The Strength of Ten Grinches – Plus Two


My sister already asked me way back at the beginning of the month what I am going to do about Owen this Christmas. She means, what am I going to do to stop Owen’s trying to stop Christmas from coming. From sneaking downstairs like he did last year, devouring every bit of Christmas stocking candy in the wee small hours of the morning, leaving a pile of papers a foot high and “a crumb that was even too small for a mouse.” His siblings were not amused. (Read about last Christmas Naughty – or – Nice -?)

Of course longtime readers know what we tried to do. We built a wonderful, beautiful, aesthetically elegant gate on the stairs!  And then Owen learned to scale the darn banister in no time flat, skipping that gate entirely. (“Once More Into the Breach—!”)

We have to stop Grinchy from coming — BUT HOW?

We rallied of course. Like the Whos. We joined hands and remembered – after a dark despairing little walk in the woods to cool down and warm up – that Christmas happiness didn’t require a thoughtfully arranged, candy-laden Christmas stocking.

Still, even a carefree Who doesn’t want to go through that every holiday.

I have considered floor to ceiling cargo netting along the banister – but cargo netting in a foyer isn’t really my look. And stapling Owen to his bed, or locking him in his room would not be approved of, by me or anyone else (except in a few dark moments maybe). Meanwhile, Owen was busy as ever last night, shredding holiday cards, searching baskets, swiping food off the counter, chopping his sister’s ID card. Much as he loves brothers and sisters coming home, this doesn’t seem to calm him. The time-out chair was kept warm. Must be a lot of stress trying “be nice.” Apparently he can’t take it. How can we both love our Owen and protect our property? How to foil our marauding Christmas bandit?

I know that the best bet will probably always be distraction  – in the spirit of the family I heard of  who used motion activated water (fountain and sprinklers) to distract their runner. If their child bolted out the front door, that moving water captured him, and redirected his attention to the front yard, buying mom and dad a few more minutes to locate him. If I create a barrier, I know that Owen will focus his energies on how to thwart my efforts to control him, displaying strength or agility we didn’t know he had.

This in itself is pretty cool, and I wish I weren’t so tired from getting up every morning with him at 6am that my brain cells are compromised. I’d like to figure out how to employ this phenomenon usefully to make his life richer and more interesting. It’s good to have a reason to fight! Imagine how interesting life would be if we all had to climb down a cargo net to breakfast each morning.

I must stop Owen from descending – But how?

Perhaps hang his stocking at the end of his bed for him to pilfer and explore? Or is that too obvious. Hmm. Maybe it should be dangling casually from the top of the bathroom medicine cabinet?… Or not quite out of reach, on the floor? Just through the bars of the temporary pressure gate in the hall – because there’s no doubt a temporary gate is going to be required across the hallway outside his door. This temporary barrier in place, he still could access the hall bathroom, and check up on his siblings, but not make it to the stairs. Nor incidentally could he reach his dad’s and my room. That does sound good. Usually I want Owen to be able to come and get me when he needs me at night. But maybe not for the short number of sleeping hours on Christmas eve.

And maybe the distraction method does not just apply to Owen – last week we celebrated Edward’s birthday with an evening out. Dinner with mulled wine, and a play – a wonderful theatricalization in words, sing, and dance of Melville’s Moby Dick. It transported us to a different dimension. We came home relaxed. Light. Strengthened.

Respite for long term caregivers is distraction.  Caregivers will still have to face their challenges again tomorrow, but strengthened by a break we can face with humor and patience what we might otherwise grit our teeth and “get through.” Our loved ones don’t just need our hands – they need our hearts. They need our attention. And giving attention is by far the hardest thing.

And so I find that this post is really an acknowledgement: Thank you. Thank you Emma, for an evening out. Thank you Kathie, for walking and talking with Owen twice a week, week after week! And thank you folks at New Horizons, Stephen and Damian, James the van driver, and director Ron Vaughn – for the gift of your attention to some special people, including our Owen.  What a Christmas present, every day.

