Re-Arranging

 

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The month of April had some hard moments in it.

Owen is re-aranging the woods. He hoists a sturdy fallen branch, then another, then another, until his arms are full of grubby logs with ragged bark, some under his armpits, some clutched to his chest. Then, at a whim it seems, he jettisons them, one! two! three! to rot elsewhere, farther down the trail.  Our little caravan just gets walking smoothly again when Owen darts down off the path, jerking our poor bulldog abruptly backwards, to test a giant rotting log – – can he lift it?

“That’s too big Owen” I say. And he knows it, anyway, and settles for ripping off a handful of the satisfyingly crumbly, spongy interior instead. The dog strains forward, unwilling to abandon the walk he has waited for too long today. “No pull, Trum,” I say, to no particular purpose. The dog will keep pulling, and Owen will keep reaching for the logs that capture his attention.

Besides rotting logs, Owen seems especially drawn to wood partially obscured by leaves and forest floor, the most wet and muddy. He digs them out and clutches a couple to his chest, and I sigh inwardly. In a less patient moment, I hear myself kvetch. “No, Owen. Not the muddy one. I just washed that jacket. Why…?

 

Whining “why” is to no purpose either. Who knows why?

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I can’t imagine that Owen hears too much of my fussing. He has a job to do. He is on a mission. And since Owen on a mission is so much more fun than Owen in a state of fog, I can’t feel too unhappy about the mud on his shirt and coat.

Here he stops by another favorite : the splintering trunk of a tree, broken off in high winds. Owen grabs a huge splinter in the group that fans out jagged, and he twists and works it until the jag of wood rips free. Or it doesn’t. Never mind, he will be back to wrestle with it again. Eventually, it will give in. Those usually limp hands of his can be surprisingly strong. Insistent. 

We have reached the bottom of the valley, and crossed the funny patched up wooden bridge over the stream there, allowing the dog to get a drink — well, I allowed it, taking the leash to give the dog’s neck a rest. Trumbull the bulldog is very helpful on these walks, straining forward as dogs will do, keeping Owen moving, but it isn’t much fun for him.  Our old dog Rascal and Owen were more copacetic. They both meandered, putzing along, taking turns pulling each other. Rascal seemed to understand Owen – maybe it was because being a herding dog he understood the nature of his job.

Now the walking is more tiring as the path rises, until we can look down into the ravine covered in last year’s leaf fall. Owen moves slower. Or stops. His fatigue makes him go slower — but mine makes me want to push forward, up the hill, and get this walk over with. I want to be already home and cooking supper – even better sitting down and eating it. Owen’s body going slow, in front of me on the path, blocking forward movement suddenly, overwhelmingly, presents the picture of how the care of him is consuming my life right now, draining me, exhausting me, preventing me from doing what I want to do. My thoughts turn suicidal and murderous, and I step off the path to give myself a time-out on a smooth fallen trunk.  Tears and sobs shift the ugly state of mind. The sun peeks across into my eyes from behind striated western clouds, through the tiny green foliage of many beech trees. Owen presents me with a rotten log. To be helpful? To see if I will be mad at him for picking up more muddy rotten wood? Who knows.  I can only nod at him, waiting for the sadness to process through me, and leave me clear again.

And Owen strides through the woods, back and forth between the trees, checking trunks, investigating under logs, re-arranging the forest to his own mysterious specs.

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Owen Detoxes

 

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You haven’t heard from us for a while. We have been submerged. Health protocols of Dr. Mark Hyman. Owen has been dragged along with his mother and father into a new world of vegetable and fruit smoothies, serious water consumption, and relaxing Epsom salts and baking soda baths.

