Did you ever think what if the way you hear someone is all wrong? Noticed that the way you understood the actions or words of another person changes completely when you understand what they meant by them? What if you could never understand what someone else meant by what he said or did? Well, actually…can you?
I feel like Owen is testing me lately. Resisting. Resisting anything I want him to do. But it can be pretty hard to determine for sure what Owen’s behavior means, and his words are generally mysterious. When he seems to not want to sit down on the toilet, is it because he doesn’t need to go? Or is he fed up with people all the time directing his activities? I have several children letting me know that they need a little more or a lot more autonomy – is Owen feeling the same way too? Or am I reading into the situation? When he is laughing, does Owen’s irrepressible hee-hee-hee mean joy? disrespect? ridicule? Should I understand it as “Haha! I got away with it!” or as “Oh oh! I’m in trouble! What-will-she-do-now?” Does it matter how I understand it? Should I just be grateful to have a child who can move, who can express emotions, and sometimes communicate with me in words?
Owen was laughing irrepressibly just yesterday as I cleaned poop off the floor…and the potty….and his under clothing… and the tub. That laughter was the last straw for me. Sometimes his laughing at inopportune moments brings up rage, but this time I just felt finished. I cleaned up the mess, and hoped my “cross wet duck” verbiage and a cold rinse would impress on Owen the aversiveness of this choice, versus just sitting down on the toilet right away the moment the urge strikes him. He has this idea that all his clothing should be in the laundry first…
Then I left Owen drying en plein air in the bathroom and laid down flat on Bronwyn’s bedroom carpet. Luckily for me dear Bronwyn is home right now, post graduation, and she offered me the night off. I took it. She took Owen for a walk, made him supper and put him to bed (of course he was jolly and happy, and beautifully behaved for her). Edward and I went out for dinner and a walk around Annapolis. I was grateful for the break, and felt relatively fresh this morning at 6:30 to start the day having Owen replace all the towels on the bathroom bars.
Owen was very happy this morning. He had lots to say, including “I need a drink.” Using a pronoun like that is rare for him. But who knows what he meant by “a drink” anyway, since when I brought him the drink of water he took a taste and immediately dumped the rest into the sink. Was he hoping for ice water? Juice? Bourbon on the rocks?
In my short 53 years I have had conversations with typically functioning people that were much more upsetting and painful to me than dealing with Owen. Believe it or not. But dealing with Owen makes me wonder today, as I stare out of my studio window over the chicken coop roof, to the huge trees beyond that, and the drifting white clouds and blue sky beyond those, whether I understood correctly what those mentally typical people meant by the words they said. How do we see the world through another’s eyes?
Naturally perhaps, we talkers make assumptions all the time about what the non-talkers are feeling, thinking, wanting. We assume that people who do not speak do not think. Do not have opinions. Or, that their opinions do not matter. A friend said to me the other day that all the special needs children of people she knows seem to have angry behaviors. This makes a lot of sense to me!
As Owen expresses his opinions, frustrations, or anger to me more and more these days, I have to find ways to make that ok, to allow him places and ways to express his feelings, even while I work to keep my manner with him free of anger and frustration. I feel relieved that we have now figured a way to stop him from getting into the kitchen or out the front door early in the morning. But Owen wants to get his own food, and choose when to walk and where, and search trash bins as desired. He has taken to hiding things from me, behind his back, or at the bottom of the trash can. (Earlier this week bottom of the trash can was his stash for those macadamia nuts that went missing – a very effective subterfuge.) I read these actions as a desire for more autonomy. And how do I explain to him why those doors are locked? or trash bins a toxic no-no??
But experience shows me that Owen is capable of understanding a lot more than he is able to express. I must try to explain to him what is happening, and what I mean by what I do. Why I am speaking the way I am to him, or to the dog (he has let me know he doesn’t like it when I yell at the dog). It’s good to be called out, and held accountable, even non-verbally. Even when it seems unreasonable.
I must try to explain – and I must be still – and listen.