It begins with paper stars.
Hand cut by small hands, names written on each one, for our first meal with company in our borrowed cabin. Olive and her new friend Indigo, creative girls with colors in their names, want to make the table fancy for dinner.
Elias resumes his place at the head, a galaxy of name tags before him.
I don't see it coming.
Indigo's Mom, Kim, has just arrived with bread and wine, David with salmon dip and crackers, Indigo's Dad, Jay, is biking down Lowell Point road to meet us.
The sun slowly sinks in the sky, closing another clear day, a long stretch of calm weather, rare for Seward, mirroring an even larger stretch of calm weather at home.
Over a month now, maybe even two, mayhem free. I've swept away the eggshells. Relaxed my shoulders. When Elias's field trip earlier in the day involved full-gluten pizza only, I said, "Sure you can cheat."
"He had a great time, " Nick said after the salmon hatchery field trip he helped chaperone. " He was acting really appropriate."
He's doing so good, I think.
I don't see it coming.
I place baked brie with raspberry jam on the table, as the girls spread their white stars around, deciding who will sit where.
Elias pushes his star away.
Olive almost didn't make him one, asking for seven pieces of paper instead of eight: "Because Elias doesn't usually like what I give him."
I didn't say: Oh he does honey, he just doesn't know how to express it. I handed my girl seven pieces of paper. We both know she's right.
But they must have decided to make him one anyways, to include Elias in their creations--cutting out a star much smaller than the rest, less space to reject.
Reject he does, and not just his own five-pointed name tag but the whole creative spirit of their play. With eyes wild, he stands up, grabs the two stars labeled Mom, and crushes them in his man hands.
"No!" Olive cries, but she sees the fury in her brother's face and swallows her protests, as fear overpowers tears.
Elias is already beyond language, his nervous system a fire alarm, he is the hurricane, the volcano erupting, and no amount of reason will bring him back down.
And there is baked brie on the table and new friends gathered around.
Nick wraps his arms around Elias and carries him to the bathroom, the only place besides outside with a door. A door that doesn't fully close.
"I'm sorry," I say to Kim and Indigo, "This is part of our life too."
"Its Ok,' Kim says, and I know at a heart level that with this woman I've only recently met, it really is OK. Our Mom name-tags may be mangled, but they were mangled together, and though my son may have just startled her daughter, our family's friendship will survive.
I join Nick and Elias in the bathroom, a room with nothing but sharp angles and hard surfaces, the worst place for a flailing boy with impaired balance and motor control hell-bent on harming whoever stands between him and the rest of his sister's paper stars.
"I can't be in here with him," Nick says, aware of his own brewing rage, and I'm thankful to be alone with Elias, knowing that when Nick sees our boy that's almost my size hit me, the defender in him can overtake the parent, just as when Elias hurts Olive, he is suddenly a predator, and I am Mama bear, and I have to remind myself he is also my son.
It is getting harder to restrain a kid who is now my equal in upper body strength-- lean and muscled like a rower, Elias swings at me and grabs wherever he can, with nails that need to be trimmed. I deflect and defend and quietly say, "I see that you are mad and wanting to hurt me." His nail slices the corner of my lip, my neck, draws blood at my ankle.
"I love you Elias," I say, hoping to get beyond the out-of-control-curtain to my boy who struggles beneath the weight of a world that doesn't always fit inside his ordered lines, where cups and dishes decorate tables not paper stars.
Nick joins me again, and we do this tag team dance between the horror of the bathroom and the warmth of our guests in the living room, where the baked brie slowly grows cold.
I can hear Elias from the table and I can see the fear in my daughter's eyes. Kim and David, along with Jay who has arrived amidst it all and joined the ruckus with grace, carry on a conversation to distract the girls.
Elias lunges his whole body at Nick and hits the counter's edge, when I return to the room with sharp angles and hard surfaces blood runs down my boy's face, splatters on the floor, my husband's shirt. Elias grabs my face with one hand and my hair with the other until all three of us lie in a tangle on the floor.
And I think, here we are, stars in our own comically gruesome Quentin Tarantino movie, with two different scenes on either side of the door.
This is crazy.
This is our crazy beautiful life.
When we free Elias's fingers from my head, I walk out past the crackle of the wood stove, the colorful candles burning, and say, "I'm sorry, but I just need you all to go outside."
And without question the whole crew stands and puts on their shoes.
Cabin successfully evacuated, we free Elias from the room of hard surfaces and sharp angles.
With more space its easier to deflect Elias's hands that still hit me as I stand by the front door.
And then we are saved by his shoes.
The act of sitting down to put them on to go outside, something Elias does every day, gets him back in his right mind.
He walks out and I invite everyone back inside. He follows. Elias stands before me with tears in his eyes and says, "I didn't just do all that."
"I know the boy I love didn't want to do all that," I respond.
And though Olive still gives him a wide berth, we all return to sit around the table, to eat salad and salmon chowder, the paper stars neatly tucked away by small hands, hidden in a drawer by girls willing to put their creative impulses on hold, to hide their handmade lights, to help keep Elias's fire from raging on into the night.
We pass the butter and tell stories, we laugh about text messages gone wrong, talk about lacrosse and skiing and the huge elevator at the Sea Life Center, and when Old Crow Medicine Show plays Wagon Wheel, we listen, as Elias quietly sings:
Rock me mama like a wagon wheel, rock me mama anyway you feel, hey mama rock me...
Welcome to our crazy beautiful life.
"I'll take the whole package," kim says before leaving as Indigo gives Olive a giant hug.