Generally speaking, over the years anything that one member of the Simons family has explored has impacted the rest of us.  Things I tried out for Owen’s health always tended to trickle over into the way I cared for the other kids, to Bronwyn and Freya’s annoyance. Wellness initiatives I began for Oskar or Edward have ended up changing how I eat, and helping me. The positive thinking philosophy The Secret that Scotty brought home with him was usefully deployed for parental sanity. And when Daric left Rich Dad Poor Dad by financial guru Robert Kiyosaki lying around the house, it resulted in our garage apartment and a new revenue stream. We are just those kind of people — not as skeptical as some – willing to go boldly into new protocols. And drag everyone else along for the ride. 

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Owen is happy to have PGX packets added to his ever expanding collection, and he has taken to salads with great interest. Smoothies and hot baths are always fun. But detoxing isn’t always easy.  And it isn’t always pretty. 

Detoxing Owen is uphill work.  Just for starters, remember his love of plastic and tubbing. Turns out that not only is a nice hot bath filled with plastic not a brilliant idea for detoxing a body (since the warm wet very likely accelerates the release of chemical substances by one, and their absorption by the other), but turns out the tub itself could be releasing lead. Yes, lead. I assumed a porcelain tub was dah bomb for chemical stability — I had been worried about our acrylic tub! For whatever reason, some makers of cast iron porcelain tubs incorporate lead into their manufacturing process. Madness. Idiocy! So now you know. Aren’t you glad? Another thing to worry about. There are kits that can test your tub for it. Maybe I will buy a lead testing kit.  Maybe I don’t want to know.

It turns out that the real uphill work of detoxing may not be physical. Even getting a sluggish bowel functioning is easier than decreasing STRESS.  Or, to be more accurate, moving of bowels seems to be Owen’s particular detoxing challenge, but removal of toxic levels of psychic stress and worry from my life/mind is my own. How much does a breast cancer survivor want to know about the possibilities for toxicity in the environment? Or how many more wonderful plant products should be consumed to boost the body’s ability to fight cancer?  Whether the concern is improving mental function (and that means bowel function, they are deeply connected), or fending off diabetes, or beating cancer’s recurrence, a person can only eat so many kale salads and veggie smoothies, or swallow so many supplements. My research and reflection over the past weeks shows me one thing:  the most toxic thing really has to be anxiety — that is to say stress, and its buddies fear, tension, and anger.

Well, Owen has me beat for coping with stress. He does not do stress, as far as I know.  Maybe I cause him stress. But at stressful moments, his natural reaction is to laugh. And aggravating as it is for me in that moment, laughter has to be a far healthier reaction to the poop of life than anger and frustration.

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Last week I caught Owen listening to French President Emmanuel Macron. I had been busy finishing dinner and getting it to the table when I looked up to see Owen on pause, all movement stopped. He was listening. His whole face lit up into a grin. Of course I stopped everything too, to try to hear what he was hearing.  President Macron was speaking English with a heavy French accent on the National Public Radio news. As far as I could tell this cracked Owen up. His eyes twinkled, his face grew bright, his laugh was infectious. Owen has always loved accents. And here was this guy, sounding like Lumiere from Beauty and the Beast, right in the middle of Mom’s radio news! What a hoot! 

I don’t think Owen is Nationalistic, but his uses as a diplomat for peace could be limited to his capacity for infectious laughter. Maybe that would be enough. It is very healing.  And it is when I sit down to write about my life with Owen that I most benefit from the laughing, able then in reflection to see what is delightful or life-giving in what was just maddening or aggravating before. So maybe the best detoxing for me is here, at the keyboard, searching out the words to describe the essence of my life with Owen for you.

Namaste, dear readers. Here’s to your health.

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Travelin’ Man

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March was a travelin’ month for Owen this year. Is he lucky or put upon? I’m not sure. Traveling is exciting and Owen loves doing stuff, but it is confusing and disorienting to be sleeping and eating in new spaces, at different times, in different air and water, and to have none of the same schedule. And to not know why.  But Edward and I had decided to just take him along with us to check up on his G’mom in Florida, so two weeks after our Colorado adventure we found ourselves on an airplane once again, headed for Treasure Island.

