Sometimes the change in mood is a shock.
He went to bed last night happy, at peace, content.
He woke up quiet, unresponsive, almost sullen. It's been worse - way, way worse - but worse often starts like this.
So the inner conversation starts up.
Is it a delayed reaction to his favorite hockey team's loss last night (again!)? Is it nerves about his basketball game today? Maybe a dream? a memory? a worry? Some trigger of some unknown SOMETHING? I feel as lost as he does. Stay calm. He doesn't know how to get out of these things by himself. Don't make it worse.
He came to the couch when it was time for school. That was good, at least. Yesterday, he had huge plans. He told me was going to read the last three stories today, and finish the reading book. But now? He clearly wasn't going to be reading aloud anything.
I prayed briefly, then explained a few new words that would be in the story. No response.
I offered a change, that we could do math. Less talking, I figured. A shrug. A slight shake of the head.
I dared to ask. "You OK? I love you. We can talk about it."
"You read," he muttered.
Think fast. Talk calmly. Show kindness.
I reached for the stack of Christmas books that were our December literature selections. What to choose? I grabbed a favorite of mine, a collection of "Little House" Christmas stories. The older kids loved these books. Niko has no relationship with them, though. At least, I know he's seen the TV show.
I read while he sat, silent, slumped to the side, head propped on one fist. Barely listening. I paraphrased hard sections, skipped some so it wouldn't be so long, and prayed as I read.
I finished. I asked nothing of him. He had nothing to give right then, he just needed to receive.
"We can finish the project," I suggested. He loves Thursday afternoon art projects. Yesterday, we did a salt dough map of Lake Superior, to go with our reading of "Paddle to the Sea," a geography book by Holling C. Hollings.
He walked quietly into the kitchen. I knew I had seconds to get the paint bottle open, to have the last couple of things ready. He gives up quickly.
He sat down and began to paint. Blue, blue, blue - all the waves of the largest lake in the world. Therapy. Maybe. He kept at it, absorbed in it.
The kitchen was so very quiet.
Christmas music. But what kind? All the music that brings us joy, that prompts our memories, has no meaning to him. From carols to Charlie Brown to ho ho ho, it's all pretty much the same.
It came to me.
Steven Curtis Chapman! Niko likes his music. He says his name like it's all one - Stevencurtischapman, and he knows that man gave money to help us bring Niko home. Show Hope - the name fits.
I put on the album. It starts with SCC's daughter Shaoey, a former orphan, reading the Christmas story from the Scriptures. Niko looked up, startled at the little girl voice, then returned to his painting. Ex-orphan, speaking to ex-orphan. The enormity of it startles me, too.
Usually I do the craft with him, but this time it was his map. What to do to be alongside him, without interfering? I found a chalkboard sign, wrote Merry Christmas on it. I filled a clementine with some cloves. The smell brought no memories to him, but my own heart was pleased by it.
We had made a little model of the canoe that is called "Paddle to the Sea." Niko started mixing colors for it. He worked and worked, silently, and found just the right color.
In the background, Steven Curtis was singing. The song was familiar to me, one of my favorite Christmas carols. And God was reminding me that He is here, in the quiet kitchen, in Niko's silence, and that He is healing.
"Then in despair, I bowed my head.
There is no peace on earth, I said,
For hate is strong and mocks the song
Of Peace on earth, good will to men.
I heard the bells on Christmas day...
Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
God is not dead, nor does He sleep -
The wrong shall fail, the right prevail,
With peace on earth, Goodwill to men."
The painting was finished. I praised his careful work, his color mixing. "The blue should be lighter," he said. "Next time," I tried to reassure.
Morning session was over. He dribbled a basketball up in the bedroom, the sound reverberating over the house. There's that game this afternoon, maybe that's it. Whatever it is, Lord, heal his heart. Bring peace. Peace on earth, peace in this house, peace in his heart.
You are, after all, safe to trust.