The seminar that Simon and Angelique attended for caregivers of regressed children had been very informative. During the somewhat informal conference, they were provided with refreshments, and experienced childcare workers took turns delivering presentations. The attendees were told to expect moments of relapse for the next two weeks and given strategies to handle those disruptions. The experts taught the CIDER method which stood for carry on calmly, ignore any outbursts, disengage, entertain and regress.
Simon and Angelique had left the conference with a wealth of knowledge, a couple of pamphlets and stronger confidence as caregivers. Jacob's regression was going even more smoothly than they had been told to expect. By his second week, he'd already met many of the third week milestones. At the end of the presentations, Simon and Angelique were given the chance to mingle with other caregivers, and they heard horrifying accounts of other regressed children's successful escape attempts that ended in serious injuries often caused by self-mutilation. Those appalling stories only heightened their resolve to persist with the guidelines provided by Dr. Kelly; Simon and Angelique were determined to protect Jacob, even from himself.
The drive back to the lakeside home went smoothly. The therapist couple listened to a podcast on good parenting strategies for most of the drive, and it sparked new ideas for activities that they could engage Jacob with. Since his cognition remained higher than that of the average child, they found strategies designed for gifted children to be more appropriate.
While the garage door was opening, Jacob stirred awake, rubbing his eyes and scratching his legs. He had slept soundly for the entire three hours on the road, leaving him well-rested and wound up with energy. Kicking his legs, he waited for Simon to open the backdoor.
"Did you have a good nap?" Simon asked, unbuckling the tyke from the car seat.
"Yup," Jacob replied, grabbing his coloring books and Batman then allowing Simon to help him out of the car.
Jacob raced inside following Angelique inside the house. He'd set up his coloring book on the coffee table and scampered onto the couch. "Cartoons!" he demanded, pointing at the remote on the ledge.
"Not so fast," Simon said, scooping the toddler into his arms. "You need a diaper change."
"Nuh-uh," Jacob said, shaking his head.
"Yes-huh," Simon asserted, his nose scrunched. "You're stinky."
Simon walked up the stairs with Jacob on his hip, and when they entered the nursery, he laid Jacob on the changing table. Grabbing a wipe, he gently cleaned the crumbs off of the boy's face. In between steps of changing Jacob's diaper, Simon tickled Jacob and blew raspberries on his belly, keeping the tyke in an almost perpetual state of laughter.
When they returned to the living room, Simon stood the two-year old next to him. "Jacob, my belly is grumbling," Simon began, holding his belly. "You better run because when I'm starving a turn into a monster." He stepped closer to the little boy, baring his teeth and raising his arms over his head. "I'm gonna eat you!"
"No!" Jacob squealed, chased into the kitchen. He ran and hid behind Angelique while she was standing in front of the stove.
"Don't worry, Jacob," Angelique smiled, reaching down to put a comforting hand on his shoulder. "I won't let him eat you."
"Promise?" Jacob asked, glaring at Simon as he retreated to the living room.
"I promise," Angelique said. "Now do you want to help me cook?"
"Yeah!" Jacob shouted enthusiastically.
Angelique sat Jacob on the countertop and had him hold bowls that she filled with the appropriate amount of spices for the sauce recipe she'd decided to follow that evening. She held him up while he poured the spices into the pot, offering him praises and encouragement the whole time. Angelique even let him carefully stir the pot for a few moments.
When there was finally nothing left to do that Jacob could help with, he joined Simon in the living room. While his caregiver filled out some forms, he focused on doing his best coloring. He paid close attention to the lines, working to make sure that each shape had the perfect hue of each color that he chose to include. The boy even added a colorful background to the picture, accenting the color scheme of the picture.
Finished with his drawing, he held it up above his head and admired the quality of his work. Pride filled his chest, and he stood up. "Simon, look at my drawing!" he shouted, bouncing up and down.
Shuffling through his forms, Simon found the one he was looking for and peaked over the pile of papers in his hands. One word left his mouth as he marveled at the child's picture, "Wow."
Simon piled up his papers into a stack and set them on the coffee table. "May I take a closer look?" he asked Jacob, reaching for the picture.
"Yeah," Jacob answered, offering up his drawing.
Simon took the piece of paper from Jacob and ran his fingers over the color of the water, sprinkled with little bubbles, surrounding the dolphin. He noticed the detailed pattern, swirls of varying shades of blue converging around the sea creature. Rays of light shone through the ocean, captured by Jacob's use of streaks of white throughout the deep blue water.
"This is amazing," Simon commented, handing the boy back his picture. "I'm sure Angelique would like to see it too. Will you show her?"
"Okay, I'll show her," Jacob said, running off to the kitchen. Simon followed behind him, smiling as he watched the tyke enthusiastically engage with Angelique.
"Simon said to show you my dolphin," Jacob said, holding up his colored picture for her to see.
"Oh wow!" Angelique exclaimed, wiping her hands off on a kitchen towel. "That's so beautiful."
"You like it?" Jacob asked, bouncing up and down.
"I love it!" she said, ruffling the child's hair. "Would you like me to hang it up on the fridge?"
"Yes, please!" Jacob answered, handing her the sheet of paper.
