All of my children were home for dinner tonight for the first time this week. I made tomato soup from scratch and served it with grilled cheese sandwiches made from crusty French bread and gruyere. We sat around the table and talked about our day. My girl told us she needs a pair of character shoes for her play. Not knowing what character shoes are, I asked for a description. It was then I realized she was describing a pair of heeled dance shoes, the ones with straps that you wear for jazz or tap. After dinner I went into my closet and pulled down a pair, Capezio, buff colored, size seven. I can't find the remote for the living room television set, entire categories of my linens are missing, and I just found the junk drawer yesterday, but I can lay my hands on a pair of dance shoes in under two minutes. I could also dress her as a cheerleader from that closet, head to toe including letter jacket, in my high school colors. Or produce the lovely cream taffeta dress she wore in her Aunt Samantha's wedding -- when she was not quite three. I truly think I might need to reconsider my priorities.
The boys both had little to say about the school day, but loads to share about their afterschool skateboarding, scooter riding, sword fighting, and frog hunting exploits. I cleaned up the dinner dishes while the little man had a bath and the older two did algebra homework and test prep. Hubby played with his new ipod (a gift from his boss) and shared an NPR podcast with me about an amazing parrot that died this week.
We sent everyone off to bed. I jumped into the shower to wash off the day's grime, accumulated from changing light bulbs, hanging curtains and pictures, and cleaning bathrooms. I thought about the differences between my girl and my boys. She supplies me with a level of detail that could stand to be whittled down. The boys tell me they cut, bruised, or banged something when I notice an ugly wound and ask if they require medical attention. After my shower I went to the other side of the house to kiss my children goodnight and tuck the little one in. I found him crying in his bed.
Even though he is still relatively little, my baby does not really cry much, so I was a bit alarmed. I sat down on the edge of his bed and ran a hand through his damp hair. Wet lashes and red, slightly swollen eyes told me he had been crying for a while. When I asked why, he told me about a boy named Ethan who sometimes joins his class. I didn't understand what he was telling me at first. He was sobbing, and little boys tend to tell things in rushes of words and blurs of sentences. There was something about a finger puppet named Elmo that is special, that calms Ethan down, and how Ethan might have his feelings hurt if other children make fun of him. "He would know, Mom, even if they whispered, because Ethan can hear a train TWO MINUTES before you or me. He can hear them in the whole school." I asked him how he knew Ethan could hear so well and was told that his mother shared this with the class because Ethan's disease makes him special.
He used the word "disease", my eight year old boy. He couldn't remember the name but it started with an 'a'. I immediately supplied "autism" which he recognized as the right word. My little boy was crying over the imagined hurt feelings of a boy in his class with autism. I was dumbstruck.
I explained as best I could what I understand autism to be. We talked about mainstreaming and IEPs and special teachers. We talked about someone in my family with Down's and what his life was like. We talked about differences in perception and the special abilities that some people with autism display. I told him that Ethan's parents want the same thing for Ethan that we want for him: to have a happy and fulfilled life. I talked to him about the difference an education can make in the life of a child, special or ordinary.
I suspect other children are making fun of Ethan. I told my son it was okay to say something if he hears others saying unkind things. We decided he should say he doesn't think it's cool to laugh at others in a mean way. "I will tell them, Mom. I just didn't know what to do and it made me sad." I was thankful we were sitting in the dark.
I left his room with wet cheeks. His sensitivity and tender heart touched me and astonished me. I am sad and proud at the same time. And I am aware that some things just cannot be taught that well. My little boy is just like his father.