A New Year and a Bigger Boy (#188)
The New Year always brings new hope, and a new roadmap to follow in Autismland.
2006 brings with it the knowledge that, come May 15, Charlie will be 9–one year shy of the big double digit 10–and that, even as his understanding of the world and his language and his skills increase, he is growing up to be a big boy. Literally.
We took the train into New York City this afternoon. The plan was that Jim and I would take turns hanging with Charlie while each of us slipped into and out of a cocktail sort of party in a book-stuffed apartment. Charlie has mastered the business of a city visit–the trains and subways, the crowds, the busy chaos in the streets, smells both industrial and very human. Jim often makes me think he was a tour guide in his previous life (or will be one in the next) and is forever engineering treks in Greenwich Village or on the West Side Highway that involve a happy combination of walking, historical sites, and refreshments (“clear drink” and “burger ann fwies” in Charlie’s view).
Today the plan was someone else’s party and Jim and I devised a strategy involving me getting (1) Charlie something to eat (while Jim went to the party), (2) Jim walking Charlie (while I went to the party), (3) cellphone communication so we could exit smoothly and together.
I’ll start with (3). We did exit together if in some haste (and somewhat frazzled), after Jim and Charlie came looking for me while Charlie’s stomach was acting up and my cell phone volume was set too low amid the party talk and noise. We hustled back to Penn Station and onto a train: “Home to Jersey?” we asked Charlie.
“Home,” he said.
(1) and (2) went well.
Jim and I both have been feeling very aware of how big a boy (4′ 6″) Charlie has become, me today as I found myself looking almost eye to eye with him at a diner, and Jim as Charlie struggled to pull himself up the rings on a playground. (We’ll need to work with the OT on strengthening his arm and hand muscles–Charlie is hypotonic.) Piggybacks rides are over for Charlie, a milestone that I am both a bit sad at and yet, a bit to my surprise, proud of.
“Do you miss how it was when he was so much smaller?” Jim asked me the other day after Charlie was asleep and we were looking at photos from two years ago.
I’ve been thinking about that question ever since, especially as I overheard a woman this morning beaming “And another little one’s on the way.” On a walk with Charlie, I turned to call him to keep moving and, when I saw him looking at me from the corner of his eyes, I saw that big-eyed baby in the face of my bigger boy. And I still see that infant’s tiny features in those of the Charlie sitting across from me at that New York diner this afternoon.
I ordered fries, a Greek salad, and coffee. Charlie let me sneak a few fries and munched cucumbers and lettuce; I had the dolmas and the olives and tomatoes as I half-listened in on the chitchat of 20-somethings eating omelets, fretting with cellphone messages, and analyzing the bacon cheeseburger. An older man sat by himself reading a computer manual; another man in a beat-up coat came in for “the regular, soft scrambled eggs.”
“Charlie, where are we?” I said.
“We’re in New York!”
Over the head of the balding man in suspenders, I saw Jim’s smile.
“We’re having a date, sort of,” I said, relinquishing my seat at the table.
“Hey pal,” said Jim and poked at the salad.
In hindsight, if the three of us had just stayed to finish the Greek salad in that diner and I had had another cup of coffee and Jim had split a soda with Charlie, I would have written a breezily triumphant story of how we had one fine New Year’s Day afternoon in New York City. But in Autismland, you have to learn to make choices so that everyone can have a successful experience. Even as we always want to expose Charlie to new situations, we always want to do what’s best for all of us. In Autismland, living is learning, and tomorrow–and Charlie–always gives us another chance.
Make that 364 chances. If not more.