“My face gets all red,” he noted.
“Oh?” I didn’t know where he was going with this little tidbit of self-disclosure, but oftentimes neutral responses worked the best for those.
“Yeah,” he nodded. His hands continued to manipulate a small figurine: twisting, bending, spinning the head around.
I offered a box with a some accessories: a chair, a bike, a car, a bath, a bed, a backpack.
He raised his eyes without really looking at me, and returned his attention to the object in his hands. He wasn’t exactly aggressive as he was persistent. I found myself wondering when he’ll realize the head could come off.
“My face gets all red,” he repeated. “I watched.”
“Hmm?” I responded.
“Yeah.” He looked up, this time meeting my eyes in part-challenge, part-fascination. “In the mirror. Did you know I have ropes in my neck?”
He touched the sides of his neck, then grimaced and twisted his face and torso into a representation of intense muscle tension. Strain or fury or struggle or all.
“See?” he grunted.
The veins in his neck bulged and a small tributary pulsed at his temple, sprouting a delicate delta underneath the almost transparent skin.
“Yes, I do see.”
“It’s what happens every time,” he sighed as he relaxed his face and shoulders. Fierceness gone. Vulnerable.
“It’s what happens, when?” I had some inkling as to what he was describing but I wasn’t fully sure … and not assuming was often the right thing to do, anyhow. Especially with children who’d had so little opportunity to question or discuss or explain or inquire or straighten worries out. This little guy had had almost none, and for a boy who talked with almost no one, it was progress that he could speak about himself at all.
His eyes sought mine and the rising pink in his cheeks competed with the retreating redness from his earlier maneuver. He bent the figurine to sitting position, to a stand, to sitting again.
“When I go,” he muttered. “You know, when I … um … have to, uh, push the poo out.”
“Oh,” I noted blandly. “In the bathroom?”
The boy nodded. The blush spread down to below his chin.
“I think most people strain when they poo. It can make their faces red.”
His eyes widened at that, or perhaps also at my matter-of-fact discussion of matters too many in society render embarrassing even though these are naught but normal body-functions.
“Did you look, too?” he tried.
“At my face? You mean, when I use the bathroom?”
He bit his lower lip and nodded, balancing a tightrope of shame and disclosure and curiosity and possibly worry. Perhaps all. Perhaps more.
“I can’t say I have, but it is just what happens when people move their bowels. It is normal to strain or push a little.”
He thought about it. Continued to play with the figurine in his hands.
I wrestled with whether to say anymore. I wanted to reassure him but also wanted to know if it was hurting him to go to the bathroom, so I would know whether there was a problem that needs to be checked. I wanted to know if anything changed recently … if something happened … Heavens knows plenty had in the past, even if I did not know exactly what. Was this him just being more aware of his own body, or was it an attempt to speak of other things … of other kinds of red-faced strain he might’ve seen? Was it both?
He didn’t look distressed. Then again, Toy-figurine Man had lost his head a few times.
Another moment passed.
“Yeah, Dara does it, too.” He stated, asked.
The new infant at his foster home.
I nodded encouragement.
“Sometimes her face gets really red and funny and then Mama Molly changes her.” He looked at me, shame and blush seeming to recede. “You can smell it,” he giggled, testing.
“I bet,” I smiled.
“It stinks,” he took himself into full-out-laugh zone now. “Mama Molly says Dara’s poo stinks to infinity and beyond.”
I grinned. Mama Molly was a keeper. “Poo sure can.”
“Mine does!” he chortled.
Toy-figurine Man got his head back. Kept it on. Got put onto his bike and taken around the table and into the box.
“So,” the boy raised his chin in the direction of his folder and the games on the chair next to me. “Can we start?”