Elizabeth Barrette (ysabetwordsmith) wrote,
Elizabeth Barrette

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Poem: "Chewing Anyway"

This poem is spillover from the February 5, 2019 Poetry Fishbowl.  It was inspired by prompts from DW user Dialecticdreamer.  It also fills the "nurturing" square in my 2-1-19 You Are card for the Valentines Bingo fest.  This poem belongs to the Shiv thread of the Polychrome Heroics series, and it leads into "Calming and Rewarding."

This microfunded poem is being posted one verse at a time, as donations come in to cover them.  At the quarter-price rate, $1 will reveal 8 lines.  There is a permanent donation button on my profile page, or you can contact me for other arrangements. You can also ask me about the number of lines per verse, if you want to fund a certain number of verses.
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Chewing Anyway

[Monday, January 12, 2015]

Much of January sucked for Shiv.

Chyou had gotten under his skin
so completely that even at
the Finn house he had
a hard time relaxing.

Shiv jittered and jigged
his way around the living room,
and then finally took out a cigarette
just for the comfort of holding it.

Elisabeth cleared her throat.
"Not in here, please," she said.
"There's a nice smoking park
a few blocks away, if you
feel the need to indulge."

"I wasn't gonna light  it,"
Shiv protested, giving
a guilty twitch. "Tolli and
Simon don't mind me smoking
as long as I go out to the shed and
don't drop butts on the ground, but
they don't want it in the house either."

"Mmm?" Elisabeth said. "I'm listening."

"I just ... I need something to do with
my hands, okay?" Shiv said, looking away.
"I can't seem to settle any other way."

"So you don't crave nicotine at the moment,
you just want something that feels like
a cigarette?" Elisabeth said. "Let's see
what we have in the bite bucket."

"Bite bucket?" Shiv said, baffled.
He put away his cigarette and
watched as Elisabeth pulled out
a big plastic bin full of stuff.

"Here you go," Elisabeth said
as she popped the lid off. "You
can have any of these you like.
Don't worry about the expense;
we literally buy this by the bucket."

"Woah, what is all that?" Shiv said.
The bin was full of brightly-colored shapes
packed so densely that he could not
see the individual pieces at first.

"These are chewies," Elisabeth said,
lifting out a handful to lay on the lid.
"They provide oral stimulation. Look
for pencil toppers and chew sticks,
those will be similar to cigarettes."

"I'm not a baby, I don't need
a fucking pacifier," Shiv snapped.

"Oh, there are probably a few toys
for babies in here, but most of these
are therapy tools for older users,"
Elisabeth said. "Here are
some chew noodles."

Shiv looked at the baggie
with a floppy blue stick in it.

"Guess it couldn't hurt to try,"
he muttered, sticking it in his mouth.
But the bumps made it feel all wrong.
"Ech! No. This is a stupid idea."

When he went to put it back,
though, Elisabeth diverted his hand.

"Not back in the bin," she said,
offering him a different bucket that
read Wash on the side. "These are
all food-grade silicone, so they can
be cleaned by boiling them."

"Huh, really?" Shiv said,
poking at the blue thing before
he dropped it in the wash bucket.

"Yes, just like silicone bakeware can
be cleaned in a dishwasher," she said.
"At Soup to Nuts, we only offer these in
factory wrappers, but sometimes people
take one bite and spit it out. It's wasteful
to throw those away, so we bring them home
and boil them, then put them in the bite bucket
along with other hand-me-downs and new items."

"That's good," Shiv said. "I don't like when
people waste stuff just because they can."

"We don't like it either," Elisabeth said.
"Here, try a pencil topper instead."

There were three of them --
red, yellow, and blue -- so Shiv
choose the blue one again.

It had rings around one end and
narrow grooves along the sides,
but most of it felt smooth. It was
a little shorter and heavier than
a cigarette, but not by much.

Shiv put it in his mouth,
flicked it expertly around,
then passed it from hand to
hand between his fingers.

"Yeah, okay ... this is close
to a cigarette," he admitted.

"They make model cigarettes of
silicone, too, as aids for programs
to quit smoking," she said. "I'd rather
you didn't use those here, but you could
buy some to use in your own space."