“And the minute his heart didn’t feel quite so tight,

He whizzed with his load through the bright morning light! –“



 How The Grinch Stole Christmas by Dr. Seuss 


Bad King John


King John was not a good man –  

He had his little ways.  

And sometimes no one spoke to him

For days and days and days…                                  A.A.Milne,  Now We Are Six

Owen has been sending me messages. He might not have a lot of language accessible, but he has his little ways. Which is probably why I found myself reciting this poem in meaningful tones. I am hunting for the toothpaste and find it, chopped. Photos of his siblings lie in a pile of cut pieces.

A few days ago Owen wouldn’t come down for dinner when called. I had to go upstairs, into his room, where he was bending over  his collection of plastics in the big rolling drawer under his bed, chopping away.  After a peaceful dinner together, when he seemed finished eating, I cleared the food away, and sunk down exhausted to watch a movie. I invited him to join me. But Owen didn’t go for The Fisher King with Jeff Bridges and Robin Williams. While I was absorbing the bizarre plot, he stood outside the kitchen reaching across the counter eating more and more of the green beans and green peppers than any reasonable person should even want to contain. So there went tomorrow’s lunch.

“Seems a little excessive, Owen,” I said as I harumphed up from my movie. “Been on my feet this whole time,” I sulked to him, scooping what was left of supper into plastic boxes for lunch. “How many green beans can one person hold?” I asked rhetorically. There’s stress-eating, and there’s eating from loneliness, and then there’s eating to tick your mother off. To show that you can, perhaps. To assert independence

King John was not a good man,  

  He lived his life aloof;  

Alone he thought his message out      

  While climbing up the roof.

He wrote it down and propped it up

  Against the chimney stack–

Since Owen didn’t want to watch a movie with me, I figured it was bedtime. But once upstairs Owen didn’t want to get undressed. He didn’t want to come into his bedroom either, but stood out in the hall in an abstract attitude.

“You ignore me, I ignore you.” It couldn’t be plainer if he had written it out.

Amazing that you could spend hours, days, years even, caring for someone’s body needs and remain oblivious of his social, psychological, emotional, or spiritual needs. Shocking to recognize it – and annoying! – but yeah, it’s true. Knowing Owen as well a I do, I can still easily miss cues. I can find myself tuning him out mentally while I am busily caring for his physical needs. When I realize that a set of behaviors are a message, it’s a relief – but some part of my mind still feels manipulated, still asks “Why didn’t you just say so?”

King John was not a good man –

  He wrote his message out,

And gat him to his room again

  Descending by the spout.

Communication is just good. Any old kind. That’s the thing. And I am so glad that Owen persists stubbornly on, trying to tell me stuff when I am too tuned out to notice or listen or see what life looks like from his perspective. Dinner at home with just dad and mom is pretty dull compared to what he grew up with; dinner with only mom who is tired and plunks down in front of a boring movie is even worse. It’s really lonely to be tuned out or ignored – much worse than actually being alone, in your bedroom.

I was reminded this weekend how much Owen likes to have his tribe around him when half of the family came over for a Redskins game Sunday afternoon. Owen had been SO BUSY looking everywhere for hiding Christmas packages I think, hunting through the packets in my closet and my studio, pulling out a package of candles, throwing half of them into the trash…aaarrggghhh. I took him and the dogs for a walk to give his dad some peaceful visiting time, and when we came home there was a fire in fireplace, and family gathered around the television, roaring appropriately, and Owen became very calm.

I want some crackers,  

  And I want some candy.   

I think a box of chocolates

  Would come in handy.  

I don’t mind oranges,

  I do like nuts    

And I SHOULD like a pocket knife – that really cuts.  

  And, oh!  Father Christmas if you love me at all—

King John had his own dreams for Christmas (link below to read more about him), and Owen seems to share many of them. But I wouldn’t be a bit surprised to learn (if he were able to tell me) that for Owen, the biggest thing on his wish list is to be surrounded by his family — with lots of oranges, nuts and chocolates thrown in for good measure.file_001





Not familiar?  To read all of A. A. Milne’s whimsical poem about Bad King John and Father Christmas, click on this link. Continue reading