Cotton candy “ice cream” treats at my nephew’s first birthday party
A few days before, I was sorting through a bin of outgrown and forgotten toys – story blocks, McDonalds Happy Meal treasures, half a plastic shell from an Easter egg, fake bacon and wooden chunks of Swiss cheese. I set the bin aside, intending to dispose of most of its Made in China crapola at a time when Betty and Boo were safely off the premises, never to be the wiser.
Until, of course, they re-discovered these nostalgic treasures.
For the entire day – and I do mean the entire day – they played together downstairs in the basement, creating a restaurant called “The Peanut Place” with complete disregard and unwise marketing savvy in regard to the anaphylactic connotations such a dining establishment could conjure up. Its name was an homage to Betty’s nickanme bestowed upon her as a newborn.
They tromped up the steps, notepad and pen in hand, taking our orders for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and the all important, desserts and snacks. And then back downstairs again, to prepare the food, and then back upstairs, to present it with a flourish on pink plastic Princess plates.
There are times, I admit, that my kids seem to be growing up too fast, on the cusp of entering a world that seems to be a little too grown up for them. And yet, there’s a part of me that’s wondering if there’s some truth behind many of the comments I’ve been getting – from total strangers, mostly – who feel compelled to remark with what seems like increasingly frequency on how small my kids are for their age, how they look so much younger than almost 9, how we don’t always need to replace their clothes as often as other parents seem to.
With Boo, this is an easy assumption to make – and oftentimes, a logical one. He does act and look much younger than many of the 3rd grade boys in our midst, often speaking in baby talk that others left back in preschool and engaging in tantrums and overreacting over issues that his peers long ago resolved.
I chalk much of this up to their prematurity, a family tree chock full of ancesters who needed to stand on their tippy-toes to reach branches that were 5 feet tall, the reality show tendencies of our society to want to stick their noses into other people’s business and become self-appointed pediatricians and psychologists and experts on all things childhood.
And I watch as the parade of plastic food appears from the playroom kitchen. I’m grateful – oh, so grateful – that it’s a relatively peaceful day of everyone getting along, of no yelling or reprimands. I’m allowing myself the benefit of thinking that maybe, just maybe, the bankrupting and unreimbursed by insurance costs of social skills therapies is actually making a difference in Boo’s ability to play productively with his sister and – later on in the day, with a friend that appears at the door from a few streets over, inviting him over for an inpromptu playdate.
I find myself hating the pretend food, some of which was just purchased in June of this year at our children’s museum’s gift shop under duress by my well-meaning mother-in-law (“I know it’s for 3 years old and up,” she said, taking in my resigned look and closed eyes, “but he really wants it, and well ….”), hearing my heart break as I clean up the orange blocks of pretend cheese dip from the sofa, wishing I could toss out the bin of food and cursing myself for not doing so when I had the chance.
I should be grateful for this, I know, for this rare moment when brother and sister are playing together so nicely. I want to be able to let go of all this worry, to be that parent who can jump into their game and play along, to be in the moment – for I know this moment, right here, is all we have and all we can believe in. And yet as the food keeps coming, there’s something that isn’t sitting right with me, that’s keeping me on the sofa nursing my indigestion. Whether it is feeling that there’s something more to the strangers’ comments, whether it is my long-held fear that I will forevermore have a toddler-for-life on my hands, whether it is just a matter of the goddamned pretend food itself being a cursed reminder of so many Floortime sessions where we played out so many of these play schemes … I don’t know.
The food will stay, for now and maybe forever for all I know, and in the meantime, I’ll try to stash away some of my worries and fears, some of my resurfacing demons from the uncertain days and months that were the black hole era following the “he has clinical features of autism” diagnosis. I’ll take comfort – if only for a moment – in thinking that maybe the pretend food is nothing more than a nice memory for the kids, a bridge of sorts, a transition from one world to another, a comforting relic from childhood to fall back on when one’s bigger world seems too uncertain.
copyright 2010, Melissa (Betty and Boo’s Mommy, The Betty and Boo Chronicles) If you are reading this on a blog or website other than The Betty and Boo Chronicles or via a feedreader, this content has been stolen and used without permission.