"Might look into it." Then he shook
his head. "I'm still not a baby."

"If you still think chewies are
only for babies, let me show you
something else," Elisabeth said.

She walked away, leaving Shiv
with the bucket full of stuff.

He couldn't resist stirring it
just a little, but he didn't dare
take out anything else.

Elisabeth came back with
a battered old cedar box
that read Mother on top.

"This box belonged to
Graham's mother, and he
passed it to me," she said.
"Go ahead, open it."

Hesitantly, Shiv lifted
the lid. Inside the box lay
a tangle of beads in all colors.

When he made no move
to touch them, Elisabeth
picked up a necklace.

"These are teething beads,"
she explained. "They're meant
for parents to wear and babies
to play with. I've been collecting
these since Molly was conceived."

"Wow," Shiv said softly. "I
didn't even know that people
made that kind of jewelry."

"Chewelry," Elisabeth said. "It's
more common now than it used to be.
Wooden beads are okay, I think that
the old crochet kind are awful but
Mallory loves them, and my favorites
are the new silicone kind because
they're brighter and easy to sterilize."

She handed him the necklace
and Shiv ran his fingers over
the smooth rainbow beads.

"They're knotted," he said.

"Yes, teething beads should be
knotted between every bead if they're
small enough to swallow," she said.
"Some people prefer pendants that
are too big for a baby to swallow."

She lifted out another necklace
with blue and white beads and
a big gray whale at the bottom.

"Graham bought me this during
a trip to the Maldives, because I
gave away my old necklace in
these colors," she went on.

"What, why?" Shiv said.
"Didn't you want it anymore?"

Elisabeth smiled. "I just got
my first grandbaby, Shiv,"
she said. "When Heron
told me that he and Mallory
are coparenting, I gave
each of them one of
my teething necklaces."

"They didn't get mad?"
Shiv whispered, staring.

"No, Heron was thrilled with his,"
Elisabeth said. "He remembers
seeing his little siblings playing with it,
so it reminds him of his family ties.
Of course, he went out and bought
his own too -- one black-and-gray
and one purple-and-white that
he likes to wear together."

"Then what did you give
to Mallory?" Shiv wondered.

"Black beads with a centerpiece
of larger blue and white ones,"
Elisabeth said. "Then Mallory
bought a black-and white bracelet
and a white pendant in a skull theme
to match. When she discovered
the crochet beads, she got a set of
a teething necklace and a bracelet in
absolutely garish green and orange."

"Her cape colors," Shiv murmured.

"Yes, exactly," Elisabeth said.
"Mallory doesn't have to give up
her whole life just because she had
a baby. She is, however, rethinking
how she wants to handle cape politics
with a baby on board. It's complicated."

"Glad I don't have to worry about
that," Shiv said with a shudder.

"Then I'm glad too," Elisabeth said.
"You know, I get the impression that
in addition to people mistreating you,
they also treated babies even worse."

"Well, duh," Shiv said. "Babies
can't defend themselves."

"It isn't their job to defend
themselves," Elisabeth said.
"That is what adults are for."

"Yeah, right," Shiv said bitterly.
"Tell that to my foster parents."

"I would very much like
to do that," Elisabeth said
with a dark glint in her eye.

Wary of the potential threat,
Shiv leaned away. "Uh huh."

"I'm sorry, dear, I didn't mean
to scare you," she said. "I just wish
I could give those people a piece
of my mind. Any time you feel like
sharing names, I would love to listen."

"You uh ... could ask Dr. G about that,"
Shiv said, looking down. "I let him
in my records, and I don't want
to have to tell this shit twice."

"You're giving me permission
to help Graham track down
the people who hurt you?"
Elisabeth said carefully.
"I would like that very much,
but I want you to be sure."

The pencil topper wiggled
as Shiv nibbled on it instead
of biting his lip like usual.

"Yeah. I'm sure," he said
with a sharp jerk of a nod.
"You know more about
this kinda crap than I do."

"Then thank you for
letting me help," she said.
"You seem to like my necklace."
She nodded at the rainbow beads
that he was still running through
his fingers. "Shall we look in
the bite bucket for chewelry?"

