"Dust Motes Rising"
Nathaniel was whining about monsters again,
and if Hannah couldn't figure out why,
she felt pretty sure that she'd wind up
dealing with Howl again.
"Okay, show me these monsters," she said.
"Under the bed," he said, pointing.
Hannah looked under the bed.
"I don't see any monsters."
"They're small," Nathaniel said.
"I hear them eating."
One challenge of raising superkids
was that you couldn't simply assume
their childish-sounding fears were imaginary.
Sometimes they perceived things that were
real, just beneath ordinary perception.
"Well, there are tiny bugs called dust mites
that live in bedrooms," Hannah said.
"They'll eat me!" Nathaniel wailed.
"They won't eat you. They're too small.
They make some people sneeze, though,"
said Hannah. That might contribute
to Nathaniel's allergies.
"Icky," Nathaniel said. "No nap!"
"Okay," said Hannah.
She picked up the toddler and
carried him to the living room.
The older children were at school,
so she didn't have anyone else
to watch the little ones. Amada
had gotten a new job, which was
wonderful for her, but made her
a bit less available for babysitting.
"Aidan is supposed to come visit
at one o'clock," Hannah said.
"So let's eat lunch now, and
when he gets here, you can
play with him in the living room
and nap when you feel tired.
I'll take the sheets off your bed
and clean the bedroom."
For lunch she made chicken
with mixed vegetables and cheese curds,
followed by strawberries for dessert.
Nathaniel ate better with finger foods.
When Aidan arrived, though,
he didn't look very good, and
Saraphina clung to him
even more than usual.
"You seem pretty stressed,"
Hannah said to him. "I was hoping
you could help me by watching
the little ones for an hour or so
while I clean Nathaniel's bed,
but if you're not up to it today
then I can call a sitter."
Aidan shook his head. "No,
I mean yes I'm upset, but
happy kids are exactly what
I need to feel better right now."
"Nathaniel, you can help by
cheering Aidan up," said Hannah
as she handed over the toddler.
"I'll go fix your bed."
Aidan adjusted his grip so that
he had one toddler on each hip.
"What's wrong with the bed?"
"Monsters," Nathaniel confided.
"My working hypothesis is
dust mites," said Hannah.
"Those aren't much fun,"
Aidan said. "At least
it isn't fleas, though."
The house had gotten
infested with cat fleas
a few years back, and
it had taken months
to get rid of them all.
"Small mercies," she said.
"Take Rosita with you too,
and I'll get to work."
"I'll be happy to help," Aidan said,
and took them to the living room.
Hannah started the cleanup
by stripping all the bedding
off of Nathaniel's bed and
stuffing the washable parts
into the washing machine.
The pillows she clipped
to the clothesline outside so
that the sun could disinfect them.
Next Hannah vacuumed the mattress
and the floor all around the bed.
She watched the dust motes rising,
caught like flecks of gold in
the afternoon sunlight, and
tried to imagine what it must
be like for Nathaniel to sense
the tiny mites riding them.
Finally she took out clean linens
and remade Nathaniel's bed.
Afterwards, Hannah expected to find
Nathaniel sacked out in the living room,
but instead everyone was in the kitchen
puttering with various bottles of stuff.
"What are you making?"
she asked them.
"Monster spray," Nathaniel said.
Aidan carefully decanted the pale yellow fluid
into a spray bottle decorated with
colorful stickers of monsters.
"This one is the serious monster repellant,"
he explained. "It has tea tree, witch hazel,
and peppermint oils among a few other
things -- nice uplifting smells, so
it's better for morning use."
Then he picked up another spritzer
with stars and moons stuck on it.
"This is the bedtime version, mostly
scented with lavender and
a little bit of vetiver."
"You are a genius," Hannah said.
Aidan shrugged. "I just laid out
the options and did the mixing.
Nathaniel and Saraphina
picked the scents."
"Do you want some to take home?"
Hannah offered, mindful of how many
of the supplies had come from
Aidan in the first place.
"Already packed," Aidan said,
pointing to a brown paper bag.
"What do you say, Nathaniel?
Want to test out the lavender one?"
Hannah said. "Your bed is all set
if you're ready for a nap now."