Standing folded into the airplane lavatory to assist Owen there (a Rubeck’s Cube kind of experience) I did feel like we deserved some kind of ingenuity award. It is remarkable what can be done a tiny space. One thing about Owen – he has a sense of humor and appreciates the absurd.

Florida gave us both sun and rain,

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G’mom’s beach

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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warm and cold — and blustery!

 

Our blustery day walk was a highlight of the trip. Owen seemed pretty amused to be pushed down the beach by the bossy wind, which blew his collecting bag out at right angles to his body, spinning and spinning it round his fingers.

After Owen had added a certain amount of additional plastic bits to the marine environment of the Gulf, he and I took a rainy day drive to Jacksonville to see Peace of Heart Community Farm. During our eight plus round trip that day, we rolled through a fascinating variety of Floridian interstates, farm fields, and back roads thanks to the wonders of GPS navigating. Owen ate way too many nuts, and was heartily sick of the car by the end of that day. But we did get to witness a miracle in progress — the beginning stages of an assisted living community with a farm built in, a home that will also provide a life’s purpose and a connection to the larger community through the vegetables the residents and a their support staff (some family, some volunteer, some hired) will grow.

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POHC organic greens growing
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Howard’s chickens

 

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Peace of Heart Community Farm is the brainchild of Amy and Howard Groschell. Their daughter Gentry has autism. Years ago, Gentry and Owen attended the same clinic in Atlanta for a summer of saunas. The Groschells dreamed up and are building this beautiful home where Gentry can live and be cared for into old age, along with five other young women with autism. It has not been smooth sailing, Amy told me, it’s a concept in progress. But the garden is up and running, with a local farmer’s market presence, and some of the girls already help out.

Gentry’s paintings line the walls of the house.  After years of trying to heal her by bio-medical means, Amy says it was learning two methods of communication that made the biggest change in Gentry’s life: painting, and assisted typing.

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She paints her large vibrant canvases with the assistance of her stepdad Howard. This and the method of using a keyboard with assistance allows Gentry to express herself, and have made huge difference in Gentry’s happiness, Amy told me. She shared with me the name of the woman (Marilyn Chadwick) who taught them how to use the keyboard technique. I came away from our long drive to Jacksonville full of ideas –  inspired and hopeful.

A vacation rich in experiences!  part lounging in the sun, part touring, part drinking in new ideas— oh yeah and part running after Owen and trying to keep him out of Gmom’s stuff…

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The Star Wars Costumes show, St. Petersburg Fine Arts Museum

It was a remarkable trip, but we were tired and ready to get home — to our own dear, cold, recently-snowed-on Maryland to digest it all.

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Photo by Kathie Constable

Red Rocks!

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Owen traveled to COLORADO by plane, and stayed just down the street from his brother Scott, sister in law Meg and baby niece Marlee.  I was anxious about how disruptive the trip could be on Owen and Owen on the trip, but unlike the last time Owen went to Colorado, this time no police were called in to locate him.. He did not go for a solo tour of the Denver neighborhood. He seemed agreeable to the whole trip.

I know he liked our outing to Red Rocks—!

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Good thing we wore the hiking boots though.
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It looked like an easy little hike…

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and Owen is pretty intrepid (he crawled on the ice for one stretch)
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…and he’s certainly persistent enough…

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we were sufficiently challenged 
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…and satisfied to reach the top.

 

 

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(Are those some illicit climbers on top??)
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And there was Oskar, waiting for us.
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Secret handshake?
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Contemplating an illicit climb
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Then it was time to go down– 
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-and down–

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– and down!

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(Two determined men)

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0228181447_HDRIt was VERY fun to climb up — and slip over (!!) — and squelch through — and descend down the Red Rocks of Colorado — all the way down to the museum and amphitheater on the other side. Whew! What a memorable adventure.

