Mistake, I Think

In December, the following happened:

Adrian and Martin and I were at the reception following the church children’s pageant (in which Martin sang!). By now Martin and I have attended our new suburban church for 18 months. He goes to Sunday school and, with the help of a facilitator, participates in a 90-minute “Kids’ Klub” each Tuesday. He is reasonably well known, to both adult and youth parishioners.

At the reception Adrian and I socialized while Martin wandered, playing mostly alone and munching the snacks I’d brought for him. I looked for Martin often, because these days he thinks it is funny to try to sneak non-GAPS-compliant food. (When he finds me milling around the Sunday refreshments, keeping watch, he says, “Mommy, just go talk to your grown-up friends. I’m fine.”) In one such glance I saw Aiden, a seven-year-old, approach Martin with a big, soft, definitely gluten-and-sugar-and-dairy-laden cookie. Aiden broke off a cookie chunk and said, “Hi, Martin. Have some of my cookie!” Martin seemed interested, but he hesitated and looked around for my assurance.

So what did I do?

Here are the relevant factors:

  1. I was thrilled that Aiden had approached Martin, spoken to Martin like he would speak to any kid, and kindly offered to share his cookie. Thrilled.
  1. I wanted, so badly, for Martin to take that cookie. I wanted him to have a typical-kid moment, and a meaningful interaction with Aiden. Maybe they could be friends.
  1. I wasn’t that worried about the cookie. It would be an infraction, to be sure. It would set back our efforts to heal Martin’s gut, and it might cause some crazy behavior. But we would get past it. (See infra.)
  1. What worried me more was that Martin would get the impression that, on a special occasion, it is okay to take a cookie chunk, or whatever else is offered. Martin already has declared that he is allowed to drink apple juice from a box at birthday parties (effin’ birthday parties!), because once, in the throes of his disappointment, I relented and allowed a juice box. Give him an inch…!

So what did I do? What did I do?

I intervened.

I said, “Martin has food allergies! He can’t have the cookie. But thank you, Aiden! Thank you so much for sharing. What a great choice!” Aiden looked surprised. Then he left Martin alone. In a lame attempt to salvage the moment, I told Martin, “I’m so happy that you checked with me. Would you like an orange? I can peel you one.”

Inside, I felt icky. I felt like I made a mistake.

Did I? I think I probably did. I should have let Martin and Aiden share. I could have talked later with Martin about this “exception” and about how to respond when offered food in the future. I could have asked him to track how his tummy and mind felt. I could have created a hands-on lesson or done role-play. I could have ignored, i.e., pretended that I didn’t see Martin looking for my assurance, and allowed him to do what he wanted, and only later “noticed” what had happened, so that at least the cookie-share wasn’t officially mommy-sanctioned.

I could have, should have, blah, blah, blah. Whatever I could or could not have done, what I did do in the moment was deprive Martin of a typical-kid interaction and of maybe (dare I hope?) the path to a new friendship.

The teachable moment, it seems, was mine alone.

P.S. As long as I’m confessing mistakes, and along the theme of “we would have got past it,” I think I’ll subjoin this little divulgence: We have been taking Martin to children’s (“family”) movies. A lot of the time, Adrian takes Martin, and I get a pass, because try as I might, I just don’t enjoy feature-length animation. (Leave me alone. My oldest brother, Rudy, is an animator. He’s asked me all the pertinent questions. No, I didn’t like Aladdin. Nor Toy Story. Nor Cars. Nor even Fantasia, too much, at least not when sober.)

One recent movie I did attend, because it was live-action, was Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No-Good, Very Bad Day. In the theater I purchased a Diet Coke®. I know I should be healthier, and I have done really well curbing my Diet Coke habit, but occasionally, for whatever reason, I still drink a Diet Coke. Attending a matinee showing of Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No-Good, Very Bad Day, on a rainy afternoon, when every kid in our suburb seems to be at the movies, qualifies as such a reason. Halfway through the movie, I went to the restroom. I returned to find Adrian, with an are-you-kidding-me? look on his face, restraining Martin on his lap. Apparently, when I left, Martin picked up my Diet Coke and drank most of it. That’s right. My GAPS-diet son, who has consumed neither processed foods nor refined sugar in four years, went to town on motor oil and aspartame. Just one more endorsement on my application for autism-recovery mother of the year.

