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Poem: "How Much Patience You Have" - The Wordsmith's Forge
The Writing & Other Projects of Elizabeth Barrette
Poem: "How Much Patience You Have"
This poem is spillover from the December 5, 2017 Poetry Fishbowl. It was inspired by prompts from [personal profile] dialecticdreamer and [personal profile] alexseanchai. It also fills the "virtue and vice" square in my 12-3-17 card for the[community profile] genprompt_bingo fest. This poem has been sponsored by [personal profile] janetmiles. It belongs to the Shiv series of the Polychrome Heroics series.  It comes after "Informally Formal Meetings" (Part 1, Part 2) by [personal profile] dialecticdreamer  and sets up another story.

Note: While nothing really bad is happening in this poem, it brings up some difficult associations from Shiv's past that leave him panicking. Also, he's a pottymouth, but that's not news.

"How Much Patience You Have"

Shiv liked Heron well enough --
or at least, as much as he liked anyone --
but he didn't know the older man yet,
so when his phone rang the morning
before Heron's next scheduled visit,
the skin between his shoulder blades
tightened with habitual dread.

He ducked into the lunch room,
which nobody else was using now.
One finger stabbed the button before
he let himself think too much. "What?"

"Good morning, Shiv," Heron said.
"I wanted to talk with you, because
there's a little complication today --"

"I don't care if you cancel,"
Shiv said bluntly. "It's not like
you have to put up with me."

"O ... kay," Heron said slowly.
"That's not where I was going at all.
There's a cold going around the family,
so I've got Edison today in hopes that
he won't catch it and won't pester people
who already have. Would you like me
to bring him along for a visit, or would you
rather reschedule for another time?"

Shiv hesitated, biting his lip.

He knew damn well that he
wasn't good with kids, and if
he was being brutally honest
with himself, well, they scared
the living crap out of him.

He also knew just as well
that "reschedule" was code for
"go the fuck away, brat," and despite
his uneasiness with certain topics, he ...
didn't really want to lose touch with Heron.

Most especially, he didn't want to lose
the seemingly endless stream of food
that the Finns kept sending his way.

"I'll think about it," Shiv squeaked,
not wanting Heron to hang up.

"Okay, I'll wait," Heron said,
as if that was no big deal.

It was tempting to tell him
to fuck the hell off, because
Heron still made Shiv antsy
in ways that not even Dr. G
had managed to do before.

Something about the thought
of Heron's hands on him was
enough for Shiv's hands to itch
for a knife and something to stab.

But ... but ... Heron was also
a source of new jokes that were
dry as sand and utterly hilarious.

For all the crawling worry about
what Heron wanted to do to him,
the older man kept his clothes on
and didn't try to pry Shiv out of his.

Then there was Edison, and Shiv
sometimes found him interesting when
he wasn't being a huggy monkey, but
there's a big difference between Edison
onscreen during a story night and him
all up in Shiv's space, and between
Edison in the background playing
by himself or actively part of a visit.

That brought up a whole new issue,
because if Shiv agreed, then he
had to be a good host, or at least
as good as he could manage -- that
was one of Boss White's expectations.

Shiv couldn't bear to let down the boss.

The tension gnawed at him as more
and more things swarmed into his head
like ants over a freshly dropped cookie.

Shiv struggled with the decision,
torn between fear and desire,
between virtue and vice.

ECR Boy, Rosie's voice
teased from his memory.

Shiv remembered the first time
that Dr. G had to cancel on him,
the heavy, habitual anticipation
of getting dropped like a hot rock.

Yet it hadn't happened that way.

When Shiv finally screwed up his courage
enough to call Dr. G at home, it led to
a quiet visit with him and Edison.

That had led to story night,
and in fact, the introduction of
the Lego letters that Shiv loved.

What might Heron's offer turn into,
if Shiv dared to take a chance on it?

Restless and unhappy, he paced
back and forth along the hallway
in the lower level of Blues Moon.

Then the door to Boss White's office
clicked open. "Shiv?" the older man said.
"What's got you so lathered up today?"

