Back to school this year resembles last year. Last year’s cross country move meant months-long preparation and purging. This year’s move came quick, with little notice in the midst of an already busy summer. Last year was a new town, state, side of the country, new school, peers, teachers, all new people. This year it’s the same school with a few new peers, new teacher, new classroom. The only constant in life is change. As usual with change comes reflection. Instead of back to school or change or growing up or growing older, this reflection is about a yellow towel.
Last year when we arrived at our new place, it was wonderfully empty and light. No furniture, no bookshelves, no rugs, nothing. Perfect conditions for a little boy with CVI to explore his new environment, new home, new rooms, new layout, perfect for learning a new space. It would be joyously devoid of furniture for several more days until our worldly belongings, which occupied less than a fourth of a container, would be delivered.
We all have our sensory needs and one of mine is having a dish towel handy at all times. For as long as I can remember, since childhood, that dish towel has occupied the refrigerator door handle. Cooking and meal planning and food prep are not my forte and occupy far too much time and mental energy, even more so when your child has as many sensory aversions as mine. So when it comes to doing anything in the kitchen, washing dishes, food prep, baking, my tendency is to constantly wipe my hands on that towel, handy, right near by. With kitchen equipment yet to arrive, there was not much food prep let alone cooking happening. But still that towel was important to me, it meant here we are, we’ve arrived, we’re home.
The towel was a source of comfort and familiarity. The yellow was intentional, because preferred color yellow, for my son with cortical visual impairment, CVI. For his whole young life, that towel had always been there, hanging on the fridge. The room had been the new kitchen, and bright, light filled dining area. To that add, the yellow towel. I did not give a second thought to hanging it there that afternoon.
Jasper’s reaction was something else.
He had been off in his new little bedroom, playing with toys that had been given priority seating in our packed car. He casually wandered into the kitchen to find me – “Hey mommy” – and out of nowhere everything changed. There it was, his CVI meltdown.
From a calm, happy, playing boy, in the blink of an eye he was crying, screaming, distraught. Others might say tantrum, a fit, manipulative, trying to have his way. It was fairly easy to determine the cause of his distress, “NO TOWEL!! NO TOWEL – NO TOWEL!!!” To his great surprise, he had wandered into the kitchen, expecting to see me, the kitchen, appliances, counter tops, and the yellow, light filled room beyond, the space he had been learning and could rely on. Instead he saw the yellow dish towel, hanging on the refrigerator door. He had not expected the towel. He was blindsided.
“NO TOWEL!! NO TOWEL!!!” he screamed, while I struggled to make sense of what had just happened. How could anybody be this upset, distraught, falling apart, by the sight of a mere towel? Just as he had not been expecting the towel, I had not expected his reaction, his total distress.
Novelty had been, and continues to be, the hardest part about moving, even one year later. No surprise there, for a child with CVI. The best approach to novelty of any kind has been comparative language (Roman). This time, no amount of fast comparatiave language talking soothed him. “This is our dish towel for our new place. Remember how we have always had a dish towel hanging from the fridge? This is our familiar dish towel that we brought from home, you know mommy always likes to have a towel handy in the kitchen.” None of this helped him.
After long consideration, my best guess is that the yellow towel must have felt like a violation. He was working hard, harder than I will ever know, to learn and adapt to his new home. Unthinkingly placing the towel there, in that new place, when he was not expecting it, was a violation of his space.
Yes, there are other times when an object or furniture is added or moved, with far less reaction, if any. This time was different because moving across the country to a new place is novelty to the Nth degree.
All the circumstances this time were different. We had uprooted ourselves, our lives, from everything that was familiar. Here, the sun literally rises in a different place. The space was new, a home he had known for only a few days. A new space following massive transition.
* * * * *
At last we are in our new new place, one year later. While Jasper is occupied with playing upstairs, I attempt the task of unpacking. Step one in my mental preparation is getting boxes organized. I open a small box of kitchen items, some essentials we kept with us til the end. I casually peer in and there it is, the yellow towel. It stops me. The sound of his happy playing drifts down from upstairs. Reaching into the box for the towel, I fold it and place it in a kitchen drawer.