But it was pretty nice to have Oskar climb back up and over and down and get the car, to pick us up! And take us home…

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…to snuggle with baby Marlee some more.

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Aww. Uncle Owen. (Yes, yes, mom posed this one.)

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Uh, ok Uncle Owen, enough is enough…

To read about Owen’s last trip to Colorado click Owen Meets the Police

Belated Beleaguered Valentine

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Photo Kathie Constable

Was it just a week ago that Owen walked with Kathie in the snow on a wintry Wednesday afternoon?  Then we had the 70s and were out cleaning up garden beds, before the temperature dropped us down again. Today the wind howls violently, hurling patio furniture across the yard.

Lately I have been thinking about Love. The hot and cold of it. The way the warmth you feel in any given moment for someone does not have that much to do with how much you actually care about them. Like crazy weather, our emotions warm and cool, overheat, freeze, storm, or grow balmy, dependent on how much we have eaten, or slept, or what our hormones might be doing that day.

But Actual Love is something larger than the weather of our emotional landscape. I believe it’s something human beings receive, if we want to, and through long practice of bending, behaving nicer than we feel. I have seen nothing in a short 54 years to indicate that we humans know how to Love on our own. What I am describing is too pure for us to invent. We get pretty constantly distracted in self-interest, even on the way to Loving. It contaminates everything we do.   At least that’s my experience, both giving and receiving.  And yet we humans  experience genuine, not self-interested love for someone else when we persevere caring for him or her kindly, through all the highs and lows of the emo river.

And while I am still just persevering, if I change Owen’s bed from smelly to sweet smelling sheets, or run him a warm bath to sooth his itchy skin, does he really care if I don’t actually feel super loving doing it? The doing is good. The bed and bath are still welcome.

And as I strove against rage and desire to do bodily harm in February, dealing with an unexpected Owen messes at the end of the day, the writing of these words was called into action. No – I don’t have to feel loving to be Loving. I can remonstrate, even raise my voice at my son, (though it’s doubtful how much good a raised voice does).  The act of not doing him harm is LOVING him. Sometimes that is as loving as I am capable of being, in that moment. And that’s a comfort to know, when you are sitting across the table from your child for supper, to give yourself some extra space from him.

So much going on in February (even outside my churning brain) showcased the ebb and flow of human emotion, contrasted with the steadiness of Actual Love. On the world stage, the struggles and triumphs, and struggles and losses of the Olympic games. The grief, pain, loss and anger associated with the shooting deaths of high school students and teachers in Parkland, Florida — will positive things grow out of the horrible violence and subsequent anger? What does Actual Love look like here?

The February passing of an old friend and mentor of mine, Dr. Jane Williams-Hogan,  deepened my reflections on this topic. Jane was a highly intellectual woman, who also seemed to have an enormous capacity to care. I attended her memorial service, at which she was remembered for her tireless work with numerous students who all benefitted from her extra support to help them grow and flourish in (and graduate from) academia. Sometimes Actual Loving must start by simply seeing people. Seeing the unique strengths latent in each one. Jane sat at a lunch party once, years ago, with aa youn Owen and me. I remember her calm manner with him. I remember that she spoke directly to him. I remember what a relief this was, how unusual it felt at that time of my life.

Maybe we would all love to manifest  Professor Williams-Hogan’s warmth and patience. But it seems we show Love differently.

My father’s birthday falls after Valentines Day, and he was much in my thoughts all month. How has his life enriched, since last we knew him? My father worked with Dr. Williams-Hogan at Bryn Athyn College, but while Jane was not easily embarrassed by  out-of-the-groove people, this was not my father’s strength. Maybe this was part of his generation, which associated shame with being mentally atypical, or challenged, or slow. Maybe he was affected by long-term exposure to collegiate prejudice for the intellectual. Whatever  the reason, although he was a  warm-hearted and very fair man, mental and physical deformities disturbed him. Despite his exposure to a mentally challenged father, and son, and  grandson, my dad did not develop ease with the special needs population. He valued mental agility, wordplay, urbane discourse, and other ways of being, knowing, communicating.  One of my daughters has said she feels her grandfather did not like or love Owen.