The little boy gleefully watched as Angelique pulled a magnet from the top of the fridge and placed his colored picture below it, right in the center of the large stainless-steel refrigerator.
"Alright Mr. Artist, it's time for dinner," Simon commented, plucking the boy off of his feet and plopping him into the highchair.
"We're having stewed chicken and brown rice for dinner," Angelique announced, handing Simon a small bowl of food and a bib with a sea turtle on it.
"I hope you've worked up an appetite. Dinner looks really good today. I can't wait to have my own," Simon rambled, loosely clasping the Velcro ends of the bib together around Jacob's neck.
Simon didn't make Jacob wait for his first spoonful of food. In no time, the little boy was happily chomping down bite-sized bits of chicken, vegetables and brown rice. After a couple more spoons, he decided to help Jacob practice eating more slowly.
Feeling playful, Simon inched the spoon towards the boy's mouth, "Choo Choo," he exclaimed.
Jacob giggled, but open his mouth as wide as he could to catch the imaginary train. They did that a few more times, every time eliciting smiles from Jacob, Simon and even Angelique from her seat at the table.
The tyke wrinkled his nose, the spices in the food slightly getting to him. He sneezed loudly, shutting his eyes and turning his face toward his bib. But when he opened his eyes again, he wasn't the same child from the moment before.
For Jacob, it felt like he woke up from a long and major blackout. He knew that time had passed, but his memories of the last few moments were gone. Before he even had a chance to get his bearings together, his personal space was invaded by a spoon of stew moving towards his face.
His anger bubbled back up, and the babyish noises that Simon cooed while twirling the spoon in the air made Jacob want to punch him in the face. He did the next best thing, slapping the spoon out of Simon's hand. He ripped the bib off his neck and threw it as hard as he could.
"Jacob, why did you take off your bib? You want to finish your dinner, don't you?" Simon coaxed, realizing it was time to put what he learned at the seminar to the test.
"I don't want to eat!" Jacob shouted, banging his fists on the tray. "I want you to let me go right now!"
"I see someone is feeling fussy," Simon noted, removing Jacob from the highchair. "Maybe some cartoons will cheer you up."
"I'm not fussy, and I don't want to watch cartoons!" Jacob screamed as he was carried into the living room. "Put me down!"
His outburst was completely ignored. Despite his flailing attempts to get out of his kidnapper's grasp, Jacob was dropped into the playpen, and Simon took a seat on the couch behind him, grabbing his tablet to notate the time and date of Jacob's relapse.
"Simon, please," Jacob begged, turning around to face his former therapist. "I don't want this. I don't want to forget who I am."
"Jacob," Simon began, adjusting his reading glasses. "I honestly don't think you know what it is that you want. You've said time and time again that you want to die because your memories are too difficult to bear, but now that those memories are fading, you protest."
"I didn't ask to be turned into a damn toddler!" Jacob snapped.
"Yes, but you hated your childhood," Simon recalled. "When we discussed it in therapy, you talked about how you wished to have had the chance to be a little kid and grow up without the responsibilities that were imposed on you. You wanted to have fun, explore and play without any pressures, and you have that now."
"But, not like this..." Jacob shook his head, a lump growing in his throat.
"No, you're upset that I chose for you," Simon acknowledged, "and truly I wish it didn't have to be this way, but you chose death when I only see a vibrant and fulfilling future for you. It may not be the future that you chose, but it will be the future you deserve."
Standing up to relocate to the kitchen, Simon left Jacob, confined in the playpen, to ponder his words.
Jacob stood still, stunned into silence. Simon had hit him with so many harsh truths, one after another. His words echoed in his ears. It may not be the future that you chose, but it's the future that you deserve.
Simon had dropped a bombshell on him, and he collapsed in the aftermath. The choking gurgle of a sob bubbled up from his throat, and hot tears spilled down his cheeks. His body trembled, and he sunk to his knees as the feelings that he'd held at bay for so long finally came crashing forward.
As much as he had loved his mother, he'd lost so much having to grow up early. Emotionally, he'd always been more of a father to his little sister than an older brother and more of a partner to his mother than a son. He was the parentified child, and that acknowledgement felt like such a betrayal to all that he had lost.
He loved his mother, his sister and his grandmother. He had loved every moment in time that they'd spent together, but he always wondered how things might have gone if it wasn't just them. His father had died when he was three, shortly after his little sister was born. He was much too young to remember him, and while he was growing up his mother had only ever spoken of his father anecdotally. Forever wounded by his actions, she would only ever reference his alcoholism and desertion. The message was clear; his father's presence had only made life harder, not better.
It had never been conceivable that Jacob would be able to process the dissonance between the attachment and discontent that he had for his childhood years. How could he be expected to simultaneously love his mother and hate his upbringing? How could he manage to honor the many sacrifices that his mother made for him while mourning his childhood traumas? It was all too much, too painful, too distressing. He couldn't bear the soul-crushing weight of the raw guilt. He needed reprieve from the unending torture from his conscience.
Wiping the tears from his face, he peered over the bars of the playpen, following the storyline of the children's show playing in front of him. He curled into a ball, holding himself tightly. For the first time, he welcomes the transformation back into his regressed personality. The conflicting feelings weighed on his soul too heavily. He popped his thumb into his mouth, leaving his adult worries, frustrations and anger for another time.