Something Is Different

Sorry that this post comes so late. I started writing it ten days ago, then got delayed because Martin has been home sick from school. (A common childhood virus got him—for a change, nothing to worry about.) I return now to the blog with an enthusiastic update:

We’re in one of those “something is different” times, when Martin seems to be achieving some new skill every day.

I love the “something is different” times.

Here are some participants in the ongoing parade of firsts:

Blowing bubbles. After more than a year of trying—grabbing the bubble wand and sticking it in his mouth, yelling “phew!” but barely aspirating, and so forth—Martin has mastered the art of blowing soap bubbles. Doesn’t sound like much? A year ago Martin couldn’t pucker; his “kisses” consisted of bumping his wide-open mouth into my cheek. As of last week, he’s combining a solid pucker, ocular focus, and breath control in one task. He even unscrews the bubble container top and holds the wand himself, steady. This is huge.

Stepping off the escalator. This relates to our old foe, proprioceptive awareness. As City denizens, we’re on escalators constantly, most often in subway stations. The end of an escalator used to involve me yelling, “Okay, Martin! Now! Now! Step now!”, then holding him up by the arm when he inevitably stumbled. I’m down to chanting softly, “And. Here. We. Go!” as Martin lifts his foot and we step off together.

Imitating. Martin’s imitation skills are in full swing. We traveled recently, for a visit to Martin’s doctor. Martin likes to flush the toilet in the airport bathroom, and until now he did so with his hand. This time, at LaGuardia, I watched him trying to hoist his little leg high enough to flush with his foot, just like Mommy does. I hadn’t told him to use his foot; he was just imitating what he’d seen me do. Later, as we waited for our ride home (“Adrian”), Martin picked up a pay phone and asked, “Hello? Hello?”

Imagining/associating. For a while now, Martin has been creating a musical instrument out of anything he can get his hands on. “I’m playing the suitcase like a bass!” “I’m playing my shoelace like a flute!” “I’m playing George’s tail like a saxophone!” (May God bless George the cat.) Even an actual musical instrument can have multiple functions; a toy piano turned sideways is an accordian, and a guitar under the chin makes a violin. Now he’s categorizing less and free-associating more. In the doctor’s office was an air purifier, about 18 inches tall, which blows air through an angled top. Martin tried to sit his behind onto the angled top and said, “I’m using the tushy-dryer!” He also told me, when he saw some rain, that the clouds were “going potty.”

Finding humor. Once upon a time, Martin was upset by anything unexpected. Last week he flipped open the top of his drinking Thermos. Because I had mixed “naturally effervescent” kombucha with the filtered water inside, the beverage rushed up the pop-up straw and squirted Martin’s face. Startled, he looked at me for my reaction. (That’s an achievement in itself.) I laughed; I couldn’t help myself. To my surprise, Martin started laughing, too. Later, on the airplane when we were traveling, Martin asked for an ice cube from the club soda I was drinking. (That’s a no-no for Martin, of course; who knows what kind of water is in an airplane ice cube, which was floating in my aluminum-canned drink. Ugh, and double-ugh. But we live in the real world, and do the best we can with what’s on hand, so he got an ice cube.) I tried to deposit the ice cube into Martin’s mouth but missed and somehow rubbed melting ice all over his face. No tears. More laughter. I capitalized on the ice-cube moment and reminded Martin, “Remember when the kombucha squirted you? Squirt!” The kombucha memory kept the giggles coming. We two managed to crack ourselves up for a good five minutes.

Drawing inferences. Because his babysitters are taking summer classes of their own, I’ve been picking Martin up at school more often. In the lobby of his school last week he watched me read his teacher-correspondence notebook and peek inside his lunch container. He said, “I ate all my lunch.” Which means: He got it. Martin inferred that I was opening the lunch container to check for leftovers, he recalled his own lunchtime performance, and he provided me relevant information.

Expressing emotion. This is just, just starting to happen. Martin talks a lot about falling in a pool, which refers to an event that occurred some months ago at my parents’ home. I’ve heard the story a million times, but last week Martin added a new detail: “When I fell in the pool, I was scared.” Two weeks ago Martin visited Adrian’s office. He ran from conference room to conference room, peering through windows at the tops of skyscrapers, then declared, “I am happy.” Finally, we had a guest musician at church, who played guitar and sang an original song. Martin told me afterwards, “I liked the guitar player at church.” These were the first times I’ve heard Martin make original expressions of emotion.

Yes, something is different. And I am happy.

Martin takes in the City.