On the autism spectrum. Able to talk a little, but not enough at all. At a separate school for autistic students after some eight years in the public schools, in effect (if you want to look at it this way) "downgraded from 'educably mentally retarded' to 'trainably mentally retarded' pretty much after he hit early puberty, but it was just the behavior doing the talking," as the brother and carer of 50-something James writes in an essay, "Thicker than Water."
Charlie were in the 7th grade in middle school, taking a packed schedule (and either suffering his mother's request that he take Latin or Chinese, or rebelling and going for Italian), sparring with his dad about American history and current events and how can anyone root for the Pirates? (Jim's their long-time fan), playing a couple of sports (I'm imagining that Charlie would be just as athletic as he is and a prime recruit to shoot hoops and be a member of the defensive line), also suffering piano lessons and itching for something more like an electric bass. Able now to fly by himself to see his grandparents in California. Able to talk back, argue, and say "it's not fair!!!!!!" to his parents who seem more and more to be a pair of nutty professors who've made him spend way too much of his childhood roaming around different college campuses and their libraries and eating weird ethnic cuisines.
Charlie were not a boy who minded very much if his mother drove right instead of left on a Tuesday night. And even if he did mind, he would tell her "Mom, why are we going this way, I wanted to go the other way, don't you get it?", instead of flinging himself on the windows and plastic parts of the white car, and crying all the way home and for the next half-hour sitting in the car and on a walk in a cold wind.
You don't have to believe me, but I really never think "what if."
I'm sure many parents in our situation may well do think about such, and more than a few, hoping ever that "what if" can be "what is," seek treatments and therapies and ways to "heal," "make better," even "cure" their child. They refuse to "accept" her or him "as she or he is," never wavering from the search to make "what if" into "what is." A parent like myself who "simply" and "merely" "accepts" her child as he is, is termed "in denial."
But for me to keep chasing after some hypothetical idea, some elusive image, of what I might imagine Charlie should be, would (in my book) be the deepest denial of all. It would be denial of the child who stands before me, who's here, and needs me to help him right now in the moment, whether it be in the white car or in the bathroom. As Jim once pointed out to me, I'm not one for engaging in arguments and getting all wound up in ideological or philosophical disputes about ideas. Once upon a time (we're talking college, people! 20 years plus ago), I thought I was maybe like that, but my temperament is (simply, merely) drawn to focus on the here and now, on what's in front of me. I'm not a speculator. I'm a doer. I like to put things together, figure out the puzzle, make things, clean up messes.
Last night, rather than just try to "forget about" our latest hair-raising moment, I thought it important for Charlie to reflect on what had happened. So I wrote out "I got scared," in regard to how his fight-or-flight reaction kicked in when I made that right turn, and Charlie wrote those words too. "We're going to practice changing directions," I added as he handed the pen back to me. Charlie looked seriously at some spot in front of him.
Ten minutes later, I was in the living room, addressing an envelope to Charlie's Child Study Team (routine matter, no fireworks of late). Charlie was in the kitchen; I could hear the refrigerator or freezer door opening and shutting. I heard footsteps and, when I turned around, Charlie standing tall in the doorframe, asking me:
"Mom, I need help."
Rather than standing in the kitchen and saying "I need help I need help" over and over (as he's been doing even a few weeks ago), Charlie had come to find me, and then asked. And there he was.
That's the meaning of life right there, in my book (on my blog).
Guess that's why I am indeed no philosopher.