Although I know this is not  true, I know what she is referencing. Dad was a liberal thinker who embraced reforms that would care for all all underprivileged – he was never rude, or unkind. Just embarrassed perhaps,  maybe uncertain. I know he worried for me, having the burden of care of such a person as Owen. He never seemed able to see the flip side – the joy, the beauty, the humor, or the peace that is also part of the world of Owen. He did not (yet) have Jane’s talent for not being embarrassed by difficult people.

My sister’s family, who are avid videographers, have very amusing footage of a young Owen standing behind Grampa’s deck chair during a summer family reunion. Little Owen is massaging his grandpa’s curly hair, patting his face, and feeling his neck with moist invasive little hands. What inspired this show of interest? Grampa had been talking to Owen in his Donald Duck voice.

Now, I am not going to suggest that he looks comfortable in the video, crunched down in his deck chair, and I know the whole thing was instigated by my step-mom, trying to help Dad make a connection with his grandchildren. But this image : the uncomfortable grandpa tolerating a weird moment with his sticky, invasive little grandson, stays with me. I doubt my Dad was experiencing love in that moment. And yet, looking back upon it, that’s Love by my measure.

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Owen  by Kathie Constable

Predicting the Weather

Feb 2018

Fact: bitter cold can be Bracing! Energizing! but by Groundhog day it gets kinda hard to take. Hang in there everybody. Most of my energy seems to be going into the basic need categories, 1. food  2. washing 3. finding sweaters 4. watching old Downton Abbey episodes.  Not so much writing. So, today I offer you a wander down memory lane. A re-post.  (Here:  Drained)

Attempting to prepare to write this week, I read back through the blog. It was encouraging, which is far better than the alternative!  Have you ever done that? Looked through old journals or letters, and been surprised to see growth in yourself? When I discovered a post from August 2015, I was amazed at how much my attitude and life have changed from that soggy moment. What I wrote there still has the zing of truth for me, but I could not have imagined in August 2015 how happy and content I would be in my life as it is now in 2018 — with all our other kids moved out leaving Edward, Owen, and me to make a go of it.  I couldn’t see . I could not have known.  Frankly, I love being reminded how little I know.  This limitation is a huge relief.  Wow, I am not In Charge of All Things? I love being smacked gently on the head with remembrance that people have ideas, situations arise, and things happen that I could not have dreamed up. It isn’t my responsibility to run your life! (Aren’t you glad I remembered?) 

Every year I seem to learn greater appreciation of life with an Owen to care for in it.

I don’t want to sugarcoat this. Regular readers have seen enough of our adventures-with-Owen to know how hot and gritty things can be around here. I simply could not be Owen’s caregiver without the support that we get, without regular breaks, without respite for each of us apart, and together. We are grateful for every bit of it. Human beings are meant to grow up, and when they do not, extra supports are required for caregivers to maintain that kind of high intensity care.  I am acutely aware that many who need it do not get it.

Owen is enriched by breaks from us too, I think. The outings with his wonderful sitter Kathie — the wanderings, the parks, the please-touch display at the Patuxent Wildlife Refuge, the turtle at the Nature Center — are stimulating to his brain and hisimagination. He is still growing and evolving. His parents are still growing and evolving.

I take comfort in not knowing, but the well-known cycles are comforting, too. Winter can be bitter, but underground roots are growing slowly in winter, too. Time moves forward, never back. And spring is always coming.

I hope you enjoy a peek back into 2015, when I was feeling Drained…

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Photo by Kathie Constable, January 2018

 

Owen the Plastic King

 

 

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If you caught my last posting for Suburban Growing, you know that plastic has been much on my mind. How could it be otherwise, you might ask, when you live with a guy who is a plastic connoisseur?  A guy who chops up plastic for an occupation – a mission – a passion? Too true, Owen and I are both passionate about plastic.

