This is a story about my nephew, Kane, who just turned 7 years old. About the things we have in common, and the ways that he helps me be good.
* * *
We rarely just say Kane, but rather Kane-o, and he is an odd bird, one of my favorites. Didn’t really talk until 3 or 4, won’t eat anything that’s not a cereal bar without extreme goading. Getting him to eat a single bite of apple required intense negotiations, and even then he chews it the exact way you or I would if forced to eat a spoonful of diarrhea, with his hand in front of his mouth to prevent himself from spitting it out. Still, he’s a sport about it, dutifully eating his fruit and veg. He wants to be a doctor someday.
Kane is incredibly affectionate and sweet, quickly befriending anyone who shows him kindness or attention. “I love you, Auntie Sarah. You’re my best friend,” because I sit and read with him on the couch. Or, “I’m sitting with my best friend Auntie Sarah,” announced to the room, after I offer him snuggles because Ollie punched him in the chest. This is not specific to me–anyone can quickly become his best friend, and yet that somehow doesn’t make it any less sweet or sincere.
Kane likes to have Harry Potter read to him, though–as Sam pointed out–he doesn’t really seem to follow the story at all. All he’s concerned about is that you’re moving forward in pages, which he keeps Rainman-like track of in his head. You literally never need a bookmark, since Kane always remembers what page you were on last, even after hours or days.
Sometimes while reading I’ll ask him what words mean, to try and keep his focus:
Sarah – “ ‘Harry began to feel ill’–what does ill mean?”
Kane – “Uhm…Sebastian? What does ill mean?”
Sebastian – “Uh…it, like, means, like, sick, or whatever.” (Teenagers!)
Kane (to me) – “It means like sick.”
He does this with every word, while Bastian and I smile. I think secretly Bastian is pleased to be considered an authority, especially in matters concerning Harry Potter.
Kane-o is 6 but relates most with Ollie, who’s 4 (as opposed to Rosie or Isaac, who are 8). They play together well, mostly, but tattle on each other nonstop, often over non-issues (“Kane-o’s reading a book!” / “Ollie’s not eating his carrots!”), and we are all so over it and have said “Use your words to talk it out” and “You just worry about your own self” more times than I can count. Sometimes they hit each other, though, and then we do Time Out.
* * *
This day what happens is that they climb all over the couch, smushing it up, which unnerves me. Getting ready to go to a museum, I ask that the boys help fix the pillows (of which there are SO MANY, Mom); Kane-o declines, without comment. Ollie helps, trying to motivate Kane (“Kane-o! It’s okay! We’re helping!”). But Kane throws a pillow–attitude–which accidentally grazes Ollie, and is obviously enough to end the world.
So we get a timeout, for resisting clean-up, and then throwing, and that’s when Kane-o REALLY blows: “God dammit mother fucker stupid shithead!” with a hand gesture that’s like the “Rock On!” symbol, or like SpiderMan shooting webs. But from Kane, we know it means “Fuck you!” And so timeout is extended, and then extended again, after he lets loose another impressive string of swears, instead of apologizing to Ollie. And on and on, for maybe 5 minutes.
I stay patient, calm, clear with my explanations of what was happening and why. Though rarely and barely able to stem the flow of my own overwhelming emotions, I can be good in a crisis. I can be solid while somebody else crumbles, especially if it’s a child.
By the end, Ollie is standing next to the Time Out spot, where I’ve called him over, while Kane-o lays on the floor, on his back, stiff, eyes terrified, mouth taut, breath rapid, barely able to eke out an “I’m. Sorry. For. Throwing. A. Pillow.”
“That’s okay,” chirps Ollie, already off on his merry way. I pull Kane-o up to standing and he continues the motion, falling forward into my arms and already shaking with sobs. “Do you need to be held?” He nods yes, I pick him up, easily, as he’s bird-boned.
While he cries, I walk around, swaying gently, talking to him, trying to soothe. “It’s scary to feel so out of control isn’t it?” He nods, and I think of all the times I’ve come back from the brink: shaken, shamed, and uncertain. A few weeks ago I threw beet greens on the floor, so unable to contain my hurt and frustration, yelling at my Moms and then crying, inconsolable, for hours.
“I know I don’t like when I feel like that.” And then, for both our sakes, “I think everyone feels like that, sometimes.” He tightens his arms around my shoulders.
* * *
On the road, in Colorado, I was hit by a wave of anxiety and depression so complete that I slept for days on end, waking to the disappointment of continued consciousness and praying for sleep to return, rolling me in its thick, merciful, obscuring blanket. Cried hours into the bedsheets, embryo-shaped, contracting around a center of pain and pity, meditations on all my own awfulness.
Outside, I could hear sounds of merriment, signs of life, people dancing and singing, teasing children, drinking whiskey, making and eating Pho, together. I felt no jealousy or resentment. Just the plain knowledge that they existed so far beyond my realm, and sadness at that thought.
I could hear that people were, but the best I could do was to seem, to appear, and I was too tired even for that.
How long could I lie hidden, without raising suspicion? My sickness showing through every crack, and I burned with the shame of people’s curiosity and concern, unable to even make eye contact. Unsure of my place in the conversation, my point of re-entry to the human race.
I think the hardest thing, sometimes, is to be forgiven, which is to say: to forgive yourself.
* * *
“Nobody’s mad at you, Kane-o.”
“They’re not?” more sniffles, optimistic disbelief. The best I have to offer him right now is love, and an open palm. An invitation.
“Of course not, sweetie,” I say, swaying. “We just don’t like it when you feel so out of control. We want you to be calm and happy. We want you to be here with us.”
“Nobody’s mad at me?” head heavy on my shoulder.
“Nobody’s mad, I promise.” Tighter arms, like a hug; I squeeze back. “You ready to be put back down now?” No, he shakes his head, not yet.
But then in a little bit he was.