ghosts of christmases past

Before I draw nearer to that stone, tell me! Are these the shadows of things that must be, or are they the shadows of things that MIGHT be?

~ Ebenezer Scrooge, speaking to the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come

Every once in a while, Brooke shows us the little ghosts of her Christmases past. An old behavior or routine that has long since faded out (or been painstakingly replaced) will rear its little head as if to say, “Hey, remember this? Remember when she used to do this ALL the time? Remember this phase that you tore your hair out over thinking it might never end? Or when you agonized over the thought that your sweet girl may never have the tools to overcome the constant frustration that caused this to happen?”

Last night, Brooke asked for some blueberries after dinner. I washed what was left in the container and explained to her that I was giving her all the blueberries that we had as I emptied them into her bowl. She scampered off to eat her stash, happily shrieking as she did.

As soon as she had finished them, she asked for more.

I explained (again) that she had eaten them all. I told her we’d get some more on our next trip to the grocer.

She asked for more.

I showed her the empty container, reminding her that they were all gone.

She asked – anxiously – for more.

Still displaying the empty container, I used the phrase that had been reinforced at school. “They are not available.”

She asked – angrily – for more.

I could see her getting agitated. Her shoulders were creeping up toward her chin. Her little body was tensing up.

I offered replacements. I held up grapes, bananas, a clementine. I reminded her to stay calm, take a deep breath.

I watched her helplessly as she lost control. Her eyes were pleading, confused. Her breathing was quick and shallow. She was making the loud hooting noise that she makes when words escape her (or, as they had here, just don’t seem to be working).

And then I saw it. The Ghost of Christmas Past. Like a little plaintive bird, she opened her mouth and desperately pointed into it. She made the awful, heart wrenching noise she used to make to signify hunger, jabbing her tiny finger into her open mouth again and again. It always looked to me like she was literally starving when she did that.

Seeing her back there – wordless, confused, desperate to be understood – was awful. I felt like I’d been hit with an anvil to the chest. Those imploring little eyes had haunted me for so long.

I felt a presence at my shoulder. The Ghost of Christmas Present chuckled a little. “We don’t see much of this around here these days do we?” he asked. A good point, sir. We surely don’t. “It’s pretty well out of character for her now that she has all of these glorious words that she can use at will.” He smiled at the Ghost of Christmas Past, who was shuffling his way through the back door. He then settled into a cozy spot by the fire.

Brooke calmed down with some help. She had a popsicle. Sugar free. Juice sweetened. What? Shuddup. Eventually we headed upstairs and settled in for the night. As I left her room, I passed a shadowy figure in the hall. I’d never seen him before.

He smiled and winked and said, “See you in a while. Trust me; you have a lot to look forward to.”

13 thoughts on “ghosts of christmases past

  1. Could you send the ghost of Christmas Future down here? I have a few questions. 😉

    I think since we are so on top of our kids everyday sometimes it’s hard to forget how far they’ve come so they “remind” us. I know Devin has made huge progress over the last few months but sometimes it’s hard for me to see. My friend comes over about once a month for dinner and she’ll point out he stopped doing X oh look he can do Z now.

  2. Lovely. Really captures the essence of “Everymom” IMO. I often find myself paralyzed with panic when I see something like this with Nik. Then he turns around and does something completely, unexpectedly stupendous to put it all back in perspective.

  3. I enjoyed this! I can’t speak for all, but it seems when the ghosts of the past re-surface with R, they don’t stay around too long. It’s disconcerting when an old habit returns, but we have a bit of confidence knowing that we have the tools to deal with it.

  4. I wonder what stuff like that means. Is is the mirror neuron dysfunction in her speech area, the idea I told you about? Maybe nothing you said made any sense; it was just a jumble of noise. If so, how did she finally get it? Maybe she never did . . .

  5. john, what i have seen is that strong emotion (most often fear, but sometimes the anger born of frustration) can stifle any and all learned skills and bring her (all of us to a degree) back to the most basic, stripped down forms of communication that we have.

    the somewhat abstract concept of there being no more berries in the house can be confusing – she’s fairly used to food stuffs and other items magically appearing from one of 3 refrigerators in this house and numerous storage areas, so it’s not that far fetched to expect, based on experience, that despite the empty container, that there would be a back-up somewhere. once the initial confusion led to frustration, it did indeed seem that my words were all but meaningless and that (thankfully temporarily) her access to language was all but gone.

    i think of how i feel when i am terrified, or extremely angry or even overcome with happiness or excitement. there is often a moment where i stutter, stammer, or lose my command of the language entirely. i regain it quite quickly, but it does happen. although not having blueberries is hardly catastrophic, not understanding why you aren’t being understood just might be.

    she tends to learn and take things in visually, like so many of our kids. she was likely distracted when I showed her the empty container in the first place and the information hadn’t gotten through. i was likely distracted as well and failed to reinforce the fact that there were no more berries. the reinforcement of the visual cues is HUGE for her. by the time i got around to SHOWING her the empty bowl again, she was escalating into frustration and didn’t have access to the info.

    the science i’ll leave to our friends at MIT.

    it’s 5am .. i’m rambling .. i hope this made at least some sense?

  6. I’ve been a silent reader for quite some time, about the time I began suspecting one of my three boys had autism. He has since received his clinical diagnosis, and I am still wrapping my head and my heart around what that means for our family. You write with such eloquence and sincerity that you draw people in. Thank you for sharing your story so honestly and with so much hope (your family is truly blessed). In many ways, you have been like that ghost of Christmas yet to come – my son is much younger, and I look at where Brooke is and think of what may eventually be. Thank you again for sharing – you make us cry at times, but you also make us believe in all that is possible! Best wishes . . .

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