Excerpt reprinted from A Beautiful Truth with permission of SOHO Press Inc.
A padlock on the fridge was an obvious measure. The old high doorknobs on most of the doors in the house were a boon to Walt and Judy because he wasn’t tall enough for a while. But he had quietly observed them in all their daily tasks and soon knew how to deal with every handle, knob, lever, door, switch, clasp, plug, button, tie or unlocked lock in the house. And because he was so good at climbing there was little they could put beyond his reach.
Walt remembered the cage which Henry Morris used for Buddy. He proposed it, and Judy said absolutely not.
Judy made checklists all around the house and tried to keep loose objects secured unless they were willing to sacrifice them as missiles or toys. Walt put padlocks on most of the cupboards. He tried to make the electrical outlets safer and always kept an eye over his shoulder when he was manning the grill; but he also figured a burn here and there was the surest way to learn.
Looee had an insatiable appetite for playing. And because of the weather in Vermont it often meant that diversions were required indoors. He loved hide-and-seek, but sometimes played it when others didn’t know he was playing. He climbed onto the mantel one afternoon and watched as Judy walked around the house calling his name. Looee it’s time to clean up the dining room, come on my little man, my Looee where are you. When she came around the corner he leapt from the mantel onto her shoulders and she lost control of her bladder. He then walked to the bathroom, took toilet paper and ran around the house, unraveling it and laughing.
Judy’s concern was not her own emotional state so much as how he reacted to it. When he saw her fear or anger he got frightened himself and he would run around screaming, trying to find comfort where he could until he felt he could touch her or get a hug. It magnified the impact of simple frights and required massive mental energy from Judy to feel calm almost before her fear.
They usually found such delight in seeing how much he could do, though, and, when they were in the right mood, they loved to watch him play. He learned by observation, by staring and remembering. He learned to crack eggs. You sit up on the counter there. He held the electric beater. He could spread butter on his toast with a knife. It was rarely done with grace or without a mess, but they imagined he would one day be more careful.
He loved to wear Walt’s ski-doo helmet, which was half the size of his body. He wore it backwards and walked into furniture. He laughed every time he hit something, and it was impossible not to laugh when he laughed. Larry saw him do this, and Walt said do other animals laugh.
Sometimes he could sit still. He liked magazines, especially ones that focused on home decoration and women. He loved pictures of women sitting in family rooms and he would make his I like this noise, that creamy repetition of ooo through his soft lip-trumpet, and he would look at Judy and tap the page with the back of his fingers. There were lovely minutes where she could settle him down with a magazine and read one of her own or do some work in the kitchen with the sound of I like this in the house.
When he misbehaved they tried to be patient with him, but they had their own ways of making him obey when patience was exhausted. With Judy, the most effective was to make him feel guilty. You’re going to make mummy sad if you do that. Do you want mummy to cry.
His natural way of apologizing was to come to you with his hand held out, shrugging and bowing as if to acknowledge that, while he had had no choice, what he had done was wrong.
Walt found that shouts and threats were the best way to bring him in line. He was never physical - he never had to be. Looee instinctively understood that shouts were a prelude to something worse. Shout at him, and be done with it. They always got on well immediately after an outburst.
At some level these negotiations and struggles for power meant that Walt had no choice but to see him as an equal - a child perhaps, but certainly not an animal. There was never any sense of ownership or mastery.
Walt shouted and took Looee in his arms and they went out for a drive, and Walt slapped his hands away whenever he reached for the wheel.
When it came to the artificial niceties of human life he had his own approach. He ate with cutlery. They never taught him or said that he should, he just saw them doing it and didn’t want to do anything they didn’t do. If they presented him with a bowl of food, he never dug in without a fork or spoon. He only drank from a cup or glass.