"I guess," Shiv said, and
handed the necklace back.

This time Elisabeth simply
tipped over the bucket and
spilled everything on the floor,
spreading them with her hands.

"Hey!" Shiv protested.
"You're makin' a mess."

"So?" Elisabeth said. "This
makes it easier to see all of
the items, and after we finish
looking, we can just scoop them
back into the bite bucket."

Now that they were
all spread out, Shiv could
see the different types of
chew toys in the set.

There were pendants of
dolphins, sharks, and robots.
There were big chunky bracelets
in several different solid colors.

Shiv saw more pencil toppers, too,
and some flat things meant to be held
by hand, like a butterfly and a car.

There was also a whole package
of actual teething toys for babies --
pacifiers on beaded strings, handhelds
of cute little animals and cookies and
a Christmas tree -- so when Shiv put
those next to the others, he could
see the differences between them.

Then Shiv found the prism necklace.
"Ooo!" he exclaimed, grabbing it.

Plastic crinkled as he ripped open
the wrapper. The beads were long
and faceted, pointed at both ends,
strung together at the top edge
so they formed a fan necklace.

"Mint, turquoise, periwinkle,
lilac, fuchsia, scarlet," he said,
naming the colors as his fingers
flipped each prism up and down.

He tried nibbling on the prisms,
and the shape was comfortable, but
not so much with a whole necklace
as with a separate pencil topper.

Shiv loved the colors, though,
and his hands kept playing
with the interesting shapes.

"You really like that one,"
Elisabeth observed, smiling.
"Do you want to keep it?"

"I don't wear much jewelry,"
Shiv said, though he didn't put
the necklace in the wash bucket.
"Besides, it's still baby...ish."

"So do you think I'm a baby
because I wear teething beads
and sometimes fidget with them
to stay calm?" Elisabeth said.

"Of course not!" said Shiv.

"Then neither are you,"
she said gently. "You like
mouthing things, that's all.
It's a perfectly normal urge,
stronger in some people than
in others. As long as you find
safe things to nibble, it's fine."

"Okay, yeah," Shiv said.
"Sometimes I just want
something in my mouth, or
my hand. Mostly I've switched
to crochet when I want to keep
my hands busy, but that does
nothing for my mouth."

"Then by all means, keep
the chewies," Elisabeth said.

"Yeah, I think I will," Shiv said,
and put on the prism necklace.
"I don't know if it's enough, though."

"If you need more stimulation,
we certainly can find some,"
Elisabeth said. "How do you
feel about comfort-cooking?"

"I love it," Shiv said, grinning.
"I baked soooo many cookies
with Tolli and Simon at Christmas!"

"Let's bake some bread," she said.
"We can make sweet buns, which
take a lot of kneading, and there's
sourdough starter on the counter."

"I like kneading," Shiv said. "I love
sourdough! It's so chewy and sharp."
Then he gave her a sidelong glance.
"I uh ... Tolli told me you do the thing with
slashing the bread dough in fancy designs,
and you might ... maybe ... showmehow?"

Elisabeth smiled. "I'd love to do that,"
she said. "So far, nobody else has
wanted to learn more than the basics.
It will be fun to have a real student!"

"Okay, great," Shiv said. "Will that
work with the sweet buns, though?"

"We can make hot cross buns or
leave the tops plain," she said. "We
always keep a tub of artisan dough
in the fridge, though. That makes
great bread bowls. We could make
a batch of Irish stew for supper, too."

"I'm smooth with that," Shiv said,
his mouth watering. "But, uh,
don't you feel like you're maybe
biting off more than you can chew?
I'm not the easiest guy to handle."

"There's nothing like biting off
more than you can chew,
and then chewing anyway,"
she said with an impish grin.

Shiv laughed. "Yeah, I get that,"
he said. "Okay, lead the way.
That bread won't bake itself."

