This year, particularly the past several months, have been a complicated dance for J. He has taken steps backward that have at times overwhelmed us, then taken steps forward that are major victories what feels like moments later.
The pattern has been there his whole life. It is currently amplified by loss and recovery from said loss, but it is the existing pattern that is how J grows. The gains make that clear, but the steps backward are sometimes quite scary to witness.
When J was 2, his main method of play was not play as most would recognize it in children. He lined up his toys across the room, sometimes attempting to do so across the entire apartment. There were trains, cars, whatever was around just got lined up. You did not mess with the lines. Lines were love, lines were good… We left them alone, and we let him find his peace and order in them. It took him a lot of time, encouragement and work to learn that letting lines go was okay. He could return to them whenever he needed their comfort, but they did not have to exist all the time. He built his confidence and his skills and slowly, lines were no longer a major part of our lives.
The lines have returned. They creep in slowly, created with boxes or trains with an odd other toy or two thrown in. There is no moving these lines without his involvement. The fearful rigidity is not there but the anxiety is still palpable. Now, they involve elaborate scenes invented in his own mine integrating beloved cartoons and songs, but the main purpose is the same: comfort and predictability.
The first time I noticed their return I have to admit I was sad. It is easy to take something that seems a deeper sign of regression as bad news. The longer I watch and listen, allowing him to show me what he is doing the more things are falling into place. I have to understand the framework for the behavior. This isn’t a loss of hard-fought skills but a return to a safe place, when life was different and there was no heartache. This is like him bringing out Miss Kitty or any other stuffie… it is just behavior rather than items.
He uses these behaviors as a safe place; a sanctuary in which he can recover his peace. When that peace is felt, he is able to reach out and work on new skills, new adventures and new strengths. He has learned to read not one but two words, “go” and “stop”. When at home, he is stringing more and more words together with increasing confidence. We are able to sometimes even work on simple abstracts like what we feel occasionally which is huge for a little boy who is very, very concrete in his thinking.
It has always been firmly believed by all of us that he knows more than he imparts easily to most people. This all reinforces this belief. The full comprehension of what has happened may not be there, but he understands enough of how he feels about it to cope. He understands that this half of the year has been a lot of change and some of it quite upsetting and scary, yet he sought out a way to cope and created his own calm. It is not always a lasting peace and we have a lot still to work on to help him make it last, but it is a start.
He, with the help of the world that surrounds him, is laying a strong foundation on which to build up from in the year(s) to come. He is taking that which was taught to him in his earliest days and applying it. It’s a wonder to behold and I feel very, very lucky to be a part of his winding, crazy adventure as it unfolds. Yes, our hearts were sorely and unfairly broken but most of all his sweet, determined spirit remains intact.
I am so, so proud of my boy.