7:00 am. I wake to the sound of something beating on the wall. I assume it’s Jesse kicking the wall viciously, which I’m used to, but I look over and she’s still sound asleep. Ah. It’s the construction crew getting to work. A few minutes later everyone wakes up and Jesse starts hollering about the noise. I dress and head out the door. 10 feet away, Erick-the-Carpenter is getting things going with his crew. I shuffle in with my morning breath, bed head, and crusty eyes to chat with him about a cubbie that’s going in the master bedroom they’re working on. I try not to scratch in ignominious spots as my body slowly wakes up. I’m vaguely humiliated but the conversation has to happen. Erick manages not to snicker openly at my appearance, for which I’m deeply grateful.
I’ve made a commitment to myself to engage in maximum helicopter parenting for a while. Jesse needs help identifying and foreseeing her flash points, and then managing her reactions. I’m on it today.
8:35 am. We head out the door for summer camp at the Audubon nature center. It’s been a pretty smooth morning. We’re all permanently on edge because of Jesse’s behaviors, but she’s only had one break-on-the-stairs so far, and she and Nick have played well together in our efficiency-apartment basement. I’m all over them, helping them iron out problems with sharing and personal space.
The car ride goes surprisingly well. Jesse doesn’t do anything too awful and Nick isn’t too annoying.
Yesterday before we got in the car, I asked Jesse to first take deep breaths and think about how she would go about not attacking Nick in the car. I saw her standing next to the car door, breathing and thinking peacefully. As I walked over I noticed Nick. He was already in the car. He was pressing his face up against the closed car window beside Jesse and and slapping his palms on the glass, yelling “TAKE DEEP BREATH-ESS! TAKE DEEP BREATH-ESS!”
Today goes better than that.
9:30: I’ve dropped the kids off. They seem to be enjoying my extreme hands-on parenting. They can’t get enough of it. Jesse went into her camp classroom and seemed happy to be there. In fact, she seemed glad to see me go, thus displaying the independence one associates with beautifully parented, self-confident children. Nick refused to let me enter his classroom. He kissed me in the hallway and said firmly, “mommy, you stop right there. Don’t come in!”
During the next two hours, I buy and deliver some donuts for the work crew at the house; hit Home Depot to pick up door handles and start spying out tile tools and toilets; stop by Trader Joes for some basic eats; run by the house to drop cold groceries off and get the dog outside to pee; and do some quick searches about tile on the computer. La la la.
11:45 am: I pick Nick up from his camp class and we head downstairs to find Jesse. She’s peaceful enough that we’re able to stay for half an hour after camp in one of the outdoor preschool classrooms (a play area, really). Other kids are there, including a little five-year-old named Charlie who’s wearing the same taekwondo “board break-a-thon” t-shirt as me. “Heeey!” he exclaims in delight, because we all train at the same academy. We bow to each other. “Pilsung!” He shows us his kicks. Jesse is a perfect senior taekwondo student: she praises him without exaggerating and encourages him with a big smile.
The kids get along really well. Superficially, Jesse and Nick are ideal children. They play cooperatively and without bossing; they watch out for the littlest ones and make sure they’re included; if a big kid takes something from a little kid, they go retrieve it and give it back; when someone’s hurt, they’re attentive and caring. But I have to watch Jesse like a hawk. She veers towards hostile with Nick a few times. I call her over each time I see her swerve and remind her to back off, make distance from Nick, and calm herself. Remarkably, she does it.
12:30 pm: carpenters and plumbers are busy at the house today, so I don’t want to take the kids home just yet. We head over to Qdoba and Noodles & Company. Jesse gets her new favorite lunch, a not-much-cheese chicken quesadilla, and we carry it next door to Noodles. After we order Nick’s lunch, we settle at a table outside. When the food comes, the kids are sweet and well-mannered, and Jesse remembers to say “thank you!” A few minutes later the server comes back with two giant chocolate chip cookies for the kids. “You are such well-mannered children and so sweet! So I thought you deserved a treat and wanted to give you these!”
Jesse’s face lights up — no, her whole body lights up with a brief, radiant moment of pride. She and Nick stare at the cookies greedily.
“Thank you so much!” I tell server lady. “You are so kind!”
And then I have to do the nasty deed. “But we can’t have the cookies because Jesse has a severe egg allergy.”
The kids’ faces collapse. I want to cry. I guess I could just say thank you and let server lady walk away, but it seems wrong to accept her generosity superficially and then throw out the cookies.
Server lady keeps a smile on her face, but the collective disappointment is palpable. Server lady doesn’t give up. “Oh I’m sorry. I wish there were some other treat we had that I could give you!”
I speak up, against my nature. I don’t like handouts and I don’t like asking for free things and it’s hard, but I do it. “Well… They can have your rice krispy treats, and I’m sure they would love it if they don’t have to share this one rice krispy treat that I bought.”
Server lady is on it. She’s back a moment later with a second rice krispy treat the size of a burrito. Jesse fondles it and declares that it is covered in love. It is the most delicious rice krispy treat ever. Jesse can’t wipe the smile off her face for a good five minutes.
1:30: We stop by home ever so briefly to pick up the kids’ iPads so they have something to do in the doctor’s office. Anything to keep them from playing with the toys in the waiting area. I will never understand toys in a pediatric waiting area. Germs. Why.
1:45: Jesse has two plantar warts that won’t go away, one on the ball of her foot and the other on the bottom of her big toe. Pediatrician Dr. Linsmeier gives those warts a hard burn with liquid nitrogen. Jesse has an extreme tolerance for pain and doesn’t shed a tear. The only evidence of pain is a single twitch and an almost inaudible mutter. “That hurts.”
