Looking back on it, weeks and weeks before Christmas, Owen was clearly getting ready for the big day.
He was with his sister Freya in the bathroom, attending to business. This is where Owen says most of his interesting things. Owen said:
“Santa Claus. Be nice. Be naughty.”
Freya was amused.
“Yep, be nice, Owen!” she laughed.
“Be naughty,” Owen said, all seriousness.
She felt the need to correct his misapprehension.
“Be nice for Santa!”
“Owen. Be nice,” she insisted, wondering how long he would hold out.
“Be naughty,” said Owen.
This went on a while. I imagine Owen got the last word.
He must have been thinking about it a lot – almost everyone in the family was informed. Words don’t come easily to Owen, usually it’s an effort to bring them forth. When he really wants to drive a point home, he has a particular manner of speaking his few words, with his eyebrows way up and eyes wide open, his head tipped to one side, informing, admonishing. “Be naughty!” When Owen does this, he reminds me just slightly of my dad, when he wanted to emphasize something. Owen’s grampa was a college professor who taught decades of Composition 101 classes to recognize good grammar and punctuation. It’s funny feeling, when you recognize that a communication that is clearly of great importance, and you still have not the slightest idea what it means.. I imagine many college freshmen felt just the same way.
Maybe Owen sensed he wasn’t getting through to us, because once or twice in those weeks before Christmas he growled into the kitchen in his Ogre/Papa Bear voice, “BE NAUGHTY!”
I wondered why this focus on the “Santa/be naughty/be nice” thing this year. I was inclined to blame the group of older special needs people with whom Owen’s rides the van to his program each day. They can be sweet and friendly, but they are kind of tough on codes of behavior. If Owen is passing gas or burping they tend to get grossed out. Giving his safety belt the slip is a moral issue. I get a solemn report: “Owen was Bad today.”
Coming face to face with the culture of shame and blame surprised me. A more innocent group of adults you really could not find, except maybe on another van full of special needs people. They were just repeating what they had heard. Still, before now, I had only experienced Owen’s school mates treating him with affection. The transition to the real world has been a little hard. I have to laugh at my response, defensive for my perpetrator – like a mom in juvenile hall — “Yeah? he passed gas! SO?” In the Simons household, the standard method for dealing with breaches of etiquette is humor. Ours is a jolly and forgiving God. Like Santa.
Morally speaking, I consider Owen pretty innocent. Then again, nothing cracks him up like doing something naughty, or hearing someone else getting reamed out for doing something naughty (the dog, his little brother). The people on Owen’s van had good reason for hoping he would shape up for Santa. Instead they may have inspired a whole new level of naughty.
I guess I missed my tip-off.
On Christmas morning, I came down feeling clever and rested. I planned to finish the stocking stuffing early that morning while Owen was in the tub, rather than staying up late Christmas eve. But a large pile of papers beside the Christmas tree. Candy papers. Translucent papers from maple sugar creams. White plastic peanut butter cup wrappers. Clear plastic wrappers. Half a bar of raw dark chocolate, gnawed, abandoned. And four tangerines, each with one bite from the center. Owen, rising earlier, had clambered over the barricade we built on the landing, and poured out his siblings’ stocking candy out in the dark living room, and eaten it. All. Four stockings were flat and empty. He didn’t touch the parental stockings. The whole thing reeked of intentionality.
For some reason, Owen had never thought of this past Christmas mornings. Maybe he had and lacked sufficient daring. I struggled with shock, complete outrage, and feeling stupid. How could he do such a thing?? My plans for this morning were broken. Owen had “scribbled on my page” and I reeled like a preschool child. Scolding and fussing, waking the household with my rant, I put Owen into a tepid bath. I reflected that I would never be able to write about this event. I would never find anything Owen did to be funny again. Probably I would have to stop writing. Unable to go forward, I left for a healing walk in the woods with the dogs, kindly accompanied by my daughter Bronwyn.
The walk was a good idea. I cam home to find my husband re-stocking the stockings, divvying up the parental stash between the three other kids. Daughter Freya was making Christmas breakfast. Smells of bacon and cinnamon filled the air. Oskar was setting the table. I made Owee apologize to each of his siblings, and we went on to enjoy a lovely Christmas together. Owen was pretty quiet. His tummy can’t have been feeling too good.
Well. No one can say he didn’t warn us. And at this point I can see the humor in it. But I’m not telling the people on his van.