* * *


"There's nothing like biting off more than you can chew, and then chewing anyway."
-- Mark Burnett

In Terramagne-America, many cities have addressed the issue of smoking in public by separating spaces.  A smoking park is a pocket park with facilities for smokers such as a shelter, benches, and ashcans.  It is usually restricted to people of legal smoking age in that locale.  By providing attractive space for smokers, such parks encourage them to get outdoors and indulge their habit in a safe place where they will not bother nonconsenting bystanders.  A majority of smoking parks are either funded by taxes on tools and supplies for smoking or sponsored by companies that produce those.  In this way, the facilities are self-supporting and do not pose a drain on municipal park services.

The Mercedes Pall Mall Smoking Park includes outdoor benches as well as a shelter.

Sensory chewies provide oral stimulation and help with calm and focus.  These chew noodles come in several colors and textures. The textured pencil toppers have the same texture but different colors.  Either can make a good substitute for cigarettes.

Some stores sell chewies by the bucket, which is much cheaper than buying them individually.  A bucket usually contains multiple sizes, shapes, and colors so everyone can find something they like.

Teething necklaces are designed for adults to wear and babies to play with.  Elisabeth has the Christopher Teething Necklace in rainbow colors.

Elisabeth gave Heron her Bleeker teething necklace in blue and gray.  Then Graham gave Elisabeth a blue and gray teething necklace with a whale pendant.

Heron bought himself a Greenwich teething necklace in gray and black, and a Colorado Rockies one in purple and white.  Together those make the colors of the asexual pride flag.

Elisabeth gave Mallory an Essex teething necklace in black with a few turquoise and ivory accents.  To match that, Mallory bought herself a black skull silicone bracelet and a white skull teething pendant.  She also found a matched set of a green and orange teething necklace with crochet and wooden beads and a simpler green and orange teething bracelet.

Shiv latches onto the Krypto Bite Chewable Gem Necklace in rainbow.

T-America uses silicone cigarette replacers to help people stop smoking.

These cute teething toys are designed for actual infants, made of food-grade silicone.

Chickadee Chewelry carries a variety of products including the pacifiers on beaded strings.

This is the red Wash bucket.

Elisabeth's Mother jewelry box came down from Graham's mother.

Chewing is normal and part of oral sensory processing.  Some people have high oral needs, others low.  It's a common quirk of people who were neglected as infants.  Shiv will chew on his fingers, pencils, or anything else he can get in his mouth.  Dr. Bloch noticed it and gave him vegetable sticks, which Shiv still uses as a favorite snack.  Gray noticed it and offered hand-feeding, which Shiv adores.  So Shiv is getting better options now than cigarettes.

Repetitive motion is called fidgeting when normal people do it and stimming when neurovariant people do it. It's the same thing, just different in scope, style, and social tolerance. Some people seek to normalize it and accept it, because it can have benefits. However, sometimes stimming becomes dangerous. In this case, redirection may help replace a harmful stim with a safe one.

Lip biting can have various meanings, one of which is literally self-injury to prevent speaking about something the person doesn't want to say or is not permitted to say. This can relate to problems with the oral stage of infancy, in which the first challenge is trust vs. distrust. Disruptions of this learning process can cause an oral fixation. Shiv had a miserable infancy in which his needs were not met, leaving him a miserable young adult who distrusts people, hurts himself, and constantly puts things in his mouth. He has a profound need for oral stimulation. This kind of pattern also plays into violence. Most writing about oral sensory-seeking focuses on stopping it. That approach often fails because it doesn't address the underlying need. In order to handle oral sensory seeking-properly, you need to provide a safe source of stimulation and consider the cause(s) behind the urge. Both as a mother and as a doctor, Elisabeth recognizes the signs and knows how to address the need for oral stimulation. She just doesn't want Shiv doing that in ways that are harmful to him or set a really bad example for her kids.

Boys and men often don't want to talk about their problems.  Stuffing down problems is not a healthy way of dealing with them.  There are ways to help men talk about their problems and talk to someone who won't open up.  Prying tends to backfire, though.

Comfort cooking is a healthy form of self-care.  Ideally, look for nutritious recipes instead of junk.

Tags: cyberfunded creativity, family skills, fantasy, fishbowl, poem, poetry, reading, safety, weblit, writing
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