Last week, Owen’s little brother graduated out of the little local school close to our home. Oskar gave a graduation speech, and Owen listened to it without being the least bit disruptive.
The morning before, I paused in the midst of the frantic activity of school play and graduation preparations to look back – although looking back is usually painful (“Nostalgia is a trap,” my mom once told me). I could see old photos in my mind – though of course I cannot locate them — for instance a family outing to Great Falls, Owen “woozling” the top of Oskar’s head with his cheek, an arm wrapped around tightly around his cranium, Osk’s face in Owen’s armpit. That cranium is far beyond armpit level now
When Oskar was born, Owen spoke of him in sentences: “He’s a wittle piñata.” How things have changed!…
It was a party weekend at the Simonses. Bronwyn brought her art school friends home for a festive summer-like evening Saturday, and Oskar’s soccer team celebrated their winning season on our patio the following night. All this is excellent inspiration for getting yard work done, and I drew Owen into the clean up process as much as possible. A guy with his fetish for picking bits should be a great candidate for weeding the patio, right? Maybe not – but the whole family threw themselves into preparation and he was part of it.
But once in the swing of the party, Owen tends to sink into the background. Edward and I begin to visit with the guests, and I tend to mentally disconnect from Owen. I generally hope he’s happy with a plate of food and a spot to sit. Meanwhile, all kinds of food that he shouldn’t eat are under his nose, and the older Owen is, the less he appreciates that. The most tempting objects in this weekend’s cornucopia of forbidden fruits were the one liter Coke bottles – though not for the reason you might suspect. Owen’s brother caught him making off down the hall with one four liter set earlier in the week — four liters of Coke, taped together, a special purchase from BJs warehouse, something his mom never buys. Naturally, it was the bottles he longed for, to heck with what was inside of them. During the party he managed to pour a literful of the nasty contents out into the washtub of ice where the drinks were picturesquely displayed (a la Pintrest), before he was caught by his sister. By the end of two parties-worth of being marginalized with a plate of food devoid of most of the fascinating new culinary arrivals and no cool bottles to boot, Owen had probably had enough.
Obviously he noticed all those extra plastic bottles and containers that found their way into the kitchen for two party evenings. Imagine his frustration, Monday morning early, to find that everything was cleaned up, spaces tidy, counters clean, and kitchen locked tight. It must have been about 6 am when he experienced that frustration.
Because sometime just after 6 am our telephone rang.
“Hullo?” I yawned into the phone.
“Hi this is Sharon,” said my neighbor’s terse voice. “Owen is out on the loose in the neighborhood, at Hyatt’s now.” She didn’t add til later that “mean old Mrs. Kunkle” had refused to share her trash cans with him already that morning.
I thanked her (at least, I hope I did), groggily yanked my bathrobe around me, and out into the steamy morning air I went. I noted the back door standing open, and the beautifully tidied patio beyond it empty (why, oh why hadn’t I left a bottle or two out there for him to find?!). And out front was Owen, in the street, hovering over our next door neighbor’s trash cans. I don’t know why he needed to look farther than our own driveway, since after two parties ours fairly bristled with cans and containers of all sizes and their riches. The other pasture is always greener I suppose. I growled, and Owen moved homeward, waddling to support the dangling nighttime undergarment. What a start to the day and the week.
In view of all this, it certainly behooves us to deadbolt all the doors, every night, if we can just train all the family members to do it. That works until Owen wants something on the other side enough to figure out how to open the deadbolts. What then, chains? What is the long term answer? Ask me in about 20 years, when I am that much wiser. One thing I do know: you don’t want to seem to care too much, or to turn it into a competition, because the tighter you squeeze the harder he will work to escape. Human things need to have freedom. When I think I am clever for inventing a way to control Owen, he tends to foil it. I guess that (and the expense) is why I haven’t yet invested in one of those wrist devices that Owen could wear 24/7 that would permit me to track him on my cell phone. I suspect he would hate it, and spend a lot of time trying to pry it off. We are lucky he’s not a “runner” – an individual who gets huge pleasure from suddenly charging forth into streets, down highways, or wherever, fearless. Terrifying. Owen only occasionally wanders.
But it would be smart to lay out some decoy objects, if I can just remember to do that. I listened to a very intelligent presentation once about designing houses and spaces to support those caring for their special needs children. This designer was an advocate for other ways of managing “runners” besides keeping them locked up, such as a motion sensor that turns on a sprinkler as you go through the door. If your child is very attracted to water, that sprinkler coming on will have great appeal, and lure them into the yard instead, away from the street for the few moments it takes for their parent to catch up.
There are special needs folks who run away, every chance they get. There are folks who stuff things into toilets and flush compulsively. There are folks who eat non-edible objects, like their mattresses. And there are the parents who love them, the neighbors who help to look out for them and love their parents, and the creative people who think outside the box about how to help it all work better.
And there is Owen, currently in training as connoisseur of recycling bins, specializing in educating his mom.