Moms I’ve Waited With (#105)

This is the first year since the fall of 2001 that I have not picked Charlie up from school or been at home for the schoolbus. With my schedule at new job, I have not been able to finish everything by 2pm and race off to pick him up. So far, he has done well at his afterschool program and, then very often, at an ABA session afterwards. I think he likes the bus ride with the kindly driver, and the variety of places and faces.

Since I had the day off for Columbus Day, I drove the over- over-familiar route across our town to his school (Charlie’s special ed classroom is not at our neighborhood school). I waited outside the same door I’ve stood at with the same two moms–G and B–for the past two years. (At 8, Charlie is the oldest in the classroom.) We talked about the upcoming NAAR walk. Our kids came out and Mom G, who has a one-year-old in a stroller, noted how much Charlie was talking: “Where’s Gong Gong live where’s Po Po live where’s Bake live? Where’s airpane live? Bye bye!”

Our school district has began to integrate verbal behavior teaching along with discrete trials in Charlie’s autism classroom and, I noted to both moms, “good results for Charlie.” “I’ve never heard him talking like this,” said Mom G as Mom B talked to the teacher. I called Charlie back and showed him where the pockets in his new fleece jacket are. He waited cheerily as I talked quickly to the teacher. Despite falling asleep at 1.30am, Charlie had had a good day at school (Jim hitching a ride with us en route to catch his train helped–Charlie likes having an extra minute-plus of dad in the backseat). His 4pm ABA session went very well. He has been working on pre-reading drills and sat at his desk with the therapist, talking almost constanty to request his favorite songs and favorite photos of past therapists. I was trying to finish writing a paper on autism, poetry, and metonymy and wrote with one ear tuned to my upstairs. There were some whines but these soon faded away.

Trying to keep one step ahead of Charlie at Pathmark–he likes to run off to look at things but always responded to my call of “Charlie!”, plus he was still talking a lot so I could hear where he was–I caught sight of another mom (let’s call her Mom S) whom I had waited with, during summer school. Charlie had a mixed experience this past summer. He was not only the oldest child in the summer program in the building, his “challenging behaviors” were fully on display for everybody at any hour of the day. After I had hung onto him twisting and trying to bite and bang and wailing before getting him to walk in with his summer school teacher, Mom S had come up to me. Her daughter was in the preschool program.

“I really don’t know how you do it,” Mom S said to me. She sort of looked at the ground. “It must be hard.” A thousand answers came into my head. I wanted to show my gratitude for her support but the sense that there was some huge gap, some gulf, between my growing boy and her young child–hadn’t Charlie just been that little? hadn’t his compliance always been high, his lovableness always apparent?–bothered me. I would say, I felt near to angry, with myself and with the words of someone I should only feel community with. I mumbled something abouthow living with Charlie has always been worth it and we parted.

Her words stayed with me and were a kind of wake-up call, about what was happening to Charlie. I saw Mom S tonight at Pathmark, with a young child in her shopping cart. “Fries!” said Charlie, hurrying toward the frozen food case and stopping to check out the ketchup aisle. ‘We’ll get them at McDonalds later this week,” I said, aiming for the check-out line. I could maneuver a bit near Mom S…….I pushed my cart where I had to as Charlie trotted up. “I want fries!” “We talked about getting sushi. You had such a good day.” “Sushi!” He went off to check out some bargain DVD’s and came right back when I called. Charlie was calm and sweet and just curious at the abundance of your typical suburban supermarket.

And free, in a way Charlie has not been in months and maybe the past few years. He has many food obsessions–ketchup, pickles, fries–he walked away when called. He seemed just to be happy, in another store, to consider his many choices. “You want to get those hot dogs you like?” I asked, after Charlie had searched out his favored pack of sushi. He tapped the packets of burgers and sausage, but was not set on breaking on the plastic as he had been a few months ago.

And I was not set on finding Mom S and saying “yeah, Charlie is doing great.”His peaceful conduct said it all. I was glad I had lingered in front of the school door with her that day last summer, and glad too for Mom G’s noting how well Charlie is talking now. I did insist that Charlie carry in one bag–the majority of the food is for him, indeed–put away his shoes and coat, wash his hands, set the table before digging into his sushi. He lofted a box of Capri Suns in one hand–next time, I’ll ask him to take two.

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