Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Breakthrough

When Pie was just over a year old, her happy-go-lucky personality vanished. She clung, she wept, she threw herself to the floor and screamed. Without warning, the comforting murmur of voices that had surrounded her since birth had arranged itself into words. Her world was full of new meaning and, like Jessica Rabbit thrust out of Toon Town into the three-dimensional world, she was homesick.

Bub responds differently to these seismic shifts in perception. As recently as a week ago, I assured the psychiatrist that he had overcome his pronoun-reversal problems. Now suddenly he is drowning in pronouns. His favourite game is Baby Bub: he crawls into my arms, fake-snoring, then awakens with an exaggerated start. “What happened?” he exclaims in well-feigned amazement. He is constantly asking to be carried these days, his requests always phrased in reverse: “Do you want me to give you a ride?”

The word “regression” has been trembling on the tip of my tongue. Out of nowhere, he has developed some odd mannerisms, replacing words with strange nods and shakes, his eyes staring off into space at tangential angles. Due to stress or sickness, he seems to have lost some hard-won ground, shrunk into himself, his eyes more vacant than usual, his attention more difficult to gain.

On Sunday after church, we saw a dog playing with some soccer balls. It was a big, overgrown yellow-lab puppy, boisterous and friendly, and when Bub ran towards him, cookie in hand, the dog knocked him down in a frenzy of adoration, burying his muzzle in Bub’s clenched fist. Bub emerged, shaken and crying. “Did that dog scare you?” I asked, and Bub collected himself sufficiently to offer a tearful and emphatic, “Yes!”

After nursery school on Monday, Bub was withdrawn, less willing even than usual to answer my questions about snack and circle time. He has never been able to narrate his experiences after the fact – at most he can answer direct questions with a quick yes or no. It’s not that his memory is poor – when we make our first trip to the beach in spring, he remembers unerringly his favourite toys from the previous summer, and where they are kept. Experience is transformed neatly into knowledge, filed away for later use. Retrieval is the problem: a visual cue may pull up a months-old memory, but he has difficulty remembering where he has been ten minutes after returning from the grocery store.

So I was surprised, to say the least, when we sat down to lunch on Monday and, his mouth full of peanut butter and pronouns, Bub asked, “Did the dog get you?” I swallowed my sense of shock and took his question literally.

Me: No, the dog didn’t get me – the dog got you!

Bub: (looking satisfied and taking refuge in the third-person) The dog got Bub.

Me: That dog really liked you. He wanted to play! But it was scary, wasn’t it?

Bub: (emphatically) Yes.

Pause.

Bub: Do you like dogs?

Me: Yes, I like dogs a lot. Do you like dogs, Bub?

Bub: (shaking head vigorously, but in an off-hand tone) No.

Me: You don’t like dogs anymore? That’s too bad. That dog wasn’t trying to hurt you.

Bub: Did the dog bite you?

Me: No, the dog didn’t bite me. He didn’t bite you either, Bub – he just wanted to eat your cookie.

Bub: (decisively) The dog bit Bub’s hand!

I don’t know if I can convey here how completely unprecedented this conversation was in its complexity and subject-matter. Bub can speak far more fluently than this when describing his present experiences or “reading” a book – his struggle was evident in every halting sentence, yet he was doggedly determined to continue, to capture in words the first experience that has refused to slide neatly into his filing system, has insisted on casting the shadow of memory on his present awareness. Since that conversation, Bub’s pronouns have remained ridiculously awry, but experiences have continued to bubble out of him: Ruby talked about apples at nursery school. I counted the apples – there were three. I played with Eamon. I read a wonderful story.

I can only imagine what it is like to emerge from the world of present experience, with all its pleasure and pain, into the only world I can personally recall, the one where the present is merely a sliver of awareness differentiating the burdensome past from the yawning vacancy of the future. Bub’s world has just gotten incalculably bigger – he has moved into four-dimensional time. No wonder he wants to fall asleep in my arms and awaken yelling, “What happened?”

49 comments:

slouching mom said...

That is FASCINATING. You are a keen, keen observer, my friend. What a lucky boy Bub is to have you quite literally looking out for him.

I think it's a step, a complicated, messy, halting step, but a step nonetheless.

And for him to attempt, on his own, to process emotional content! That, for me, is the true milestone.

Congratulations to Bub. It's tough sometimes, so tough, to be you. I think I understand -- in large part thanks to your bright mama.

slouching mom said...

And the world has turned on its side, for lo! I am first!

painted maypole said...

beautiful post. it reminded me of the post Aliki wrote about Liam... and how his brain just didn't work in the same way to recount things that had happened at school But that Bub is starting to... it must be eye opening and exhausting for all of you

Julie Pippert said...

With my children, I find that a step forward in one area can bring regression in another. I hear this is typical.

You see and know so much about Bub's world. He is lucky in that; it will steady him to have your unwavering support as he traverses his challenges.

And good for him with his progress. :)

Julie
Using My Words

Jenifer said...

You are a keen observer and how lucky for Bub to have such an understanding and insightful Mama.