Ok, ask the next obvious question: how on earth have you, a plastic hater, allowed so much plastic into your son’s life anyway? Until the floor of your house is gritty and lumpy with chopped up bottles and dismembered toys, and dissected plastic bags swirl by a the ankles (hey, only on a bad day) as you pass through the room?  Ah well, that is a very different kind of question, and the answer has something to do with fatigue and giving up in the face of the storm. Something any mom or dad gets.

Heck, until recently Owen’s morning bathtub could be swimming in plastic –  multi-colored hard plastic shards, or shimmering plastic bag ribbons and banners. Sometimes there was hardly room for him in there, if the baskets went in too. Owen enjoys taking things to extremes. I had to pick plastic out of the drain regularly to keep the water moving.

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But no more. After I listened to that pivotal NPR program about pervasive micro plastic pollution last November, I gathered steam to put my foot down. In a very nice way (of course!). It is one thing to allow a person to make a mess, but it’s another to hurt the environment and poison his body thereby.  I may be a hippy, but I have limits.

I told Owen, “Plastic is great for cutting, but not for baths. Plastic in your bath will make you sick. Wooden things can go into the bath.”  Owen was naturally not all in with this new regimen. Yet I have been amazed at how much he has accepted the new rule for plastics. He didn’t get mad. He didn’t stamp his feet. I was prepared for those things. Maybe designated chopping times and locations makes his life a little more interesting.  I know that his life is boring to him, an issue of much greater concern. The other explanation is that Owen understands when I say “This will hurt you.” That would be wonderful.

Every morning he brings his plastic basketful of plastic into the bathroom, and every morning I say cheerfully (of course!) “Oh plastics are great for cutting, but they don’t go in the bath.” It is easy to be cheerful when Owen is co-operating with me, when I getting things my way. It is a great relief to get those piles of plastic out of the one most sensitive areas of Owen’s life.  If only there were a way to get it out of our lives all together! Don’t worry buddy, no chance of that any time soon.

After putting my foot down, Owen and I took a trip to the local Goodwill, and perused the shelves for wooden objects. We had a good time. Owen loves wandering the Goodwill.  Besides a wooden rolling pin, and a weird wooden and metal agility toy, I found a whole set of wooden alphabet  blocks.  Apart from being non-toxic to Owen and the waterways, the switch to wooden bath objects has yielded an unexpected benefit.  Using some giant wooden letters I found at Target and the secondhand alphabet blocks I am taking a few minutes each day to talk to Owen about  letters and their sounds while he is in his tub. Keeping it fun. Am I imagining it or does he seem to be listening?

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You can’t do much to manipulate wooden alphabet blocks though, and manipulation is exactly what Owen loves about plastics (and aluminum cans too, if he can get one)  To be able to act your will on something and alter it –  the whole broken down to bits, ripped, chopped. Those large and brand new letters from Target are (were) more intriguing since they can be broken up. Now our E is an F, and the S has been deconstructed into two lower case “u”s. But I am not giving up – I sense cognitive receptivity in Owen that I do not remember sensing before.  Maybe his brain is maturing, on its own maverick arc? Maybe if you are bored enough with your life when opportunity presents itself you respond?  Could it be that standing up against plastics is the spark for an entirely new journey for me and Owen?

Or is it possible that by fixating on plastics so obsessively, Owen has been making that point all along?  Look at this horrible stuff that I am dragging into the house, and piling in the corners, and finding in the fields and in the woods, and the parking lots!  LOOK MOM! LOOK!! Isn’t this GROSS!?!

(Read more about impact of plastics on human health here Invisibles, Orb Media , watch here Drinking Microplastics?  or listen to an NPR program here Plastics Are Forever, November 1, 2017 .)