Charlie’s Metamorphosis (#523)

In nova fert animus mutatas dicere formas / corpora…: “The mind wills itself to speak of forms changed / into new bodies”: That is how the Roman poet Ovid describes what he intends to do in his Metamorphoses, an epic poem in which he recounts myth after myth, and particularly myths in which one being—a nymph, perhaps—is transformed into something else. So the nymph Daphne, pursued by Apollo god of the sun, is turned into laurel tree; so a beautiful princess becomes a cow, and the 100 eyes of the monster Argus the eyes in the peacock’s tail. The very word metamorphosis is ancient Greek for a change of shapes, of form, and there is a kind of fluid quality to the way in which Ovid is able to make one story flow into the next. Each myth Ovid retells is a story unto itself and yet they seem all part of the same story, of change into something new.
We also use the word “metamorphosis” to describe the life cycle of a butterfly, from egg to larva (the caterpillar stage) to pupa to adult; through each change of form, it is the same butterfly still, however different its caterpillar self looks from its final adult form. And so, if I speak of Charlie’s metamorphosis in this past year—since we took him out of one public school last November and homeschooled him, and got him back into a good private school that closed in June, and moved in with Jim’s parents so that Charlie could attend the public school program he is now thriving in—-I do not mean that some total change, something like a mythical “recovery from autism,” has occurred. I mean simply that various things have changed for and about Charlie—his peaceful, open face and demeanour, improved speech, ability to handle going out to so many places in public—but that Charlie, who some ten years ago I first sensed as a twinge or a tickle inside of me, has always been the same Charlie. Same sweet and silly, lovely, stubborn, mischievous, well-meaning, and, yes, autistic boy.

“The mind wills itself to speak of forms changed / into new bodies.”

Many of the metamorphoses that Ovid writes about happen in water, in rivers, in streams, in pools. Charlie got to swim today and, from the moment he set foot in the YMCA, his whole being seemed to beam. He jumped straight into the deepend and it was as if he had never not been in the water, it was as if he were the water. He did a mean backstroke, he was a tadpole, limbs moving together in a single line. He was everywhere I looked in the pool; he was already gone.
And he was quite aware that he had an extra audience, in the form of my parents and Jim’s visiting cousins—a change in Charlie himself that, while not always visible to the naked eye, is huge.

3 Responses to “Charlie’s Metamorphosis (#523)”
  1. beth basinger says:

    When your son was younger did you feel like it was impossible. Like you weren’t going t make it through the day. Sometimes I can’t sleep at night, I am so scared he has no sense of danger. What programs have helped you the most??
    Please if you have any suggestions let me know.

  2. Dear Beth, Often—I remember not knowing how we would get through the next few hours of an endless afternoon, in which he would play with no toys, not even watch a video; or the times there was a terribly tantrum that spiraled out of some small thing, and the whole rest of the day was one sad effort to hang on, hope he would go to sleep at the usual time, and then wait to start it all over.

    ABA—done at home and at school, and especially the therapists, many of whom we recruited from colleges and universities and trained—helped the most, in Charlie’s case. I will be in touch.

  3. mcewen says:

    An hour and a half in the pool [not swimming but being squished by the water pressure] and he emerges coherent, organised and calm. Bewitching

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