What is it, I wonder to myself, trying to pinpoint it exactly, in definite and concrete examples, that makes my son so different from his peers? The most obvious thing one might cite, the dark red glasses, are off the list from the start. That’s not it at all, it’s something else. I think back on my interactions with his peers. Once and a while one will stand out, one of many will have a similar ‘thing’ to my son; the only way I can articulate it at the moment is, they ‘get it’. Get what? And am I not sounding a bit of a snob here? Yeah, I admit that, I am sometimes a snob. But that’s not it right now either. Elihu is different; I think anyone would agree. Just what is at the essence of this difference? Might I make a list of some sort for myself? Would that help? I need to understand this better…
I sometimes feel a tinge of sorrow that Elihu is so thoughtful and aware of things in his world. There’s a hint of adult, of peer, in him that sets him apart. And because of this I sometimes miss his truly early years – the first three, I’d say – when he was really and truly a baby. Then I knew unquestionably what he was. Then at least there was no doubt, I knew where I stood. I knew where he stood. Lest I fret too much over this, I’m reminded by things he’ll say or do, ways he’ll act (see tantrums and laundry!) that do in fact tell me that he is still a young boy. Yet somehow, in some way that I’m struggling here to identify for myself, he is no longer a child. How can I say this? He is, yes, he is a kid, and yet, not…
And as for a tiny child’s adoration? Well, although my child is no longer small, I’m lucky to get that daily. In fact, it’s really one of the things that keeps me going. I can’t imagine being a mother to an autistic child who never hugged, kissed, told their mother they loved them. Truly, my heart goes out to these moms who must long for those moments with every cell in their body… I am grateful to the skies for what my son bestows upon me. When I come in to wake him each morning (or, well, nearly each morning!) he always insists I stay to snuggle. This means that we just lay together on the bed for a few moments, usually with arms or sides touching. Sometimes we hug, sometimes not. It’s just a comfortable moment in the covers, in which we simply take in being here, being together. Sometimes we talk, sometimes not. It’s just about connecting.
And regarding connection, here is another related perk of living with this aware child; he recognizes his own need for connection in the course of his day. If we’ve been doing our own things for a good bit of time and have been psychically apart in some way – after a day at school, at home, or temporarily isolated by life’s general busy-ness, Elihu will come up to me and say “We haven’t connected in a while. I need to connect.” At which time I drop what I’m doing. We find a place to just sit together. Since he’s still small enough to fit in my lap, he usually climbs up, and we just sit together, arms around each other. We’ll look into each other’s eyes and just stay there for a moment or two. And I do realize how this seems very much like a romantic exchange. I believe it is related, yet it is very different. And I can tell you that this is is one very peaceful and blessed way to recharge the batteries in a life of never-ending events. An oasis for us both. And it’s been at Elihu’s request alone (until recently, as I’ve begun to recognize when my own feelings of disconnection surface and have requested ‘connections’ of him). He alone came to know what it was to feel disconnected, and furthermore, to know the importance of turning that feeling around. He knew what he needed, how to get it, and how to ask. That, I think, is a skill that many adults don’t even have together, ya know?
In many ways I’ve created in my son the very things that now I sometimes lament having encouraged. I sometimes wonder if I’ve created a child too savvy, too adult-thinking for his own good. Yet I do not regret my teaching him. (I do regret not curbing some of my more unheatlhy actions, like muttering about people under my breath, being quick to anger, expressing opinions like they were accepted fact. I pray my ‘good’ teachings – you know, the old ‘do as I say and not as I do’ – can make up for some of my poor examples.) I’ve spoken to my son as if he were a peer for perhaps all of his life. I also know that I’ve spoken to him in a cutesy baby voice once upon a time – how can one not speak like that to an infant? I can remember playing ‘kissing factory’ – a mommy-invented, changing table game which most certainly involved baby talk. But beyond those tiny years, I’ve talked to my son with an inherent respect. I tried to impart information – and understanding – to him as I would have anyone give it to me. I’ve always wanted him to truly get things – to understand as much as he’s able. I personally believe that people rise to the expectations set for them; I expect that he can understand, so I give him the information to be able to understand. Make sense?
There’s a personal motivation for my wanting to present all pertinent information possible to my son. It comes of my own experience in part, and it also comes from the sense that Elihu and I both have of his being somehow ‘different’. Throughout my life I have often felt very, very lost in this world – often not understanding rules that seemed second nature for those around me. Kids always seemed to ‘know’ things that were an absolute mystery to me. How did they all just ‘know’ about the rules of the games at recess? Or know the icons of pop culture? Or all the types of cereal? Was it just because I didn’t care, no one taught me or that I was missing some sort of gene for this? I missed stuff growing up, and I still just can’t place what it was. It wasn’t even so cut-and-dried as not knowing the names of the teen idols or cereals. Cuz I knew of many, and my kid too knows the names to drop. There was just something else missing. I was aware of it. I just knew that I was missing things, information – something – that other kids were getting. Elihu’s dad had a similar ‘missing’ of things, cues, information and so on, however the difference with Fareed was that he didn’t know he was missing things! He was clueless, and in his case, ignorance was bliss. He was not plagued as a young child by a gnawing sense that he was missing something as Elihu and I have been. This sense of being in the dark, of living in a world parallel but apart from others is something Elihu feels very keenly. Oh how it hurts my heart to hear him express his anguish, his deep need to be like others, to see the world as they do. He’s been brought to tears wishing that he would love Star Wars and soccer like his classmates. Through his tears he condems his beloved bird guides and artists’ tools, his djembe, his drums, his difference. It doesn’t happen often, yet when it does, I let it. I don’t let my discomfort at witnessing his allow me to stifle him. Instead, I try to be a quiet audience, an emotional sponge, taking in all the sorrow, all the isolation, being a witness to it as if somehow I can bear it away from him, transform it, and leave him renewed and full of hope. My intention is for this, yet I doubt I can lessen his sorrow by much. So I do the best thing I can. I just listen. If nothing lessens the pain of these moments, at least I can feel better about them when I consider how healthy it is that he can identify that he’s feeling this way, and how lucky Elihu is to come into such an awareness at such a young age. My own feelings had no audience, had no witness, and so manifested in my high school years in the terror of panic attacks, and the near-miss of not graduating.
