Charlie is 13 Years Old Today
Ok, technically he's not going to be 13 until 8.57pm tonight, the 15th of May, 2010. I was in labor for most of the 15th of May, 1997 (if you really want to know, I can write more about it—doesn't seem the right topic to go into on Charlie's first day of teenagerhood), so I guess the celebrating can start a bit earlier.
13 years old. Teenager. Where did the years go—-I sometimes still find myself crooking my left arm to support my baby Charlie, who even then I felt hard-pressed to call to refer to as 'little' because Charlie was 21 1/2 inches, 8 lbs and 3 oz when he was born, with a big head and big feet. (He was just about a couple weeks old in the photo above.) I carried Charlie plenty (my Mom had advised me to do so, after she'd been told she spoiled my sister and me by carrying us too much so she didn't, and then we got too big for her to carry). (I assure you, Mom carried Charlie to her heart's content and good thing because she's shorter than me.)
Frankly it feels as if Jim and Charlie and me have already been together for a full lifetime. A great great deal has happened in Charlie's 13 years: He's lived in at least seven different towns or cities and moved at least as many times. He's had over 50 teachers and therapists, starting from the time he was 2 years and 4 months old. He's been to at least 10 different schools. He's been to both the East and West coasts of the US, as well as the Midwest, where he was born (though he's yet to be out of the country—I guess I might start to work on getting Charlie a passport). He's faced some major challenges, due to his neurological, communicative/speech, sensory and cognitive make-up. He's learned to ride a bike and to swim in the ocean. He's persevered, kept trying: Charlie senses that we wish for him to learn, to grow and change and 'just give it a try,' and he truly aims to please. He is not, I really believe, a quitter.
I love my boy for all this.
Most of all, we love him because he's Charlie, plain and simple. Both Jim and I will always know that life is good, is better, is as good as it gets because our lovely boyo entered our lives 13 years ago and continues to teach us, to guide us, to show us the way and to show us new ways of thinking, communicating, and simply being that we never would have learned without him.
As I've written before, it's because of Charlie—because of our wanting to find an appropriate education for Charlie—that we came back to New Jersey from St. Louis in June of 2001, with only one half-year job for Jim among us. I'm forever glad we did, however many challenges there have been.
One reason we were glad come back was because Jim's parents were living here. Jim's mother was adamant about staying in New Jersey, where she was born and where her two sisters (she was the eldest) lived. She was a regular reader of what was then called the Newark Star-Ledger; many of Jim's mother's relatives lived in Newark and neighboring Harrison. Because we were no more than 45 minutes away from Jim's parents for the past 9 years, Charlie got to see them quite a bit; for awhile, we had Saturday dinner with them almost every weekend, with me cooking while Jim did their grocery shopping.
Yesterday, the 14th of May, was the day Jim's mother's funeral was held. It was a quiet event in the church in their town.
Charlie was not there. He was only 10 minutes away at school, at a special pancake breakfast: There's a section of the Big Autism Center that was built to look like an actual New Jersey diner. Some of the older students make the pancakes, serve them, clean up, etc., and the different classes in the school get to go, along with their teachers and aides and a few visitors. Of course Jim and I were not able to attend but the thought occurred to me, had Grandma been alive and able, she would have probably gotten a kick out of being at a pancake breakfast (and in a diner environment, no less) with Charlie. (Jim's mother had a dormant, but very definite, mischievous sense of humor.)
Yesterday Jim picked up Charlie after school and took him out for a special pre-birthday-boy treat of an afternoon burrito. Afterwards they went home, hung out (it was muggy and thunderstorming), and then they went on a bike ride and a walk.
So where was I?
After the funeral, I found myself going to Manhattan. Jim needed to be around with his family but he also had an exam Friday afternoon and, not having been able to fund someone to proctor it, I was duly dispatched with a stack of blue books and a folder of student evaluations. I felt a little odd to be in the city, after everything. Too, I was by myself in New York, with Jim telling me to take my time, walk around, go shopping.
On finding myself out in the city solo, I had a thought about how to commemorate my mother-in-law. I texted Jim to find out the address of the building where Jim's mother, before she got married, had worked in advertising for WOR. 1440 Broadway he told me, just below 42nd street, so there I went:
To get to the building, I walked through the theater district under the marquees for Billy Elliot and the new Addams Family musical, and thought about how, once upon a time in Pittsburgh (circa 1961), Jim's mother had taken a 5-year-old Jim on the bus to see a production of The Sound of Music. Jim remembers being terrified when he saw the Nazis on stage searching the convent for the Von Trapp family: 'When you're that age, Kristina,' he said to me, 'you think it's really happening.' When I asked him why his mother had gone to the musical, Jim replied that it'd been something to do. His family had recently moved to Pittsburgh because the large (and no longer in existence) chemical company that Jim's father worked for had transferred him there and his mother was far away from her family and friends, all of whom were in New Jersey.
(And what do you know was across the street from 1440 Broadway but a branch of the very fast-food Mexican restaurant that Charlie had gotten a burrito from off a state highway in north central New Jersey.)
Jim texted me again that a large triangular package had appeared at the door. I wrote back, it's one of the posters we ordered for Charlie's birthday:
We broke with birthday present protocol and opened it up, and Jim promptly taped it to the wall across from Charlie's bed—and then got into, what shall I call it?, interior decorating/let's do something about these bare walls mode and unwrapped a painting that's been in cardboard and brown paper since we lived in University City, Missouri, in 1998:
It's called Bob's Conga, and Jim's best friend, Michael Young, painted it. We kept it wrapped up throughout our many moves and then (le sigh) because of worries of the painting being, er, knocked around if it were hanging on the wall.
I'm going to wait to take a picture of the painting (it is a large canvas) until it's daylight, but the above is a detail from the center.
Three handprints (made with Mike's own hands in paint) grouped together and more moving from them.
Jimi Hendrix playing guitar up on Charlie's bedroom wall.
1440 Broadway once home to radio station WOR where Charlie's grandmother once worked.
Jim and me, happy new parents with a baby who had a lot before him that we had no idea of.
Four images to illustrate the life so far of a boy named Charlie Fisher, on his birthday.