his pal, two guys back from a school field trip. He slips his arm around his wordless pal’s shoulders. One grin reflected back by the other. I nip back with my Marigold clad hands, “why don’t you girls go upstairs and play?”
I hear the cat retching and dash back to the family room.
I hear my son slurping milk.
“Does he always do that?” she asks my daughter.
“Yeah, but it’s o.k., he’s jus real thirsty, he’s not doing any harm huh?”
“That’s gross! My mom would kill me if I did that!” I hear him wander away from the table, soft, irregular foot falls.
“Excuse me! I wouldn’t jump on that tramoplene after that huge glass of milk, you may throw up!” I hear him bounce as he gradually picks up a rhythm. Well done! Great coping skills! Wordless self regulation.
“D’you hear me? I said you’re gonna throw up! Jus like the cat!”
Bounce, bounce, bounce. Good boy! Where is the dividing line between assertive and bossy?
I finish up but the cat still looks a little green around the gills. I whip open the door and park him on a garden chair. I dash back inside and skid to a halt near the trampolene.
“O.k. I think he must have some kind of speech thing,” she announces to the room as she stares at my son. I put a hand on the shoulder of each girl and propel them towards the table.
“D’you know I have a friend who has epilepsy?”
“Really?” I watch him bounce out of the corner of my eye.
“Yeah and she has allergies and asthma and all sorts.”
“Really?” When we’re 15 paces away he stops bouncing to sit on the edge of the trampolene. He and his pal exchange wordless glances.
“I can’t remember how many things she’s allergic to though.”
“Here, have a Satsuma,” I deflect. Maybe if I can fill her mouth with something….
“Satsuma. They’re very easy to peel. Try one, you might like them?”
“The orange things?”
“I have a rule.”
“You do?” Somehow that doesn’t surprise me.
“Yeah. If I eat bananas then they have to be cut up for me first.”
“Really?” He flops back on the trampolene, a soft pliant body at rest.
“Is this our snack?”
“Have you got anything else?”
“Can I stay for supper………..please?” My son sits upright, like a ramrod, across the room, wordless. His pal flinches.
“Not tonight I’m afraid, I think your mother has other plans.” The ramrod wilts and expires back into his original position. His pal lolls over, inert on the sofa.
“Can she stay for a sleepover tonight Mom, please?”
I watch him rip off his shirt, roll off the tramplene onto the floor and cover his head, nose buried in the carpet fibres.
“Er… it’s a little short notice dear, maybe another time.” A huge sigh wafts out of my son as his arms flop out to the side.
“Eeoww, he’s taken his shirt off. Why d’ya take yur shirt off?”
“He’s hot. Let’s leave them both be, and you girls go up and play.”
“We’re just gonna finish our snack here.”
I go over to my son and his pal, “come on guys, lets leave the girls in peace and go and play in the family room. It’s clean now.” We bumble off together.
I put of box of bricks over the damp patch and sit on the carpet next to sack of Pokemon.
They lie on the floor surrounded by pictures of Pokemons that he and his brother made yesterday, carefully, painstakingly and then cut out. This is a feat of unsurpassed manual dexterity, determination and motivation. They turn the paper figures around in their hands making soft little Pokemon noises together, gentle communication. No words. They giggle and grin. I watch and listen. I watch her walk up to him and pounce,
“They’re evil! There! I’ve killed them all!” I stop watching her as she stamps all over the papers. I jump to my feet as I watch them and their mystified faces.
I take a breath. This is not my child, merely a child in my temporary care. My son rolls up in a very small and silent ball. His friend is static, watching. I don’t really want to explain the inexplicable to an 8 year old in front of the boys. I hunker down and touch her arm to turn her towards me, “you know, I think you have hurt their feelings…..quite badly……..look.” She looks at the curve of his exposed vertebrae.
“I din mean to,” she offers and I think she probably means it.
I blurt out the first thing that comes into my mind, “it’s o.k. for people to like and dislike different things.” It’s one of my many, more nauseating statements, that I say hundreds of times a day. If I known that I would be saying so often, I would have chosen a better statement. Once the words leave my mouth it is as if they are carved in stone.
When would any one need to use such a trite statement? Why is it so hard to explain? How can my choice or preference be so upsetting for someone else? An example, may, help.
For years I wore the same old ratty T-shirts and jeans, a mummy uniform but for different reasons. If I wore something else it would upset the boys. A few years ago I would have become unrecognizable just by this one change. It doesn’t really matter what I wear, it will smell differently, or maybe rustle. Sometimes, especially if I’ve not planned ahead, he may need to chew the hem of my shirt to calm himself but not if it feels strange in his mouth. There might be static electricity. The texture and colour will be different. A button, zip or snap fastener may offend, especially if we come in to physical contact, which we frequently do. If I take off my glasses, who am I? Even a pair of earrings can be too sparkly or distracting.
All these things caused tremendous meltdowns. We did have an inkling of some of the issues but when words started to come, the picture became less blurry. More intuitive parents fare better. We used this annoying phrase to try and build tolerance and chip away at their rigid rules.
These days, so many years later, their ability to put up with their wayward parents is quite astonishing.
It makes a welcome change to use this phrase now, to someone else and probably, for the first time………. entirely appropriately.