What amazes me is that Bub might be struggling, but he certainly never seems to give up, he keeps trying to sort it out for himself in a way that makes sense to HIM.

You and Bub are clearly meant to be on this journey together.

Marie said...

What a perceptive mother Bub has. His progress is exciting! He sounds like such a neat little boy.

Karen said...

I completely agree, your description of what he is going through is riveting - and you paint so well how big yet scarcely perceptible are the steps he's taking!

flutter said...

This is so fascinating and it must just be heartbreaking and triumphant and so normal and not all at once.

Thank you for being here and for sharing your life.

Chaotic Joy said...

Just today I took Ben for lunch and he told me about his friends at school, by name. He told me what they played together, and what he liked about it. And I sat there and thought, this has never happened before. Usually it's like pulling teeth to get an "I played wif friends" out of him at the end of the day. But here he was popping with details and emotions.

And I came home wondering how I Could capture the wonder of that moment for me in a blog, and decided I wouldn't know how to describe what a big step this was for him. So I didn't.

But then I came here and you did. Not exactly the same as Bub, different in the ways they are different, but same in the way that it was monumental to me, while probably invisible to everyone else.

Lovely post. Good job Bub.

Lori at Spinning Yellow said...

I echo what Julie wrote. This happens with my daughter slightly, but my son, the one who has "issues", it is very apparent.

We often say, two steps forward, one step back. It's a developmental dance that some kids perform better, more smoothly and effortlessly, than others.

Hooray for progress!

kgirl said...

I'm not surprised that a 'traumatic' event would cause a little bit of regression like that. I'm also not surprised that you so keenly observed, nurtured and guided him through it as well.

Sarcasta-Mom said...

I totally feel what you're going through. Sometimes, when caught up in life, it's hard for me to stop and remember that G just doesn't process things the same way other people do. It can be frustrating, but when you finally see that progress, it's that much more rewarding.

Thank you for that beautiful post, and capturing what so many of us moms feel with our own differnt thinkers :)

AmandaD said...

We are each so precious, this was incredible, had me breathless.

Suki said...

BIG hugs, Mama Bubandpie!
Congratulations to both you and Bub. Hope he's doing better.

PS: I basically logged onto the blog to ask you how librarythings works. Is it simply a catalogue of book covers that we can display, or ebooks... what?

Rock the Cradle said...

It's so nerve-wracking at times watching our children. We have a love /hate relationship with both dogs and children the Impling's age (2 and 7 months). She is equally terrified of both if they startle or scare her. But hurdling the fear and talking it out...

You and Bub are doing some amazing work together. Amazing, strong work.

DaniGirl said...

Wow...
... about the experience as a whole
... about Bub's progress (and regression, and progress)
... about how you captured the moment so vividly

Blog Antagonist said...

I'm with everybody else. You are an amazingly perceptive Mom. Bub is going to be okay because you are going to make it okay. Sometimes, I wonder why in the world I was given Diminutive One to parent. And sometimes, I am convinced it's to teach me something. I think we are both lucky to have such amazing, unique, complex, enigmatic children to lead us on this journey of discovery.

Or at least, that's what I tell myself.

Bub's progress is heartening. And you are obviously taking pleasure in it, as you should. He's an amazing kid.

b*babbler said...

It's so good to hear that there are steps forward, even if they mean small regressions in other areas. And how good that you notice the improvements, instead of dwelling on what isn't there yet.

mcewen said...

Keep mining. The trap doors will open.
Best wishes

Laural Dawn said...

That is wonderful! I'm so happy for Bub.
I find with Matt that sometimes when he's hitting a different stage developmentally he reverts back to old behaviours (different of course). Like, just as we were starting toilet training he went back to biting which is an issue we have dealt with a lot.

I'm not quite sure why this happens - it's almost like it's a little much to handle so he goes back to something familiar.

It's easy for me to step back after the fact and see why he was doing something specific, but in the moment I am always baffled.

nomotherearth said...

I echo what everyone else has said, in that Bub is incredibly lucky to have you for a mom.

And congratulations to Bub who is making great strides. It's the big steps in life that always make us look backwards. It's completely natural.

Alpha DogMa said...

I love the imagery of his "What happened?" exclamations. What a wise boy you have.

Kyla said...

Oooooh. THAT is impressive. My mouth is hanging wide open! There was so much development in that small conversation. Amazing!

I see KayTar so much in your conversation. She isn't there yet, but when it happens, I imagine it to be much like this exchange.

It is so interesting how similar their acquisition seems to be.

Lawyer Mama said...

I love hearing about how Bub experiences the world. He's so charming, even in his difficulties.

Patois said...

I'm going to have to add more flame to the fire that is burning within you to say, "Aw, shucks!" What a lucky, lucky boy that lad is. It's as if God had a sensitive soul He wanted to ensure would turn out the best possible way, so He turned the soul over to you. I know that Bub faces challenges, but what a leg up you give him and Pie!

the individual voice said...

Amazing piece of writing and parenting.

Julie said...

