By Gabrielle Piens
There’s a whiteboard hanging in the kitchen, a calendar of sorts. Days of the week, but instead of schedules and reminders, it’s a checkerboard of red, green, and blue.
I kneel so that I’m closer to him, my son who’s eight, and though he shows no signs yet, I feel I have to prepare him, so every evening after I’ve taken my medication, I ask him how he feels today. “Is it an okay day? A green day?” He nods and I lift him up so he can color in the square. His days are green most of the time; sometimes he’s really zippy and giddy, and I’ll ask him what color his day was and he’ll say, “Red!” emphatically. He does get blue days, and those are the ones I watch a little more carefully. He doesn’t say much when I ask him how he feels, and he’s not as eager to color in the day’s square. I still lift him up; I guide his hand.
Before I figure out what dinner will be, and after he’s in front of the TV watching one of his favorite nature shows on sharks or wolves, I fill out my own checkerboard except I call it a mood chart and I have thirteen shades of red, green, and blue to choose from.
It’s likely that my little boy might have to do this too someday, that he’ll inherit part of or the entirety of my mood disorder, and I’d like to think I’m giving him the tools to manage, but mood swings don’t stay contained within squares. They seep, they surge, and plummet beyond.
One thing that brightens us up on rainy afternoons is baking monster cookies.
My son declares each M&M color must have equal representation or there will be an epic chocolate revolution.
While he sorts out the candies into small neat piles, I start combining the wet ingredients in a bowl.
The mixer sends specks of dough flying around, and we laugh at the huge mess we’re making.
When the cookies are safely tucked in the oven, he stands directly in front of it and stares so they’ll bake faster, an old habit that still makes me smile.
Just for now, I’m allowing myself some shaky peace of mind; his days are vast prairies where wildflowers bloom, the pops of yellows, creams, and magentas are signs of hope, signs that sanity is thriving, allowing him to explore a world of sharks and wolves with the fearless innocence that colors his days because it’s who he is. A curious, silly, earnest kid to the core.
It’s the core I want him to keep, like a talisman.
Everything else is out of his hands and mine, yet we still color in the checkerboard every evening, just like we brush our teeth and read a story.
I take my medication and fill out my chart, and I find that most of my days are green now. The color of jade and good luck, the color of hope.