Dr. Linsmeier shows the kids what’s inside the bottle she was shooting ice from. It looks like water. She does her magic trick and flings the contents across the floor! Most of the nitrogen disappears in an instant and a ghostly fog forms across the exam room floor. A few drops of nitrogen stay liquid and bounce around on the floor. Dr. Linsmeier is the most awesome doctor ever.
2:30: We head home. The construction crew is winding down and the house is a mess. Everyone is a bit tired, and I have to focus on cleaning up. Jesse struggles to keep it together. She spends some quality time outside by herself, and then she requests Alvin and the Chipmunks. Because she knows quality Hollywood when she sees it.
4:00: Daddy’s home!! Anthony has come home early because it’s school registration day. But first he and I discuss the eating bar that’s going in our future kitchen. There’s turmoil over its shape and depth, because the wall its abutting isn’t going to be as wide as originally planned and yadda yadda. I want Anthony to decide, since the bar is his thing, but he’s being weirdly fussy about it. This annoys me no end, and I think he’s feeling cornered somehow. I just want him to make all the decisions, and I want them to be good ones. Is that too much to ask?
4:30: Although Alvin is COMPELLING viewing, we pause the movie and drive over to the middle school where registration is going on. I have remembered that taking school photos at registration is a flashpoint for Jesse. She hates being directed to sit in awkward positions and being told to smile over and over. It makes her all crazy inside. Last year I ignored everything to do with school photos.
This year, I plan ahead. We talk about the hurdle. We see the hurdle, we decide to jump it, and we come up with ideas for how best to jump. No cows are involved.
Nick tries to help Jesse by demonstrating how to smile for the camera. It looks something like this.
Does she seem stressed out in this photo?
When it’s time to take the photo at registration, Jesse shows masterful emotional control. She grins, she smiles, she laughs, she goes along with the directions to tilt this way and that and turn this way and that. It goes super smoothly. I could not be more proud of her. Baby steps.
Nick also handles his photos well. He puts on his rictus grin and wiggles. Anthony tries to make him smile more naturally by being silly behind the photographer, and Nick responds in kind. He poses with his mouth wide open. He juts his hip and throws his hands up in mock surprise. The photographers are patient. “Let’s try again. Ok. Try again. Yup. Let’s try that again.” Nick is upbeat the whole time. Unlike Jesse, he doesn’t give a rat’s ass about the photos or the photo shoot. He truly, completely does not care. He doesn’t care that anyone else cares. He doesn’t care how the photo turns out. He’s just going along because he’s having fun watching all the adults try to make him do something he’s not doing. He’s a school photo sociopath.
5:30: We’re back home and it’s time for dinner. I have some aging thick-cut bacon in the fridge, along with chicken I took out of the freezer two days ago. It must be cooked. I fire up the grill and get the bacon on there on a cast iron pan. Quick marinade for the chicken, camping style: ketchup, soy sauce, vinegar, pepper, lemon juice, paprika. Done. I chop farmshare beets, potatoes and carrots to roast. I’ve also got a big cabbage from last week’s farmshare box, and I have to do something with it. So I make a cole slaw, with some onion, garlic, and grated carrot thrown in. The farmshare box also contained something that looks like dill gone to seed. I pull the seeds off and grind them up with a mortar and pestle. I don’t think it’s dill after tasting it, but I throw it in the slaw anyway.
While all this fantastic cooking is happening, random shit is going on around me. I lose track of interruptions. But overall, Jesse is doing really well. I’m still helicoptering and helping Nick and her manage things. It’s been Jesse’s best day in probably a full month, even though Nick is being more annoying than usual, and I’d like to bring it in strong. But something happens; I don’t remember what. Something Anthony says irritates me beyond reason. I step outside and spend 15 minutes or more wandering around the yard and pulling a weed here and there. Also collecting Japanese beetles in a little bucket of soapy water. When I come back in the house, no one seems to have noticed my absence. Excellent.
8:00 p.m. Watermelon. Everyone wants watermelon.
8:10 p.m. Jesse comes up behind me. I think she’s going to hug me. Instead, she screams as loud as she can directly into my ear. It’s excruciating and vicious. I refuse to accept her apology.
Everything unravels for the next half hour as Jesse refuses to follow directions, refuses to stay away from us, and does a lot of mean things — more screaming in ears, hitting and kicking, and a full-on tantrum that results in me putting her on the front porch. Eventually, she settles onto the sofa in the living room to read some of her book. Nick settles into bed in our one bedroom and watches an episode of Dinosaur Train while Anthony and I clean floors and get water and fold laundry. On one trip past Jesse, I ask her if I can give her a kiss goodnight. She shakes her head no. I’m filled with sadness. i try to hide it as I speak. Jesse, I wish you could come upstairs and be with us. If you can just be gentle. We all want you with us. We want you to share quiet evenings with us at bedtime.
9:00: Jesse comes upstairs. Not exactly meek, but she’s trying as hard as she can. It’s been a long day with a lot of little challenges, and she’s emotionally exhausted. I realize that I am too. She crawls under the covers and watches the end of Dinosaur Train. I sneak into bed next to her and spoon up behind her for a bit. I bury my nose in her beautiful brown hair, close my eyes, and whisper, “I love you, Jesse.” I don’t know if she hears me. I don’t know if she believes me.
There are a few yawps and threats, but Jesse hangs on by a thread and falls asleep in our bedroom with us. It’s the first time in a long time, and I’m grateful.