Friday, December 30, 2011

The Talk

Do the math:

Two fifty nine year olds plus three days plus one five year old equals total exhaustion!! Wow. Right now Joe is driving Ruby up to meet her Mom at her Aunties place, I am sitting in an apartment which is very quiet and really empty. How can someone so small make so much noise and take up so much space and devour so much energy? Further, how do parents do this every day!?! But her visit here was a real gift to us and we enjoyed every minute of it. We know she did too because she had to give us three hugs, plus two, before she left, then she asked when she was coming back again. So that points to a successful trip.

I think it was successful because we organized ourselves and activities with her in mind. It was easy to do this as we have control over our time during the holidays and, it has to be said, I'm a planner. It's no surprise that I ran summer programmes for kids over three summers in my youth. I liked it then, I like it now. But the biggest part of the planning needed Ruby's involvement, understanding and active consent. It was about safety.

Our biggest worry about taking care of a five year old child was due to the fact that I'm a wheelchair user and Joe has really bad knees and one really bad foot. Neither of us are agile enough to go running after a child. This makes us less than perfect choices to be child minders. We've set a kind of relationship with Ruby that we would only have rules that made sense - no arbitrary use of the adulthood's power here. Further, we have made sure over the years that Ruby was consulted on things that had to do with Ruby - we wanted her to have a voice and use it. So, with that groundwork laid, we had the talk.

I chose a moment just after Ruby had had a lot of fun and had been laughing at our antics. I asked her to come and sit down in the office chair because we had to have a talk with her. I chose this moment because she knew we'd all been laughing so she'd know, automatically, that she wasn't getting a 'you're in trouble now' talk. She sat down and looked at me seriously. Joe had come in and joined, we had planned this moment and he had waited for the cue.

I spoke to her very seriously about the fact that we were all going out together that morning. I talked to her about my being in a wheelchair and Joe not being able to run fast. We talked about safety and about how people only have fun when they feel safe. So we then talked about what would keep her safe and what would make us happy. In the middle of this she piped up and said that she once got lost in a mall for a few minutes and she was really scared until her mom and dad found her. This was perfect and a great contribution to the conversation. So we prepared for the subway and for crowded stores. She agreed that she'd either hold Joe's hand or the arm of my wheelchair. She agreed that at other times she would always be in our sight and never far away. Those were the rules. Simple rules.

I asked her if she understood and she said that since I couldn't run after her and because Joe had bad knees she had to help us take care of her. I knew from that answer that she understood. And it showed in her behaviour for the whole trip. We only once had to call her back but, even then, she wasn't far and she listened immediately. During the whole time being together we all cared for each other. She knew that we wanted her to be safe, we knew that she wanted to be helpful. It worked.

Being upfront with Ruby about my disability and about what we needed was easy to do. It was easy because I don't see my disability as a negative, never to be discussed, but as simply being a fact that needs to be considered. I didn't present my disability as something bad, just something that needed to be adapted for. She understood her place in the scheme of our relationship as one of being both a child and as a partner. The child could laugh, play silly games, make funny jokes while the partner took responsibility for following a couple of rules and keeping herself safe by being alert and aware. I think she liked the responsibility, I think it made the fun more fun and the silliness more silly.

Now, I'm going to slide into the silence and take a nap, maybe two.


Belinda said...

Oh, enjoy the peaceful afterglow! It's worth it all but it is exhausting.

Tamara said...

Proactive, simple, honest ... good stuff! The energy thing - I still remember my grandmother shaking her head as I came up to her back porch jumping rope ... which I had been jumping all the way from my house ... I think I was on 500 ... She was wishing she could bottle up my energy - and I wish she had so I could have a little back now!

Glad you all had such a good visit. I'm sure Ruby will treasure it forever. Happy New Year, Dave & Joe! Hope 2012 is full of wonderful moments.

Elasti-Girl said...

It sounds like you have made a wonderful & lasting memory for the 3 of you; well done! <3

Princeton Posse said...

It sounds like you all had a wonderful time. I wish I had a "Dave & Joe" in my life when I was 5.

kstableford said...

You two are the coolest Uncles ever!!!

wheeliecrone said...

May I just say, as a parent of grown children who seem to have turned out very well, that you and Joe made very good decisions about your care of Ruby. Treating a child with respect is always a good idea. Coupling that with a sense of responsibility for her behaviour and reasons for that behaviour was an approach that clearly was appropriate for Ruby.
Now, I suggest that you and Joe undertake a rigorous programme of naps, rests and cups of tea.
And Happy 2012 to both of you!

Susan said...

What a difference you're making in that kid's life.

And what a difference she's making in yours.