It was the second day of my medical conference- ten hours a day of lectures and interactive sessions. I loved the learning, but whoa! this was getting a bit grueling. On one of my check-in phone calls home, my always thoughtfully understated husband lets slip that Peter had a bit of trouble that afternoon. Eventually I found out that Luke was minding his business (for once not being loud or complaining) practicing the piano when Peter suddenly left his rocking chair where he had been peacefully watching TV to bonk poor Luke hard on the head! Papa had firmly escorted Peter into another room and told him not to hit. Big sister Judy, feeling the need for a little more in the way of consequences, shortly afterwards got Peter to come up to Luke to say “Sorry.” Peter was compliant, but she wasn’t sure how much had registered.
So what to do?
Believe me, I was not looking for trouble. After fighting heavy LA traffic for 90 minutes on the way home, and not seeing Peter much for two days, I really just wanted to snuggle up and watch TV with him on the couch. So that’s what we did briefly. But then I felt I really had to address the hitting again. That kind of aggressive behavior can’t slide by- I felt I had to do everything I could to proactively curtail it.
So I said a quick prayer, and said, “Peter, I heard you had trouble with Luke today. Did you hit him on the head?” To make sure he was registering the same memory, I had him fill-in-the-blanks, “Who did you hit? (Luke)” “What was Luke doing? (piano)” “Why did you hit? Was Luke too (loud)? Did you have reflux? (no)” I wasn’t getting anywhere with the “why” question- Peter just looked at me and laughed.
“Well, Peter even if you don’t know or can’t tell me why you hit, you cannot hit. Hitting is BAD. It is VERY (bad- I had Peter fill-in-the-blank). Come on, let’s do some writing about it.”
We then proceeded to the kitchen table where we do our journaling. I took out his journal, which is divided into an “I like..:)” and “I don’t like…:(” section. We turned to the “I don’t like…” section. I prompted Peter to write the following sorry note to Luke by answering questions on his Vantage and then copying the sentences on paper:
I hit you this afternoon. I do not know why. Hitting is terrible. Does your head hurt? I feel very sorry, Please forgive me. What may I do to make you feel better?
September 20, 2012”
Then we walked over together to find Luke. He was playing Pokeman cards with big brother Stephen. “May we talk to you a minute, Luke? Peter wants to make up with you.”
(I had already talked to Luke about the incident, and ascertained that Luke was ok, and understood his brother was acting out of his autism, and not necessarily from meanness. Luke has always displayed a remarkable grace wherever his brother Peter is concerned, thanks be to God!)
Luke listened quietly while I had Peter read his sorry note to him. As Peter read each line, I repeated it (partly because Peter’s articulation is so poor that otherwise Luke would not be able to understand him), and acted out what had happened with two stuffed animals. Big Rabbit came over and bonked Little Ladybug on the head hard. Ladybug cried because it hurt. (We also inverted ladybug’s head so it disappeared into her body.) Big Rabbit felt very sorry. He said, “Hitting is terrible, very bad.” After the part about “What can I do to make you feel better,” Luke said, “Nothing, Peter, it’s okay,” but I made Big Rabbit reach over and pull Ladybug’s head back out to fix it. Luke was starting to turn back to his cards, while I tried to frantically whisper, “Wait, Luke! Ask Peter to give you a hug or something!” Before I could finish my prompt, Peter actually leaned way over and gave Luke the sweetest, light kiss on the head!
I was floored. Up till then I really hadn’t a definite sign that Peter really understood what we were doing. He was smilingly compliant and filling in the blanks, but I didn’t know if he was relating what was being enacted with the stuffed animals at all to what had transpired that afternoon, nor if he really understood that he had done something wrong.
But that kiss was all his. I hadn’t told him what to do. Luke hadn’t demanded anything. Peter had initiated his own reparative gesture. I was so heartened and so grateful. Thank you Lord, that sometimes our children do understand. Much more than they can perhaps show us on their own. So parents, don’t give up! Even if you’re not sure how much your child understands, keep going through the process and actions of reconciliation, and more may sink in than you expect.