Shiv pressed the phone against
his shoulder and said, "It's Heron.
He wants to bring Edison. Or maybe
bail on me. I don't know what the fuck."

"All right, settle down," Boss White said,
his mind soothing over Shiv's like a hand.

Shiv gave a long, deep sigh. "Heron said
that some of the Finns are sick so he's got
Edison today, and it's either put up with both
or put off and probably get dumped and I ..."

"Well, I can tell you right away, the Finns
are not going to dump you," Boss White said.
At Shiv's instinctive protest, the older man
raised a hand. "I know, it's what you're used to,
but they ain't. I been inside their heads enough
to know, Shiv. It's like they're made of vrip,
every last one of 'em, they just stick to
everything, and they do not let go."

Suddenly Shiv flashed on a vest
that he'd nicked off a cop, made of
heavy fabric with velcro all over it,
even heavier than vrip, and pouches
made with the matching half so that
they'd stick wherever you put them.

Molly vest, it was called, and damn
but he'd have to remember to tease
Molly Finn about that, saying how they
had hung that name on the wrong kid.

"Yeah, maybe," Shiv replied. He
might not believe the Finns, but
he believed Boss White.

"That's better," his boss said.
"Now how's about we invite Jaxon
to come over? Give Tamicka a break,
let him meet Edison and play some games.
Might could be they'd make friends."

"If ... if you think it's a good idea?"
Shiv wobbled against the wall.

"Up to you, Shiv, you're the one
playin' host," Boss White said. "Or not."
Then he went back to his office.

Sometimes Shiv hated it when
Boss White left things up to him.

Then he realized that he'd been
holding the phone against his shoulder,
still on, for like five minutes at least.

"Shit," he whispered, then lifted
it away from his shirt again.

"So um, dunno if it's come up,
but in case I didn't say no, there's
this kid around here called Jaxon,
about a year younger than Edison,
and how would you feel about him
maybe coming over too?" Shiv said,
the words tumbling out all in a rush.

"That sounds interesting," Heron said.
"How do you think your friend Jaxon
would feel about someone close to
his age, but a lot smarter?"

"The fuck I know?" Shiv wailed.

"Okay," Heron said, and his voice
was cool and calm, like that lake at
the boot camp that Shiv had gone to.
"It sounds to me like you're feeling
a little out of your depth here."

"No shit," said Shiv. "I know jack
about kids, I am a crap host, and you're
wanting throw me in the deep end!"

"We could always reschedule,
if this is too much for you right now,"
Heron said. "It's no trouble at all."

Shiv's fingernails dug into his palms,
and the pain did fuckall to settle his nerves.

Well that was just what he needed. Not.

"I don't know," he said. "Everything's just ...
it's all a mess, and I don't know what to do,
and people keep expecting me to!"

"All right, then how about we give this
a try with me in charge instead of you,"
Heron said. "I'll bring some letter Duplos --
you like the Legos, and these will be easier
for younger kids to handle. We'll aim for
a fun visit, and if it doesn't work out
this time, then no harm, no foul."

"Maybe?" Shiv said, itching his back
against the nearest doorjamb, but it
didn't help to settle his skin any.
"Just don't leave 'em with me."

"It's okay, Shiv, I'll take care of them,"
Heron said. "You don't have to do
emotional labor or childcare until
you know what you're doing."

"The fuck is that?" Shiv said, baffled.
"I mean, I know childcare -- it squicks me
most of the time but at least I get it --
never even heard of the other."

"Emotional labor is things like
inviting people over and being
a good host," Heron explained.
"It's a set of learned skills for
maintaining relationships."

"So no, I got nothin' then,"
Shiv said, slumping in place.

"That's fine, Edison is just starting
to learn it too," Heron said. "You won't
be the only one exploring new ideas."

"But I should know this shit already,"
Shiv said. "Everyone says so!"

Heron's crisp Gaelic gave Shiv
an idea of what Heron thought
about "everyone" in Shiv's life up to
the last few years or thereabouts.

"You can't know what you've never
been taught," Heron added in English.

"Well, duh," said Shiv. "Never stopped
anyone from hanging it on me before."

"Let us simply agree that everyone
in your past is an ignoramus, and
move on from there," Heron said.

