Winter came on Sunday. Seems like a Dr. Suess announcement.
Julia woke up a bit before 8 and announced, “Snow. It’s snowing.” I am never crazy about the first snow. Not the snow so much as the driving. Sometime in a month or so, I’ll be ready to drive through blizzards and on inches of ice, but that first snow fall . . . All I want to do is light a fire, drink hot cocoa and huddle under my crocheted Afghan on the couch.
The snow puts the period on cleaning up those last “few” leaves that have blown onto my lawn and into my garden bed. It also may have put a period on outside decorating. Christmas lights. I’ve wanted to do it for a few days, wanted Julia’s help in holding while I tied on. She wasn’t enthusiastic yesterday and I foolishly thought we’d do it today.
Snow also reminds me to get serious about winter. No more dashing out without hats and gloves and scarfs. Remembering to wear the heavier shoes which keep out the damp more effectively than my fall clogs and certainly my sneakers.
This morning, as we sat shivering in the car, I was reminded that when David left the house before I/we did in winter, he would turn on my car and warm it up. Yes, it was a waste of gas. But also yes, we were usually right behind him. It was a small kindness that I shared with Julia. Of course, she does not remember. No matter, I shared it hoping that one day . . . what? Stories about her Daddy are almost the stuff of legend. They are from so long ago now. However, perhaps she will do someone an unnecessary kindness or appreciate one done for her.
Very recently, I’ve been talking to Julia about conversations and sharing our lives and being good friends. Asking Julia about most anything, except Sonic the Hedgehog, Harry Potter and certain dinosaurs, is a practice in persistent, resilient questioning. Not for the faint of heart.
Me: How was your day?
Me: What did you do?
Me: What kind of work did you do?
Me: What did you do in Math?
Etc., etc. More elaborate questions do not elicit more elaborate answers. Likewise, asking for description gets nothing more.
Some will immediately say, ‘my 15 year old is just the same.’ Yeah . . . but no. Perhaps your 15 year old is like that with her parents but watch her text with her BFF or stay up all night giggling and talking at a sleep over. I’d have no trouble with those one word answers if some of that over activity was going on. For Julia, however, it is me, together with her teachers and therapists, who have conversations with Julia. And if she is not talking to me, she is communicating with no one.
But then . . .
Recently, I’ve noticed that Julia is more available to talk about concepts, like conversation and friendship, and willing to try to make changes. Julia still wants friends, she still does not have the tools to make friends. So, yesterday, I started explaining why conversation was so important. I started by asking her if she wanted to share her experiences at school or anywhere else with me and she answered, quite frankly, “no.” I asked if she EVER really, really wanted to share something with me and again she answered, “no.” When I pressed her, she admitted that she only answered my questions because I insisted. She didn’t say to get me off her back but that was the implication. This was no surprise to me but a good jumping off point.
As an aside, I have to admit that understand just a bit of her self-containment. There have been times and subjects that I haven’t wanted to share with anyone. Hard as it might seem to some, I have spent considerable time extremely quiet. But for me, like people who are merely self contained like David was or are shy, self-containment is a choice. Tools for moving out into the world of communication are at our fingertips. It might be hard to use them, the tools may be rusty, dusty, even somewhat broken but they exist. For Julia, there are very few existing tools and very little pull to learn conversation for its own sake. The big carrot, the only carrot is friendship. She wants a friend badly enough to listen to my lesson and she has the longing for a friend even though she doesn’t understand much about friendship. It feels like a very primal desire, the desire of a baby to walk, to pull herself up to her feet even when her legs don’t support her.
I explained how conversation like the kind I want to have with her is about sharing our lives with each other. And being willing to share our lives helps us make friends because friends want to be a part of our lives. At that point she asked if she could have a friend without sharing her life. I didn’t hesitate and told her a firm ‘no.’ I was instantly reminded of my younger self. I struggled with stuttering so much when I was a youngster. When I learned about American Sign Language, I imagined learning it and never having to speak again. I thought I had solved all of my problems but realized much too soon that unless I lived in a completely deaf community, I’d still need to speak. I also saw that some deaf people spoke while they signed. I remember thinking: sign solves nothing!
Then I told Julia a bunch of other things: that I like sharing my life with her and with my friends, that it might be hard to practicing sharing her life but that she might learn to enjoy it (well, maybe), that I wanted her to practice conversation with me because if she learned to like conversing with me, she would like it with others, and that conversation, like cello, would get better with practice (her really great cello lesson yesterday made a good point). We then did some practice and for awhile it didn’t go any better. I had her ask me the questions and gave similar one-word answers and then asked if she knew anything about my day. She admitted she didn’t. I didn’t ask her if she wanted to know more than my one word answers. We went back and forth practicing questions and answers, practicing conversation. She improved with her answers after a few times, not incredibly but somewhat.
Talking to other people is another hurdle and for all of our practice yesterday, when we had dinner with a neighbor, she was no more forthcoming under friendly questions from someone she knows pretty well than usual. But globalization always lags way behind.
This morning before she jumped out of the car to go to school, Julia said that when I picked her up, she would share her life with me. I don’t know whether that will happen but I was very happy that she remembered our conversation.
And so, it just continues.