My talking to him like a peer – my giving him as much goddam information in as clear a way as I possibly can – talking to him with an inherent respect – I do ALL of this as a means to fill him up, to equip him with so much knowledge that if he don’t know it today, he can goddam well figure it out for himself one day. Ya know? I want him armed. I want him loved. I want him to know that I’m there for him, I’m not holding any secrets back. I’m in full transparency mode. I received an email from some mommy-related site the other day, whose topic was ‘when to have the sex talk with your kids’. Sheesh. My kid’s known how babies were made for years. He’s on the ready for those intoxicating, irrational and annoying feelings that his teenage years will bring on. I’m not saying that we’ll continue to have an open, easy dialogue about sex when those years hit, I’m just saying that we’ve been there, done that, and it wasn’t a big deal. Really.
All that and he loves flowers. I say this with unabashed pride. Yes, now I’m just bragging. Whenever Elihu comes grocery shopping with me, it’s understood that his repayment will come in the form of a long, lingering visit to the floral department. We’ll lament the high cost of the beautiful bunches, search for the most affordable items, an invariably settle on a single red rose. I’ve taken to pointing out to folks who we chat with there that Elihu sees no color. I’m not bragging in this case, but rather looking for someone with whom to share my continued amazement. The kid sees NO color at all, yet finds beauty in flowers that few people do. On a purely practical level, I do think he’s keyed into the shapes and lines and profiles in ways ‘we’ aren’t, much the same way as he’s attuned to the structural and linear differences between birds and can usually identify them much faster than color-sighted folks. Whatever, it really doesn’t matter, for his love of flowers is deep and real. He cannot be rushed when admiring flowers, whether in a shop or a garden. Man am I glad this kid found me.
Then, there’s the drumming. And I don’t mean the ‘look how cute my kid is on the drum set’ nor do I refer to the hippie-dippie sort of hand drumming that passes in a drum circle. He’s got something. I have something drum-related too, only it’s more the desire to play than the innate ability. I got myself some drums at seventeen, and spent hours on them, but never got much past some rudimentary rock skills. But my lack of ability wasn’t daunting to me; I just really needed to play. To keep that groove, that steady right foot… So, Elihu’s got this natural ability to play hand drums – he’s got this signature groove he plays on his djembe. His dad would call it a Punjabi sort of groove, and while I don’t know enough of the specifics to comment on it, I can say yes, that makes sense. It’s a swung thing, a distinct pattern that I myself cannot emulate. I haven’t tried very hard, for I admit that I’m not one to put lots of effort into something if there isn’t a flicker of natural aptitude for it. And clearly, this rhythm is something inorganic to me at the outset, which gives me a great deal of respect for Elihu’s ability to play it, and so effortlessly, so naturally. Not sure when Elihu ‘got his groove’, but he’s had it for at least a year. I think last summer it kind of just came. His dad got him a nice-sounding small djembe a couple of years ago, and last year it just made sense.
My kid also has a great sense of humor. I myself grew up with Monty Python and have exposed my son from the start to some of the more classic bits (and the naughty bits, sorry, couldn’t resist) since he was able to possibly understand them. I have perhaps desensitized him in some way to profanity in my sharing of some humor, but at the same time I have taught him the importance of using profanity in only the most carefully chosen, and appropriate places. It wouldn’t be a ‘bad’ word if we used it all the time, would it? He knows swearing is not something he’s allowed to do – at least in the proper and outside world. He also knows how funny just one little swear word can be, when inserted at the right place. Timing; that’s something he gets. He’s gotten that for as long as I can remember. Man, he’s got that thing. This kid was being sarcastic with me – and fooling me with the old straight face – since he was four! At five his greatest aspiration was to be like Calvin, of “Calvin and Hobbes”. (In fact, when he was five he went as Spaceman Spiff for Halloween.) He’s even concocted his own composite cartoon in which Calvin coaches the young and naive Caillou. Hee hee. Can you just see how loaded that one is? Maybe being outside the normal world helps him to see how funny things are. I think that’s part of it. We all know that phenomenon of the professional comedian; a loner, recluse, a person of few words who seems a whole different person altogether when on stage.
So I guess I’ve compiled a list of sorts. Self-realization, self-actualization, self-determination, self-expression. Not a bad list. Just maybe too heavy a portfolio for such a young child. Maybe that’s what that sense of humor is for.