“Can I have tuna today?” asked Benj plaintively, knowing that he’d pretty much already reached his two-servings of mercury fish a week.
I decided to look the other way today. “Can’t you make it yourself?” I was tired from a long bike ride; besides, why can’t he make his own, at 12 years old?
Ben shuffled off, mumbling that he’d make it later, meaning, he’d wait until I was ready to make it.
Meanwhile, Nat had been running into the kitchen and then out again, telling me non-verbally that he, too, wanted to eat. So I got a 2-bird killing idea: have Nat make it. Whatever part of it he does, it would help me out. “Nat, can you make some tuna?”
Nat pivoted elegantly into the kitchen and pulled down a can. His face was tense; he was just as happy to make his own lunch as Ben had been. He half-heartedly looked in the wrong drawer for the can opener. “Oh, it’s in the silverware drawer,” I said, without helping any further. Let him ask for help, I thought. That’s what I’m supposed to be doing these days: not doing so much.
Nat got the can-opener and I asked, “Do you know how to use that?” immediately forgetting what I’m supposed to be doing, i.e., not doing.
“Ye-es,” he said, which usually means, “not really.” But I watched him puncture the lid, and I pressed his hand down a little bit more, and then he did the rest. “Can you drain it?” I asked, my voice trailing off as I watched him drain it. He looked for a bowl. “Oh, you can use one of those green bowls,” I said. Shut up, Susan! He got the bowl and dumped in the tuna. “You can use a fork to get the rest out,” I said. At this point, I figured it was okay for me to keep instructing, because I wasn’t doing any of the work, and it seemed like all I was doing was giving him the tiniest nudge of help.
But I now restrained myself. The mayonaise. Hidden in the depths of the crowded, over-stacked refrigerator. I have “bad refrigerator etiquette,” as my Dad calls it when you just place stuff haphazardly (tupperware container of spaghetti balanced on the top of the ketchup bottle) and slam the door shut hopefully. The next person gets the rude awakening of the ketchup falling on his foot. So I watched Nat, wondering if this would go okay. He made a tentative foray behind a few items, to no avail. He stood back. He went back in, and this time, was moving stuff around.
“Motor planning problems, my ass,” I muttered, remembering that asshole school intake, from when he was four, the horrible thing the school director did, hiding Nat’s shoes inside a complicated play structure, and giving him no instruction whatsoever. Nat could see his shoes, and he cried and cried for about an hour; we were not allowed to help. “You see, he has motor-planning issues,” the All-Knowing Autism Expert told us, “that’s why he cannot get to his shoes.” But I, sad little Mommy, knew that Natty just didn’t know that he should go get his shoes. Someone had taken them away. These things happen to Nat. But he wanted his shoes. Now what? Cry.
Such was young Nat’s predicament so often in those days. Not knowing if he could, if he should, so he’d just be quiet and wait, wait, wait. Needless to say, we did not send him to that mean little school.
Nat deftly pulled out the mayo and twisted the cap a few times. He shook a few huge glops out and mixed it up. Done. “Wow, thanks, Nat.”
I plopped a little on a bulkie roll for Benj, and gave Nat the rest. “Oh, thanks, Mom,” Ben said with relief.
“You can thank Nat,” I said. Ben whispered a thanks that Nat never heard, so of course I, mediating little Mommy, shouted, “Excellent, Nat! Thank you. I love when you do things yourself!”