Lily, after a massive tantrum episode, chose to sleep last night on the small loveseat on the landing outside the kids’ room. (Long story short, she refused to make her lunch for school during the time Rob allotted for that duty, and then lost it when bedtime arrived and lunch was not made. And then some.)
Rory couldn’t take it. We kept hearing the “bang” of the door to their room (which slams when the windows are open) and the thump thump thump of dainty footfalls, until finally I passed the bottom of the stairs and heard Rory yelling to Sam. “Sam! Sam!”
I ran up. “What, Rory?”
“Why Lily not sleepin’ in here?”
“Lily couldn’t stay quiet enough, and so she can’t sleep with you all.”
“But I want her sleep in here.”
“She’s already asleep, honey. She’s right outside. She’ll sleep here tomorrow night.”
“Then I wan’ sleep in Lily bed.”
‘No.” No way–that would push Lily right over the edge.
“Then I wan’ sleep with you.”
Not happening, either. “Sam is here, and Wyatt is here, and Lily is right outside. Go to sleep.”
Rory finally did, and as far as I know, remained so. (I still consider it a minor miracle that neither she nor Lily came into our room last night, and just need to figure out what saint to light a candle to. Morpheus? No, I think for him I have to sacrifice a goat.)
This afternoon, though, something similar happened. I sat down with a book (a real, good example setting bound-on-paper book). Sam sprawled with a comic book on the couch next to me. Wyatt was inspired to find a book of his own (a Scooby Doo picture clue book) and there we sat ( do, please, picture me enjoying an inner smugness about my boys! Reading!). Rory appeared. Surveyed us. Was disturbed. “Wyatt, will you play chess with me?” (Don’t picture any smugness here, their method of playing chess is perhaps not the classical version.) Nope. Nor will anyone read to her, throw a ball or anything else. Eventually she resorted to a sort of spinning on one foot that is hard to describe, and almost indescribably annoying, and makes me want to tell her to just GO to the potty already.
These two things may seem unrelated, but they’re not. What it boils down to is that a Rory who doesn’t know what is expected of her–a Rory who isn’t given a task, who doesn’t have someone set up to interact with her, a Rory faced with people doing unexpected things–is not a comfortable Rory.
Last night was surely partly that despite the preceding tantrum and misery, Rory was unsure if Lily was somehow getting a privilege. Was sleeping out on the loveseat perhaps desirable? Or might our guilt regarding some unfair treatment of Lily lead to a privilege for her? This afternoon, though, Rory was just uncertain. She can and will sit and look at a book, but would that be the right thing to do? Lily wasn’t doing it. And it’s generally not her favorite activity. It’s just too inactive. Rory usually sits and looks at a book when the alternative is just sitting and LISTENING to a book. Or if I TELL her to sit and read a book. Then she does it happily. But to choose it, at an unusual time of day, clearly threw her off.
Later, when the space on the sofa next to me opened up, she tried it out. Sat down next to me, with Wyatt’s book, and looked at the pictures and sang the ABCs (Wyatt had been reading out loud, although to himself, not to me). Then she turned to me. “Is that how you do it, Mommy?”
I don’t think she meant, is that how you read these words. She could see that those were pictures of Scooby and Shaggy, not the ABCs. I think she meant, “is that how you sit and read? Is that how I should be, if I sit next to you with a book? Am I doing this right?”
And those, in some way shape or form, are things Rory seems to ask herself constantly. She thrives in school, and always has, in part because it’s so clear how to “do it right.” Family life is so much harder to get a grasp on. I picture life in her foster family as having been somewhat regimented (in the nicest possible way). There were at least 8 kids her age from the time she was aware of others at all, all lining up, I think, to wash their hands and eat and color. I am sure there was plenty of free play time. But when it came to doing something else, I am also sure that someone told her what to do and made sure she did it. I can’t see how else it would have worked.
And so, even two years later: “Is that how you do it, Mommy?”
Is that how you snuggle? Is that how you sit for reading? Is that how you sleep when the bed next to you is unexpectedly empty? How you greet Mommy after school? How you ride in a car? How you are one of few beloved, permanent kids in a family instead of one of many loved but rushed kids making your way through a home with 28 kids and ten assorted changing adults?
Yes, my love. Yes it is. However you do it is how you do it, but I am still happy to show you how.