He yawned. "Uh huh."
Rosita started fussing, and Aidan
picked her up. "She's probably
just wet. I'll take care of her,
then put her back in the crib."
Hannah dutifully spritzed around the bed
and then put Nathaniel down for a nap
as Aidan settled Rosita in her crib.
A warm breeze blew through the window
that she had opened to air out the room.
"Does Saraphina need a nap too?"
Hannah asked Aidan.
"No, she dozed on me in the living room
for a little while before we started
mixing things up in the kitchen," he said.
"Thank you for that," Hannah said.
"We'll see if this helps Nathaniel relax
about the 'monsters' bothering him.
I'll get some of those special
mattress and pillow covers too --
the current ones are just
basic hypoallergenic stuff."
"That should help," Aidan said.
"So ... do you want to tell me what
upset you today, or is that private?"
Hannah asked gently.
"Sad lady," Saraphina said,
her little face scrunching.
"You mean Amada?" Hannah asked.
"No, Cassandra," said Aidan.
He settled onto the couch
in the living room, and tried
to put Saraphina beside him,
but she refused to let go.
"Sweetie, if you sit over here
then you won't get as much
of my unhappy all over you."
Saraphina clung tighter, fisting
her brown hands in his yellow t-shirt,
a mulish expression on her face.
"Okay then, you can stay," he said.
"What's up with Cassandra?"
Hannah said. It wasn't the girl's fault
that things had gone so badly at SPOON,
after all, and someone should make sure
that she got whatever support she needed.
Aidan wilted, bracing elbows on knees
and rubbing his hands over his face.
"She's letting me help, or trying to,"
he said. "It's just so -- it's a mess."
"I'm sorry to hear that," Hannah said.
"I can't give much detail, for privacy reasons, but
some of it's stuff that Cassandra has already been
open about -- how unsupportive her parents were,
the suppression therapy and clipping," said Aidan.
"It's like this choking cloud, dust motes rising,
nothing I can get a grip on to fix."
"And her superpower?" Hannah asked.
"Not the chronic pain that it was," Aidan said.
"She's still thinking about her future options,
and I don't know how much of that she'll want
to keep private or share with others."
Saraphina patted his chest, clearly
responding to Aidan's anxiety.
He cuddled her close, taking comfort
in a warm body and warm emotions.
"Do we have a case for abuse?"
Hannah wondered. Cassandra
hadn't been in very good shape
by the time she turned up at
the Onion City SPOON base.
Aidan waffled a hand in the air.
"I don't know," he said. "Cassandra
was miserable and the outcome was awful.
Whether any of that is actionable --"
He shrugged. "That's probably for
the lawyers to decide. I'll talk
to some people, explore options."
"Hmm ... I knew about the chronic pain
because that's part of what drove her
to SPOON in the first place, and it's also
why Helen was so determined to find help
sooner rather than later," said Hannah. "Ask
Cassandra if she had any medication for that.
If not, it counts as denial of health care."
"Good point," Aidan said. "I can ask her."
Saraphina had moved on to preening,
her tiny fingers combing through his hair,
although she was too young to manage
braiding it the way he did hers. Still,
he seemed to find it soothing.
"How do you think Cassandra will react
to charges against her parents, if it
comes to that?" Hannah said.
"I have no idea. Her feelings are all mixed up.
I can report my suspicions, but ... it's up to
family services whether they choose to investigate,
and up to Cassandra whether to press charges,"
Aidan said. "I'll tell them not to crowd her, though.
She's had enough of people forcing her to do things.
She needs everyone to respect her limits."
"How are you doing with that?" Hannah said.
"As well as I can," Aidan said. "She has a hard time
letting me in, but I don't think she means to shut
people out like that. She doesn't understand
how much it can hurt to break contact suddenly."
"At least she's making an effort to navigate
boundaries more deliberately," Hannah said.
Aidan sighed. "You were there at SPOON.
What does that tell you about her boundaries?"
"Nothing good," Hannah said with a wince.
"She didn't even leave when Helen and I
started fighting, just curled up ... that says
pretty bad things about her family dynamics
in general, and her personal boundaries
are probably Swiss cheese by now."
