The Saturday before that, March 8th, was awesome too. Jonah’s birthday was the day before and he’d already had two parties – one in his classroom and one at his residence. My mom brought him three Happy Birthday balloons and I brought him a Buddha shirt I’d grown out of and a bunch of “octopi.”
He also got The Jungle Book DVD from Grandma – his new favorite movie (though he still adores Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory from 1971) and a whole bunch of birthday cupcakes. In this 21 second video you can see him surreptitiously steal two more cupcakes whilst cramming one in his mouth — then he neatly arranges them on the plate just before the video ends. Luckily there were more in the fridge. I am narrating and I sound like a little kid:
But yesterday was even better. Andy had taken him the night before, as he often does on Friday nights, and Jonah had been really good and cooperative for him. I spoke on the phone with him that evening and Jonah used one of his full sentences: I want pepperoni please. He even told me he loved me without me saying it first. I love you mama.
So when my mom and I arrived for our visit, we were in a hopeful mood, anticipating a happy time. Jonah was excited but not super screechy or manic, as he can sometimes be. He sat at the table with us for quite some time, eating his “tune-fish sandwich” and chips with a juice box, then he requested car ride.
There’s a loop Andy and I take on the car ride, to the recycling center (transfer station) and around by the river before going back to his apartment. Usually Jonah is in the back relentlessly requesting music on?! which always means “turn it up!” but this day he was content with the volume. Usually Jonah wants more car ride, meaning two loops, but this day he was content with one. Even more amazingly, at one point I turned to see how he was doing in the back; he smiled and cocked one hand back as if to hit me. I caught my breath and waited for what he used to call swat, for some reason not stopping him. When his hand came down he simply touched my head, spreading his fingers to comb through my hair, again and again. I nearly cried – he has never, ever, made a motion to hit me and touched me gently instead.
When we returned to the apartment he wanted bath, and went to the toilet first, crouching on it in his weird little way, both feet planted on the seat with his skinny little butt hanging down into the bowl. After that he had fun in the bath, splashing around a little but quite pleased just to get clean and play with one of his octopus pals and the bubbles, and he even refrained from splashing water all over the floor and walls – a rare thing indeed.
In typical Jonah fashion he sprung from the tub and ran wet into the bedroom, jumping on the big blue bed. I chased him with a towel and captured him in my arms, drying him off while he squirmed and giggled. Then he got under the covers and put his head on a pillow, asking for quiet time. So I climbed under the covers about two feet away on another pillow, and we faced each other, both of us smiling.
He got this little cat-ate-the-canary look on his face and reached his arm out to try to fish down my shirt and cop a feel, but I just laughed and tickled his underarm, making him withdraw the arm, giggling. No mama boobie, he said, as if reciting something he’d learned and repeated many, many times. That’s right, I told him. No touching mama’s boobie. But then it became a game, and I played along, tickling him every time his arm reached out to me. Finally he sighed and, with a small smile, tucked his thumb into his mouth and hooked his pointer finger over his nose. I imitated him (God how I loved sucking my thumb when I was little) and our eyes met, both of us grinning behind our thumbs.
He doesn’t suck his thumb that much anymore, though, and only did so for a few moments before reaching his hand out to me once more. I thought he wanted to play our little tickle game again but this time he repeated what he’d done in the car – gently he touched my hair, finger-combing its length in different places and messing it up a little.
Very good boy, he said.
Yes, Jonah. Yes, you are such a sweet, 12-year-old, very good boy.
He was dry enough then and I handed him his clothes to put on – something he can do all by himself now, though he will often ask I need help please with socks and shoes. He even wanted a certain shirt – the Willie Wonka one my friend K had given him for Christmas. We went in the other room and he asked for The Jungle Book, which we gladly put on the DVD for him. Then we danced around to I Wanna Be Like You, spinning, holding hands, and laughing.
After that he asked for train, and I knew he wanted to watch trains on the computer. Thanks to all the railfanners in the world; they make very long videos comprised entirely of different trains coming and going. There are an endless supply of these videos on You Tube, so Jonah tells me which one he wants – pointing and saying I want that one please (he’s just going by the photo), and I put it on.
This is a great discovery, as he will sit transfixed for 20 or 30 minutes watching the thrill of the train signal, the lights and bells, the striped gate moving down into its horizontal position, the approach and increasing sound of the engine, the cars whizzing past (usually decorated with graffiti), the caboose growing ever smaller as it moves away, and the striped gate going back up into stillness — only to be followed by another train, and another train, and yet another…a virtual parade of locomotive ecstasy into which Jonah happily disappears.
It was the first time since we brought him to Anderson on that hot day in August 2011 that I really, really wanted to take him back home. I didn’t cry when we left but I could have easily done so, tears of joy and tears of longing. I know in my heart this could just be a swing of the pendulum, though the swings are growing slower and smaller, like those little silver-ball motion machines on desks of executives that tap tap tap until the tapping becomes imperceptible and finally stops altogether. I also know he is where he is supposed to be, the best place for him to continue on the path to independence, learning appropriate behaviors, and growing into his full potential with people who are educated and dedicated to helping him do just that.
I don’t want to think about it too much aside from feeling an enormous gratitude for the Anderson School and its staff — for Jonah’s daddy, for my mother, for all the persistence and patience and learning and love Jonah has received since we broke our hearts in two and left him behind to live with strangers… trusting, praying for them to love him, pleading with divinity to watch over him.
And now I have nothing to say but thank you, and nothing to remember about this visit but joy. It is an astounding, beautiful thing. My sweet little Boo. My baby-est angel. I love him more than anything in this world.