September 20, 2013 by whirlyjoy
School is back in session. Mimi is in full-on existential middle school angst (“It’s just school and homework, school and homework, school and homework, day after day for years!”). I’m coasting towards a personal record of prepping the 4000th peanut-butter sandwich on whole wheat bread with little plastic cups of apple and cucumber slices for Aida’s lunch bag. And Aida couldn’t be more delighted to have her second go at eighth grade and perhaps blow them all away when she moves on from +1 addition problems to that next level…
She saw “school” reappear on her calendar when we turned the page to September, already quite a thrill, and then the Tuesday night after Labor Day and every school night since, as she climbs into bed, she reminds us to write on her bedroom whiteboard like this:
before laying back with the covers pulled up right to her chin and a big smile on her face.
Ellie G. and her Slovak Chef hang out here many Sunday evenings so that we can come down from the week together over drinks and Mimi can dote on their Sprite over Playmobil. Sometimes I have comfort food in the slow cooker or we order pizza, and sometimes Slovak Chef arrives with a big pot of aromatic something he finishes prepping on my stove. Either way, Aida has learned that company can mean interesting snack foods such as chips and dip (without the dip), or cheese and crackers (without the cheese) – so although she used to retreat immediately to the calm space of her bedroom when people would come over, these days she greets all comers avidly as they pass through the kitchen, unashamedly peering into any bags they have with them (including handbags, in which, as she knows from Nana’s example, goodies of all kinds from chocolate nuts to entire cupcakes might be stored).
Even if no such delicacies are immediately forthcoming, she’ll often sit with us now while she waits for her dinner time (6:00 on the digital clock on the DVR), cross-legged in Her Spot on the couch, which all savvy visitors to our home have learned to relinquish to her when she stands before them, even if they don’t understand her emphatic sign language request to “move, please.”
Interestingly, Aida’s spot is the same one claimed by the clearly not neurotypical Sheldon in Big Bang Theory – a steady devotion to the far-left of the couch. Ellie G. and I plan to have Slovak Chef help move the living room furniture one of these days when they come over – a sort of experiment to see if Aida chooses the same spot on the couch, wherever it is, or instead the seat closest to the corner of the room where “her spot” currently sits. Maybe I can gain further insight into my strange daughter’s preferences and desires this way? And anyway, it’ll be fun to watch her shocked reaction when she sees what we’ve done.
Once dinner is over, and having through repeated requests either ascertained that no dessert will be served, or settled the precise time at which she can expect one, Aida still generally takes her iPad up to her bedroom to be away from the bustle of visitors for awhile. This Sunday was no different, except she asked me to come up early and write on her board already:
because there’d been hardly more than a week of school so far and she wasn’t feeling fully confident that it would really be right back on the agenda tomorrow. She gave me a grin after I wrote in the details, and began scrolling through her beloved photo albums on the touch screen.
At 7:10 precisely, as I was considering seconds of the Chef’s borscht, she reemerged and thundered back down the stairs to the living room. “School bus?” she signed, with an expression full of hope. Clearly she could tell this was a long shot – but after all, she hadn’t invented this crazy time system where not all 7:10s are created equal, and Aida is nothing if not persistent about her wants and desires.
I’d briefly forgotten in a borscht haze how she masters digital time reading like a pro now, but hasn’t managed the AM/PM plug-in yet – even though this fact has given rise to a hard-and-fast rule for all caregivers (Don’t write any event after 8:30 on her nighttime board!), as I learned the hard way that if Aida wakes up and sees “3:00 swimming” written there in the glow of her nightlight, she will carefully gather her suit, towel and deodorant and come wake me up at 3 a.m.
When the sun comes out in Seattle, one of the things the natives do is head for Greenlake to walk (or run or skate or waveboard or scooter) the nearly three-mile circuit along the shore, in a park with trees and fields and little glimpses of wildlife, from turtle colonies to the occasional (when the goslings and ducklings are out in force) bald eagle. Over the years, we’ve worked Aida up to walking the full circuit at a relatively normal pace – down from the two to three hours it might have taken on those first arduous attempts at coaxing, bribing and threatening her into getting her exercise. These past efforts mean that this summer I was able to convince Aida on a couple of occasions to climb into the car for a walk around the lake before lunch – now in our matching sandals in the same Clementine size nine.
I draw attention to interesting sights along the way, accustomed to and trying to ignore Aida’s general air of either confusion or complete oblivion to what we show her. I know that part of this is simply a protective reaction to sensory overload, and I’m convinced that another factor is how her innate intelligence informs her very modular way of taking in the world. “Look, baby ducks!” I sign. “Baby duck,” she signs back, her brow furrowed in perplexity – because books and bathtubs have made it clear that baby ducks are bright yellow with chubby orange beaks and there are no creatures like that around here. “There mom goes with the random babbling again,” I can see her thinking – the same tolerantly condescending expression that’s in Mimi’s eyes these days when I exhibit my cluelessness by asking what a fandom or a hashtag is.
Soon after Icky McGreenboots started working for us she acquired Olivia, a tiny and adorable pug puppy that she would occasionally bring along to the house with her – to Mimi’s delight given her own enforced state of pet deprivation – and to Aida’s complete perplexity. “Look, a dog!” Icky told her the first time Olivia visited, a puppy barely larger than chipmunk-size. Aida looked at this crumpled little creature with the strangely heavy breathing and then at me, incredulously. “It’s a dog!” I repeated – a word that Aida had by then begun signing on her own when larger breeds would go by on leashes around the neighborhood. She creased her forehead worriedly. What was wrong with these people? This was obviously not a dog! “Cat?” she signed back, in an attempt to get us on a more realistic track.
“No, it’s a dog,” said Icky and Mimi and I in turn. We wouldn’t back down, and Aida did the only rational thing possible – left that pudgy cat to us crazies and went back to building a comforting Lego wall in a tidy color pattern between herself and a ridiculous world.