Winter Break Dance

Winter break is over and the Nest is empty again.  I dropped Sonny at the dorm a week ago, after a lengthy stretch at home.

“Five weeks!” I said to Dave.  We were airing out Sonny’s room, making the bed, that kind of thing.     I found a fuzzy orange mouse and a plastic ball that Capone would be glad to see again.  “When I went to college we were on trimesters.  I had two weeks.  How are we going to keep him busy for five weeks?”

Dave tucked the sheet corner tight.  He’s good; the bed looked ready for inspection by the strictest sergeant.  “Sonny can handle all those little errands that eat away at your time.  Send him for milk at the grocery store.  Have him pick up the dry cleaning.  Now there’ll be nothing to keep you from working on your French.”  (see French Fried)

Unfortunately  cat toys don’t make good projectiles, and they  bounced harmlessly off Dave’s sweater.

The break had me worried about regression, a word that hung over kids on the autism spectrum like a storm cloud.   Every year it seemed like the neurotypical kids took the summer off, but the Special Ed folks always wanted Sonny to do a summer program so that he wouldn’t backslide.  Sonny’d made the big adjustment to college:  working, attending class, doing his homework, practicing his instruments, making and socializing with friends.   Managing his time.  But five weeks was half a summer: was it long enough to regress?

Sonny spent the first few days watching TV, Skyping, and napping on the living room couch with a blanked pulled over his head like a dropcloth, Capone stretched out across his legs.  Not in the mood for conversation.  When I couldn’t take it anymore, I’d send him to the store or have him churn laundry upstairs and downstairs.   We settled back into our late summer routine: Friday dinners out and occasional day trips to the bookstore and mall.

And then after a few days, Sonny pepped up.  He went back to work on the novel that he started writing last spring.  It’s a Norse mythology/space opera.  He’d finished the first two sections of four chapters each before September and planned to get the third section done by the end of the break.  Now whenever I walked through the living room, Sonny was composing on the Air Mac.   He still wasn’t much interested in talking.

“How’s it going?”

“Fine,” he would mutter, two-finger-typing away.

“Am I still kidnapped?”

A sigh.  “You’ll have to wait and see.”

“How about Boston?  Are the aliens going to blow it up?”

“Mom.  Go away.”

Yes, I’m in the novel.  I’m the mother of the heroine, who starts out as an ordinary high school student and finds she has to save the universe.  The heroine lives near Boston, just like us, and  she has a computer programmer father, just like Dave, and a musician mother who is always asking her family to come to her concerts.  (This made me a little embarrassed because it sounds a little nerdy or pathetic.   Yes, Sonny attended his first orchestra concert at three weeks of age, and he’s done plenty of time at rehearsals and concert halls, but that’s mostly because babysitters are expensive…) At any rate, it’s interesting and a little weird to be fictional.  It’s reassuring, too.  Sonny writes kindly about us.  His heroine enjoys being with her parents, and she rescues us in the end and saves Boston, which becomes a very important city in the Nine Worlds universe.

Sonny printed out the whole book (plus illustrations!!) three days before break’s end.  Then it was back to long naps on the couch.  That didn’t bother me anymore.   I’d stopped fearing regression.  Sometimes Sonny’s sitting on the river bank, relaxing near that flowing current of energy and inspiratio.   Sometimes he’s just dipping a toe in the water, but when he chooses to, he’s swimming with that current, going with the flow.

Like Water for Tabby Cats

Water fascinates Capone.  He sneaks into the bathroom when we’re taking a shower, listens to the pipes when the washing machine’s running, and sits on the counter by the sink to eye the suds and splashes as I do the dishes.  And every morning he watches, tail twitching, as I fill a bowl with fresh, cool water and set it down for him.  Then comes the hokey-pokey: he brings his nose close to the surface, then pulls back.  Forward, back, forward, back.  Eventually he dips his nose briefly into the water, brings it back up, and snorts and shakes his head.  He flicks his long tongue up to his nose and discovers–to his evident surprise–water!  The  tongue then sneaks its way waterward, followed finally by his body settling into a crouch, his head thrusting forward, and the commencement of actual drinking.  (Followed by me cleaning up:  Capone is a messy, ecstatic drinker whose athletic tongue splashes at least as much water over the bowl’s edge and onto the floor as goes into his throat.)

The water bowl is white, with blue flowers painted on the bottom and edges.   The water ripples as I set it down, making it look as though the flowers are swaying gently in the current.  Was it the optical distortion that was startling Capone?  I substituted a low silver-bottomed bowl from the pet shop.  Capone did the water dance per usual.   I like the white water bowl better, so I returned to using that.

Whatever the reason for the dance, I envy Capone’s daily delight in his water encounters.  Beginner’s mind, I think, is what the Buddhists call it: coming fresh to both novel and familiar things.

Most of my beginners mind seems to be of the negative kind.  Cleaning the stove or packing for a move or writing a story: I’m always startled anew with how hard they are.   Most of the time, though, I’m in more of a middle-school mind space: waiting for class to be over ’cause I’ve got stuff to do.  Such as right now: I’m getting ready for Sonny’s move back to the dorm, which happens in a couple of days.

This morning I took Sonny to Target to buy some winter boots.  Then we stopped for gas on our way from Target to the bookstore.  It’s our last bookstore trip before the next semester; bookstores are a favorite place.  I was in a bit of a sentimental mist, I have to admit.  The gas station was a couple of islands next to a Cumberland Farms convenience store.   A stern sign by the nozzle warned not to touch it until the computer screen said to start filling.  The screen took what seemed like a long time, then flashed “START FILLING” in all caps.  I hurriedly lifted the nozzle off its hook.  The hose had a twist in it.   I tried to straighten it by turning around in the space between the pump and my car–kind of like you’d untangle yourself from a dog leash winding around your legs.  But turning my back on the hose turned out to be a mistake.  It writhed in my hands like a living thing and leapt upward, the steel nozzle catching me a hefty clip on the forehead, about two inches above my left eye.   Felt like a tap from the universe: pay attention!