I'm struggling for words here -- I am fascinated by Bub's progress and by his cognitive skills and struggles. I find the pronoun reversal so interesting: it's like he thinks / hears in a mirror. He literalizes what you SAY without creating mental spaces for the concepts of "you" and "me." I guess he has mental spaces for "Bub" and for "mom" but those don't overlap with "me" and "you." This post helps show that with such clarity.

Bon said...

that move into the plane of life as narrative, rather than just present...it's never occurred to me before how massive and bewildering it must be, in the moment. no wonder, indeed, he wants to play baby, to wake up safe and ask what happened.

you see so much, and are so generous with your empathy.

Beck said...

This post was amazing - good for Bub, and good for you for being so in tune with your child.

Swistle said...

This is such a great story. My firstborn (the one the doctor sent to be tested for Asperger's) did pronoun reversal, too, and he was so similar to Bub, this story makes me love Bub.

Aliki2006 said...

So beautifully, told, bub&pie--this glimpse into his world, and your frustrations and anxiety.

He might be dealing with some growth spurts--developmental and physical, that are making him temporarily seek shelter in some regressions, while others explode.

Mouse said...

It's an amazing thing to see that switch. I remember when Scooter's answers about the day went from canned (and therefore we didn't know if we could believe him) to an actual reflection of the day.

Here's to more conversations like this one (without the preceding traumatic event).

V-Grrrl said...

This is an amazing post. I'm so impressed with how eloquently (and elegantly) you were able to dissect and describe this cognitive change and its impact.

All I can add is WOW.

cinnamon gurl said...

Wow, this was such a fascinating post... Way to go Bub, and B&P!

Luisa Perkins said...

I see that as huge progress, not regression at all. Whenever there is a breakthrough, we lose other pieces for a while, then gradually regain them and integrate them into the new whole. Wow.

You're a great mother.

Janet said...

Lucky Bub, to have a mama so tuned in to him.

This post was a lovely way to start my day.

Julie Q. said...

Who needs a psychologist - you have more insights into Bub's mind than anyone on the outside possibly could. I like the way you end with the pretend sleepy head image. With all the mental leaps (and hops backward) their minds are making, it's no wonder kids seem so tired.

Mimi said...

Too too awesome! Yay for Bub.

Usually a developmental step forward can be accompanied by some backsliding in other areas right? He'll get the pronouns sorted out. How much more important that he can call the past back up into his mind, to puzzle it over in language like it was new all over again. Wow.

ewe are here said...

You know your son so well.

A little regression from time to time isn't that unusual I suspect. And he's had a lot of 'new things' to adapat to lately. He's lucky he has you by his side.

WONDERWOMAN said...

It really amazes how in-tune with your children you are, it's really inspiring.

Rae said...

Wow, I love reading about this experience through your keen eyes. You understand him well. Moms know everything.

Poppy said...

I love reading about Bub (and Pie of course, she's such a doll!)I find this journey your family is on fascinating. I ride the highs and lows with you whether you know it or not.

You're an amazingly in tune Mama to such an incredible boy.

Way to go Bub...you're such a special child.

bgirl said...

i'm crying reading this, oh how you have my heart. i had to catch my breath... i could swap out bubs name with my little one - i hope you don't think of it as regression. he is growing and experiencing new situations and will have new things to process and therefore new ways to cope.

there is so much i want to share with you, as i feel we are on the same road, look in front of you, that's me and my little dude around the bend up ahead. you have all my thoughts and support.

we too have a dog story...it's long so i won't go into all the details here, lets just say he was a little guy who'd been around dogs (ours included) since day 1 and one day a known dog barked too loud and his world went sideways...it was so extreme for some time, (serious role-playing, stuffed dogs, books, and more)and he talked and talked about it and now we are 85% back to the old days of LOVE for dogs.

and i am ready for the next time he loses his step b/c i know it comes back and leaves a wealth of belief and security in me and in himself.

Kit said...

My youngest at four still keeps wanting to be a baby - she seems nostalgic for that time of complete dependence and security.

Mad Hatter said...

Just as an aside, b/c I don't really know how to comment on the heart of the matter here, Miss M does that third person thing all the time. She is always telling us what we need to say to her: "did you want to wear a pony tail today?" "Would you like a plum?" Only recently has she started using "I" and when she does the sentence always begins, "Mommy, I would like a ..." If she is not using that phraseology, she can't seem to figure out the 1st person.

the individual voice said...

What I love most about blogging is that it is not gossip, and I have no clue to any of the answers.

the individual voice said...

Oops! Left my comment on the wrong post. Sheesh!

Susanne said...

Like slouching said, congratulations to Bub. I can no longer imagine how it is when the world suddenly opens up to a completely new kind of experience. I can only compare it to learning a new language and all of a sudden the songs that I have heard for years start to make sense where before there were only mere sounds.

And I love it when children can talk about things that bother them because then one can figure out how to help them to make sense of them.

Ally said...

I agree with slouching's comments. First, that you are such a keen observer, not just in what you see in your children but in how you interpret them. It is great to read about, and teaches me a lot about my own kids, too.