As a result of being stretched over his feet to his knees, lined up according to the edges of the linoleum right at the top of the stairs and plunked on the carpet, Charlie’s big green squishy ball was still green but streaked with gray streaks of lint, dust, bits of pine needles, and who knows what else that resides on a supposedly clean floor. It was barely a ball, the opening at the top ripped so that it had come to look like a dirty green Pac-manish blob.
In other words, kind of gross.
I know that one mother’s “gross” can be one boy’s favorite thing. I tried to rinse and pick out the collected grin from the ball, but its pristine green latex condition was never to be seen again. Yesterday was one of those days when hanging onto Charlie was one of my two main activities, the other being to try to figure out what set this off—yes, we had halved Charlie’s Zoloft dosage only to raise it up again on Sunday—but yesterday was one full day of twisting tantrum after twisting tantrum. What else had irked Charlie?
Jim and I had been noting that, last week, it had been much harder to get Charlie not to worry obsessively about eating certain foods and, most of all—especially when we were not home—about “geen squishy ball.” One moment he was smiling in the car at hearing a song he liked, the next I would hear “geen squishy ball” and note how straight up and tense Charlie was sitting, his eyes huge and his breath almost short.
And so yesterday afternoon I told Charlie that my mother had given him a brand new, shiney green, squishy ball and that it was time to give up the old squishy ball—-to let it go. Charlie and I both placed it in the garbage, I took out the bag and tied it up, while Charlie (more than understandably) started to cry. I felt more than extremely bad; I kept thinking about his anxiety over the ball had again and again preceded him throwing himself backwards on the floor and crying out.
It was time at least for a new ball.
When Jim came home and we decided to out for a car ride, Charlie had retrieved the ball from the (very tall and covered) garbage can but handed it over in full somberness when Jim asked him to. “We’ll find a place elsewhere for it,” said Jim. “How about getting dinner?” “Dinner,” Charlie said and—as recounted yesterday—we then had our first peaceful meal at a “real” restaurant in a long, long, long time. As we headed back to the car, Jim and I exchanged looks: Wouldn’t getting rid of the ball now spoil this peaceful ending after yesterday’s earthquakes?
“We’ll leave the ball over here,” said Jim, holding it up. Charlie reached into the air: “Daddy, Daddy, geen squishy ball”—and followed Jim over to a patch of dirt behind a wire fence. Jim set the ball on the dirt and he and Charlie walked back hand in hand.
Charlie asked for the ball and wrapped himself in his blanket, at first ignoring the shiney new ball, then taking it to bed. This morning, Jim put Charlie on the bus as I left early to teach my first class of the spring semester; whenever I could, I checked for a message from Charlie’s teacher, or glanced at my cell phone. None came except for a query if we would like Charlie to attend a field trip to see Charlotte’s Web. Charlie swaggered easily across the lawn after getting off the bus and, during his ABA session, his therapist had him place the new green ball in a special container, so he would know exactly where it was when it was not in his hands.
“By the rivers of Babylon,” sang out a voice from the CD player as we drove to get groceries. Charlie tarried extra-long in the sushi section and I remembered that, last week, the store had been almost out of sushi and had had no packs of the vegetable sushi (with distinctly green centers from a spinach leaf) that Charlie likes to take for an occasional lunch treat. He walked around the store, gathering up items and placing them in the cart, and carefully arranged two packs of sushi into a brown paper bag when the clerk directed him to. The new ball stayed in its plastic container as he ate dinner, grabbed my phone to talk to Jim and to “take” some photos when he pressed the camera key (I would post them here, but they are all very dark shots of the rug), asked me “turn on!” to see a photo slide show on my computer while munching a bag of this.
Said Jim on the ride home last night, “He’s freer.”
The new ball remained in the container when Charlie went to bed.