What Shiv heard was "ignore-anus"
and he started snickering and
then he couldn't stop.

Heron didn't snap at him
to quit it and act his age,
just waited for Shiv to get
his breath back again.

"So ... now what?" Shiv said.

"Now you either have enough
to make a decision, or you ask me
some clarifying questions," Heron said.
"Would you like to try putting the kids
together, playing around, and maybe
learning a few new things -- or not?"

"What's to learn from this?" Shiv said.
"They're just toddlers, and even I
know the baby stuff already."

"You can learn many things
from children," Heron said.
"How much patience you
have, for instance."

Shiv snorted. "Try none."

"I find it hard to believe that
someone with your skill in
metalcraft has no patience,"
Heron said. "Pull the other one,
cousin, it's got bells on."

That made Shiv laugh.
"Okay, maybe you got a point."

"I'm glad we agree on that,"
Heron said. "Let me know
when you reach a decision.
I called early, in case you
needed time to think."

The last thing Shiv needed
was time to stew over this and
work himself into a real panic.

"I'll do it," he said quickly.

"Then we'll see you at noon,
and we'll bring lunch," Heron said,
his voice warming just a little.

Even after they hung up,
Shiv felt nervous, wiping
his hands down his pants,
only they wouldn't stay dry.

So he went upstairs to
his apartment to set up.

First Shiv brought out his Legos
just in case Heron forgot the Duplos.

Then he sorted through his other junk
and added the baggie of linking rings that
he'd bought to clip things together and
wound up just playing with half the time.

He hesitated over the little cloth book
sewn up with colors and textures that he'd
found in the toy corner of Nick's Thrifts
along with the linking rings while he
was trying to hunt for new fidgets.

Well, they both actually worked as
fidgets, but they weren't the kind
he'd gone in looking for. Shiv
kind of sucked at shopping.

"What the hell," he said,
and chucked the book onto
the futon with the other toys.

Next he went into the kitchen
and put out a loaf of bread,
peanut butter, and jelly.

He had no idea what Heron
might be bringing for lunch.
Jaxon and Edison were little.
You couldn't go wrong with
peanut butter and jelly.

Huh. Maybe he
knew something
about kids after all.

Shiv grabbed a broom and
dustpan, cleaned up what he
could of the crud that always
seemed to collect no matter
how careful he tried to be, and
gave it up as a lost cause.

Then he sat down in his chair
to find out how much patience he had.

* * *


"You can learn many things from children. How much patience you have, for instance."
-- Franklin P. Jones

This shows the outside of Blues Moon with the main floor and two layers of apartments. The smaller building on the right also belongs to the Ebonies & Ivories, used as storage space for artwork and furnishings which can be used in any of the apartments above the jazz joint. The basement contains the working part of the lair. The largest office below the lunch room belongs to Boss White. The one across from it is the guest room. The accounts/manager and board room offices are shared space. The big corner office in the upper right is the patch room. They actually don't have an exercise room in their own lair; instead they have a group membership at a nearby gym. Much of the art on the walls is printed onto acoustic panels to reduce noise. You can buy premade art panels, attach art to blank ones, or make your own.

The two floors above the club have apartments similar to these. The hallway extends all the way to the back stairs. The central stairwell and elevator is instead a common lounge area.
On the lower floor, the front right "open" apartment is a flop room with multiple beds, which can sleep a total of 12 people. The front left "Mies" apartment is furnished normally, but not permanently assigned, used as temporary housing or extra function space as needed. Shiv gets the back left "standard" apartment, with the bathroom protected inside the bedroom. Popgun has the right middle semi-open apartment. On the top floor, Boss White has the back left "standard" apartment, and Lieutenant Brown has the back right semi-open apartment.
Shiv's kitchen has a blue refrigerator and plenty of storage space. It has some blue prints on the wall too. The dining room features a Bob Marley quote. In the living room, the black-bordered blanket is spread over a large futon. He has a photoprint of Mark Turner hanging there, along with some of his own papercut art.

