Paradise Here and Now (#307)

In last Friday’s “Weekend” section of the New York Times, William Grimes notes that

In a profane world, driven by the work clock, [the weekend] is a chance to recover a bit of paradise lost, to engage in the unwavering rituals of strolling or brunching, grilling or golfing, or gaping at stage or screen and thereby enter a sacred time, that is, time beyond time, a place where time stops.

I beg to differ. The weekend–two days without the reassuring schedule of red schoolbus, school, babysitter, ABA or speech or OT sessions–of 48 hours of too much time to fill is no picnic for Charlie, who again had an early morning panic while waiting for his breakfast rice to cook. (Lying on the floor with a pillow under his head soon calmed Charlie.) If (as Mr. Grimes put it) the “time beyond time” of the weekend is a “paradise lot,” paradise can be a nerve-wracking place and I think I might prefer more time in the routines of the weekdays, orderly as the four seasons.

As he had on Saturday, Charlie requested “green car” or “black car” rides frequently and I think these trips away from and back to our house help to punctuate his day. I showed Charlie a strip of pictures–“scheh-dyule” he said, perfectly–that first there’d be breakfast, then sitting on the couch, then playing, then reading a book, then time in the back yard.

“Green car!” said Charlie.

“That’s the last thing on the schedule,” I said. “We have to do the other stuff first.”

Charlie pulled at his lip: Trouble in Paradise?

But he rallied himself and watched and ran around, occasionally wielding a rake and picking up sticks I pointed out, as Jim mowed the grass with the push-mower and I squatted to pick up hundreds of pinecones and buckeyes. On his own, Charlie scooped up handfuls of grass clippings and weeds into the recycle bins.
One hears autistic children referred to as “angels,” as if Charlie were some kind of otherwordly blessing who has only to smile his beauteous smile and–no matter what he does, or what he does not—that is enough. I would rather say that Charlie is a boy of the earth, not hesitating to get his hands in the dirt and, as we did later in the afternoon, to walk on Newark streets beside a church’s old wrought-iron fences, the bottom caked with decaying trash.

Not hesitating to fall, and get back up. (With some help.)

Charlie and Jim went on an hour-plus bike ride, even going through some of a neighboring town’s busy towndown. We then took a circuitous route to visit Charlie’s grandparents–my in-laws–in the rehab hospital in central Jersey: A train to Newark Penn Station, a three-stop ride in the Newark subway to the Warren Street stop, a walk through concrete college campuses and “historic” neighborhoods with empty streets, a stop at a fried chicken spot for fries (which Charlie ate as we waited at Newark’s Broad Street station, Route 280 traffic at our backs), a long train ride through towns evoking Garden State, a fast trip to “Gramma house” (empty), and, finally, into their hospital room, Charlie holding a bunch of yellow flowers for his grandparents’ 53rd anniversary last week.
It was a true spring day of blues and greens in the sky and the trees. The circular train journey, like the time working in the backyard and the long bike ride, provided Charlie with some close-ended activities that kept him physically active and in motion; with some activities that had a telos, ancient Greek for an “end point, goal,” and a concrete telos at that.

And then—–

Charlie could not stop talking about dinner on the ride home from the rehab hospital. At home, he tried to take food off Jim’s plate, then ate his own food neatly with his fork, then went to lie on the couch wrapped in his blanket, and suddenly catapulted himself onto the floor on his back. He had told us “bye bye” when we sat by him; was it lasting worry-nerves at the impending week, at seeing his grandmother prone and weak in her hospital bed (the three of us had tried to cheer her on to do some arm-strengthening exercises), at being hungry and tired after the day’s exploits?
After a long warm shower and being toweled off by a concerned Jim, Charlie looked peacefully and easily at me: “Puddonnn underpannts! Photos!” Once pajama’d, he went straight to bed after singing “Where’s my sun–shine?” in jazz violionist Don Sugarcane Harris‘ version.

I think you know the answer to that question. Jim’s and my sunshine–our earthly paradise–is right here, right now.


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