It was hard to piece together a clear picture
of a situation like this, when there were limits
on what they could discuss, and Cassandra
herself probably didn't understand it either.
"So you see what I'm up against,"
Aidan said. He shivered and
wrapped his arms around himself.
Saraphina stopped playing with his hair
and burrowed into his lap, making him
let go so that he could hold her.
Hannah frowned. "Aidan, how are you
holding up? I'm a little worried here."
"I've been worse," he said, looking up at her
with a quick flicker of smile. "Then again,
I've been better, too. It's hard to look at
that much damage and not be affected by it."
"If you report her parents, cite that," Hannah said.
Aidan grimaced and said, "I'd rather not.
I have my own support network without
dragging anyone else into this."
"If you're getting secondhand stress just
from helping Cassandra deal with what
has happened to her, then that may be
relevant to her case," Hannah pointed out.
"I'll think about it, then ... maybe try talking
to Cassandra first and see how she
feels about all this," said Aidan.
That was why most guidelines and laws
recommended rather than required
people to report suspicions of abuse:
because if you took human discernment
out of the loop, that very often led to
yet another violation of the victims,
which made it even harder for them
to trust anyone trying to help them.
"The first and most helpful thing
is restoring agency," Hannah said.
"Yes, and I've mentioned that to
Groundhog, too," said Aidan.
"Trouble is, I worry that Cassandra
may not have the background for
making good decisions yet."
"Maladaptive parenting will do that,"
Hannah said. She still couldn't get
Lakia to stay in the dratted yard
more than three times out of four,
the girl had gotten so indifferent
to adult supervision by now.
"That's what coping skills are for,"
Aidan said. "I've done a lot more
woodworking lately -- made a step
for Saraphina in the bathroom, and
started on several other projects."
He showed Hannah a snapshot
of the adorable little step.
"Twalèt," said Saraphina,
bouncing in Aidan's lap.
"And now she wants the bathroom,"
Aidan said as he stood up.
"Is she potty training yet?" Hannah said.
"She's starting to show interest," Aidan said.
Hannah tried to think of more things that might
cheer Aidan up. Cooking was right out, given
his anti-knack for it, but she knew of other options.
"Why don't you take Saraphina to the bathroom,
and then check out the greenhouse? Some of
the seeds are sprouting," Hannah said. "If any
of the older plants are ready to start picking,
you can choose some salad greens for supper."
Aidan finally smiled. "I think I'd like that,"
he said as he led Saraphina to the bathroom.
Hannah headed into the kitchen,
mulling over what kind of main course
would go best with the tiny leaves.
* * *
"It is true that we are made of dust. And the world is also made of dust. But the dust has motes rising."
-- Muhammad Iqbal
Children's fears naturally include such things as monsters. There are plenty of ways to deal with them and talk about them. Notice that Aidan's monster spray features ingredients that work on psychological, physical, and metaphysical levels so it covers the bases regardless of belief system.
Toddler speech develops through stages, so Nathaniel is starting to use some simple sentences but often still uses phrases.
Dust mites appear in homes. There are various methods to get rid of them, including essential oils.
Toddler lunches do well with finger foods. Cheese curds may be bought or made.
Fleas can be challenging to kill.
Personal boundaries require respect. Children growing up in a dysfunctional family tend not to learn how to respect other people's boundaries, because nobody respects theirs. Hannah's kids and Cassandra have varying difficulties in this area.
Agency is the power of making meaningful choices in your life. It is a crucial step in the development of adolescents, so if parents don't grant them more freedom and responsibility, they can't grow properly. This is one of Cassandra's main problems. Understand how to gain agency.
Consent culture is about far more than just sexual context. It's about respecting people in general and making sure to get informed consent for everything. It is vital for adults to teach children about consent, instead of teaching that consent doesn't matter.
bathroom -- twalèt
-- Haitian Creole Vocabulary List
Potty training comes in stages. While busy parents may feel tempted to rush the process, it happens smoother and with less stress by waiting until children express interest. Traumatized children may have delayed development and other symptoms. Although Saraphina's birth family loved her very much, she grew up in a dangerous environment, and that leaves its marks.
Enjoy some Mini Greens Recipes.