Nick's Thrifts is part of the Harding Plaza strip mall. The sign just says "Thrift Store" because it changed hands several times prior to the current owner. This is part of the clothing section. The toy corner is next to the children's clothing.

Childhood abuse leads to distorted thinking patterns such as catastrophizing. The mental health industry basically considers this a type of delusion. However, it is vital to assess the accuracy of a belief before condemning it as delusion. Previously, Shiv had correct distrust; his problem now is that he is under-trusting, because his environment has changed so much that his old model no longer generates reliable predictions. He believes that horrendous things will happen because they have happened to him, that people will abandon him because most folks did that. He worries about a toddler and an oven because he set his own stove on fire not long ago. This isn't delusion; it's an ugly couple decades of lived experience. It is, however, now out of date due to major improvements in Shiv's circumstances. He needs to stop catastrophizing and recalibrate to the current probabilities, which are better. It is possible for abused children to learn how to trust adults, if they join a healthy family. Here are some helpful reminders for abuse survivors.

Attachment describes the relationship between parents and children. The less-secure versions can be described as attachment disorders, and the more severe form as reactive attachment disorder. These carry into adult relationships. More accurately, attachment disorder is framed as connection disruption. Until recently, Shiv had very few opportunities for healthy connection and a great many people mistreating him. That kind of abuse tends to mangle attachment. As a result, he pushes people away to minimize his chances of getting hurt even more. There are ways to heal from attachment damage and help someone with disordered attachment.

Low self-esteem may come from various causes, particularly child abuse or other trauma. Understand how to cope with low esteem or help a friend who has it.

A MOLLE Vest has straps and velcro for attaching gear. This type of tactical modular vest can hold pouches, patches, and more. It's basically a utility belt that covers the whole torso.

Hosting is an important life skill that most people learn as children. Here are some tips on how to be a good host. Shiv is not good at this yet, but he's trying his ass off, because it's something that Boss White expects of his people.

Emotional labor is a set of skills for maintaining relationships. In a healthy situation, people do approximately the same amount of emotional labor, although they may not do the same kinds of it. There's nothing wrong with one person making all the appointments and the other handling all the correspondence, if that's how they like it. Unfortunately, what usually happens is that women and other feminine people are expected to do it all, while boys are shortchanged of this education and must scramble after it as men. It is better to teach these skills to children as part of emotional intelligence. Here is a checklist for emotional labor in relationships.

Shiv first starts working with Lego letters in "Never Quite So Alone Again."

Read an introduction to Lego letters. They can be written on blocks and sorted in sets. They teach the shapes of words. If you write whole words on some blocks and letters on others, you can match them up. This set of blocks uses preprinted labels stuck on them so that whole words may be sorted.

In case you want to make your own, the T-American Lego Wordplay Starter Set contains 100 pieces, comprised of several subsets:
* 26 - one complete upper-case alphabet color-coded for phonics. Vowels (AEIOU) are in red. Voiced consonants (like B and D) are in blue, unvoiced consonants (like F and P) are in yellow, and letters commonly associated with multiple sounds (like C) are in green. These are all 2x2 bricks.
* 26 - one complete lower-case alphabet color-coded for letter shapes. Tall letters (like f and d) are pink, short letters (like a and c) are lavender, and tailed letters (like g and y) are turquoise. Tall and tailed letters are on 2x3 bricks; short letters are on 2x2 bricks.
* 24 - the most common letters ETAOINSRHDLU, one set in each color code
* 14 - common punctuation marks on gray: period, question mark, exclamation point, comma, semicolon, colon, dash, hyphen, pair of parentheses, pair of quotation marks, apostrophe, elipsis. These are all 2x2 bricks.
* 10 - white blocks for spacers. These are all 2x2 bricks.

Duplo can be used the same as Lego, just easier for small hands to hold. Spell words or make sentences. Here are some activities for learning letters and numbers. You can buy sets with letters or numbers, or make your own as described in the Lego section above.

Shiv's linking rings work as practical organizing tools and a fun fidget set.

Shiv's color book is an easy project to make for a baby or toddler.

Patience is the virtue of waiting with grace and persistence. Difficult children especially need patience. There are ways to be patient and to teach patience.

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