We got home around lunchtime.  Capone was manifestly uninterested in the bruise on my forehead, although he did inspect the Barnes and Noble bag.   I guess I’ll join him as usual for the water dance tomorrow morning, maybe try to learn a few of the steps.


French Fried

So a while back I blogged about looking for a way to fill some extra time, now that Sonny’s out of the nest.   I felt that I needed a hobby, a just-for-fun thing.  Like a lot of people confronted with a big range of possibilities, I experienced decision paralysis.  Hot yoga, cooking, painting, day trading, violin, Italian, geocaching, knitting, genealogy research, book-binding, filmmaking, novel writing…all of them seemed enticing.  I visualized myself at some social gathering, bashfully admitting that I’d just finished my third landscape or mastered the tricky parts of a Paganini etude.   I wasn’t able to transcend my doubts enough to make a choice.  What if knitting was still too hard for me, the way it had been when I last tried it at age 12?   Poor Mrs. Brown, volunteering to help with the Pioneer Girls crafts badges, not-so-gently wrestling the needles from my hands.  “Bless your heart, knitting is not for you,” she said, her voice high and tight, before she dropped me off at the paper crafts table.  Shortly afterwards I ran a staple into my thumb…ehrm.   Anyway, what if I was stuck with needles, 16 balls of yarn, and whatever container I’d bought to hold them all?   I was too scared to choose, and then fortunately we had a few domestic disasters that occupied my time, and I stopped thinking about hobbies altogether.

Then Dave had an idea, and I had an idea.   Background: Dave already has his hobbies, of which there are three: Boston sports teams, biking, and French.  Dave’s been working on French for a long time, and even though he’s comfortable conversing and has even traveled to France to work a few times, he’s always looking to improve.  Dave’s idea was to sign up for a three-day immersion course in French, in Paris, in May, with a day on either end, so he would have five days.  My idea was for Dave to buy two tickets on the plane, so I could come along.  I’ve never been to France.

“You understand that I’m going to be doing the course all day,” Dave warned.

“I’m sure I’ll be able to amuse myself in Paris,” I said, indignant.

“I was thinking more of your not speaking any French,” he said.  “I won’t be there to translate for you.”

“I don’t speak French now,” I said.  “But by May I will speak plenty.  I’ll just borrow a few of your French books, and viola!  Or do I mean voila?”

I couldn’t quite read the expression that crossed Dave’s face at that point, but at least he didn’t say  “Bless your heart.”   In the weeks since we finalized our airline tickets, in fact, Dave has been very helpful.  He’s left little piles of vocabulary cards where I’m sure to find them and made sure that the tallest stack of books on my desk is the one devoted to French tutors, such as Easy French ReaderFrench Basic CourseRead & Think French, and blasted French radio stations and podcasts whenever he’s home and not watching the Patriots.

I’ve started working my way through the books, but I’m having some difficulties plowing through polite conversations about restaurant items, taxis, mothers, fathers, uncles, aunts, and their pens.   I start studying and wind up taking a micro-nap somewhere in the middle.  The phrases that stick best in my memory come from my two “fun” French books, Calvin and Hobbes cartoon collections.  The problem is that I have a sneaking suspicion that “Non!  Je refuse!” may not be the most polite way to say I’d rather skip the snails at dinner.  I’m hoping that by May my French will have surpassed the level of a hyperactive eight-year-old boy confiding in a stuffed tiger.  We’ll have to see.


Spider in my coffee

I’ve never been able to sleep on my back because of a fear, as far back as I can remember, of spiders coming down in the middle of the night and walking on my face.  Obviously I know this is not logical.  Dave loves to remind me that a determined spider could easily make its way under the blankets.  I understand.  That’s why I try to outwit any plotting spiders by keeping my head underneath the blanket and varying my sleep position, first on my right side, then on my left side, then on my stomach, semi-rotating all night like a broken top.  Dave also asserts that spiders are far more scared of me than I am of them.  Hah!  Any spider that was more scared of me than I am of it would explode on the spot.

Dave also points out that I have never actually experienced a spider coming for my face in the middle of the night, and that, in fact, most of the time the spiders we see are on the walls or windows, not on the ceiling.

Well: yesterday I was drinking my morning coffee, watching the news.  Same old, same old.  Dave had gone to the office.  Sonny, home for winter break, was drawing something.  A winter’s morning, a little gray and cold, but nice.  I was enjoying the French Vanilla notes of the coffee and thinking about oatmeal and my New Year’s Resolution to eat oatmeal for breakfast every morning instead of a donut or breakfast sandwich, looking around the living room, a bit of a mess now that Sonny’s here for a while, and then…

A gossamer thread striped the morning air.  Swaying at the end of it was a spider the color of day-old snow.   Directly beneath the spider: my coffee cup, being held by my hand.

I have to say I may have set a new indoor record, as I made it from sitting on the couch in the living room to to standing the kitchen in 1.5 seconds without spilling a drop of coffee.  Self and coffee safe,  I asked Sonny to handle the spider.  He’s good with crawlies.  He was a star and took on the job without a single complaint.

I finished my coffee and thought.  I’ve often heard that when something you’ve dreaded comes to pass, you realize it isn’t as bad as you’d thought it would be.  You become a stronger and better person.  You learn and grow.

So here’s what I learned: Dave is wrong about spiders.  And I need an extra blanket on the bed.