What Happened to Us in 2006 (#558)
We spent our last afternoon in California walking down by the bay in Berkeley, where my mother recalled childhood camping trips with her father and siblings (sleeping under the stars because my grandfather preferred to camp tentfree, hiking while carrying the sleeping bags, and eating pork ‘n’ beans kept cool while tethered to a rock in the river), and eating one more dinner in Oakland’s Chinatown with assorted members of my family, including my Ngin Ngin. Walking down 8th Street my father reminicised about his father (my Yeh Yeh)’s store, Tai Wah, and how two of my aunts (who enjoyed being “two little old ladies” in New York City when they attended Witness and Hope, the October 27th autism conference) had, once upon a time in their girlhood, taken the bus from their West Oakland apartment to Chinatown to open up Tai Wah so Yeh Yeh could get some rest.
It has been more than a year since I was in California. Last Christmas, we just could not make the trip. Charlie had just started at a new private autism school and, while he liked it, it was not the time to embark on a transcontinental ride of a few hours 10,000 feet up. It was the first time since I went away to college twenty years ago that I have not come back to California for the holidays.
The last time we came out here for Christmas in 2004, Charlie came down on Christmas Eve with a raging stomach flu and spent all but the last day curled up on the couch while my mom hurried around doing laundry. (The trip had not started on a high note exactly: Jim and I had picked up Charlie from school with rug burn on his forehead, after he got upset during library.) Little did we know that the beginning of 2005—-when Charlie started to have major behavior and therefore learning trouble in his public school program—would put us on a path that led to our taking him out of school for a month one November day and leaving our house for my in-laws’ basement and a school Charlie likes so much that mention of his teacher and aides yesterday evoked an eager tone in his voice.
From the ride on the airplane on December 23rd, to a visit to an autism center, offering incense at a Buddhist temple, biking to the ocean in Golden Gate Park, and walking across the Golden Gate Bridge—and one day of post-holiday holiday ache (because in Autismland, a week of great days is not the same without one tougher day)—it has been a great week.
But I think the greatest moment came this evening.
Charlie had showered and was sneaking out clementines from the refrigerator. “Photos, turn on!” he called to me, to see the photo slideshow on this computer. I took this as a possible sign that Charlie might be okay about leaving California tomorow, after him frowning and making whining sort of sounds when we showed him his calendar/picture schedule and talked about “going to Grandpa’s house”; Charlie usually watches this photo show on school nights and associates it (I think) with being home in New Jersey.
“PoPo!” Charlie called and turned his head towards the kitchen, where my mother was. “PoPo! Sit!”
Charlie pulled over his chair towards the computer screen and touched the chair beside him.
I think he was asking my mother to watch his photo show with him, which she did.
The experts call this “joint attention.”
I call it, Charlie, you’ve come so very far and I can’t even see where you might be going.