I don’t think it will surprise you to know that obsidere, the Latin root word of “obsession,” means “besiege”—-especially if you have every spent any time hearing your child who has autism say some word, some phrase what seems like a hundred-plus times in a row, or when everytime your look up or glance back into the kitchen, you hear the clank of all the glass and plastic on the refrigerator door clank: Someone has opened it again and someone‘s fingers are in someone‘s mouth……
I caught Charlie red-handed (he was going for the ketchup bottle shortly before bedtime) several times tonight—after I had walked up the stairs to see a pajama-clad boy reaching up into the cabinet for a plate and picking up a bottle of Heinz’s he had just removed from the refrigerator.
Last Wednesday morning—before the Wrecking of the Tapes—I had found Charlie licking ketchup off his fingers. The plate on the counter was nicely finger-painted in regular red streaks. The ketchup bottle was almost empty and was readily dispatched into the trash—-but the bottle tonight was fully loaded and somehow going to bed on a stomach filled with ketchup straight up followed by melatonin did not seem like a recipe for the best of school days tomorrow (or of a good night sleep tonight, but perhaps I think too much like a mom……).
I asked Charlie to put away the ketchup—-“it’s kind of late, 9pm!”—and he glumly assented. I sat down to repair a tear in the lining of my coat—heard that familiar footfall and the clank…..—“Charlie…….”—heard the door shut.
Three minutes later, heard the football and the clank again, but a much slower response to my “Charlie!”
This went on for a few rounds. Perhaps some drive for the taste of Heinz had settled upon Charlie and was drawing him, again and again, to the refrigerator; I found myself feeling something more than beset by the back-and-forth he and I were locking ourselves into in an edgy cat-and-mouse game. And if I might seem to be the cat guarding the cheese while the mouse artfully dodged past, in reality it was Charlie who was the leader of this game of catch-me-eating-ketchup-if-you can.
On the one hand I felt like cheering: Charlie, in some display of theory of mind, was quite attuned to when I was and was not paying attention, and of what to tell me so that he could have the kitchen all to himself (“Mommy, stairs. Moof, Mommy.”). He grinned just enough while keeping one eye fixed on me (I know because when I looked up, there he was looking at me while reaching for the red stuff) to let me know he’d fooled me once again. (Why do mothers so often think their child will do as they say?) On the other hand, I felt a sense of rising aggravation: I liked being neither cat nor mouse.
So I reminded myself, don’t be either. I smiled just enough, requested for Charlie to yet again put away the ketchup, sat down with my coat and needle and thread in the dining room, a yard away from the refrigerator.
Charlie appeared once more. I remembered something. “What about we pack your lunchbox?” I asked.
“Lunchbox, yes,” said Charlie.
“With a bread,” I said.
“Yes, bread,” said Charlie.
“And some of that chicken from yesterday.”
“Eat sick-kenn, lunssbox, yes.” Said Charlie, appending the name of one of his school aides (a young man whom Charlie often talks about). And, after a few springs on the couch, collected his blanket, calendars, ball, and an old pair of my flip-flops; arranged everything on his bed or on the floor beside him; told us “goo night!”
When we lived in our own, old house, we simply did not have things like ketchup, relishes of varous sorts, Wonder bread, etc., etc., that are my in-laws’ staples. It was easier not to have to teach Charlie not to lap up full plates of ketchup—-but, while I do have to keep a closer eye on any kitchecn shenanigans, Charlie has been learning some important lessons: You don’t have to eat it all (a whole plate of brownies) at once. Save that for Grandma. That rice is dinner for Veronica, my in-laws’ live-in nurse.
“Ketchups” and nervous “I wants” were not what Jim and I heard Charlie saying as he settled down to sleep. He was singing: “We aww wiffv inna yal-low summarine, a yal-low summarine…..”