I find my children to be the most interesting of creatures. Does every parent feel this way? Have I succumbed to the temptation of making my kids the universe? They’re wild and sweet. Infuriating (see my last post) and demanding. Chaotic, but somehow stabilizing.
This morning John offhandedly said in his offhanded manner—you must listen sharp to discern between the dryness and wisdom in his wit—“Kids are the most important people.” He and J were having a conversation about important people, the gist of which I’m entirely ignorant (I was in the midst of oven chemicals and scrubbing). But I’m pretty sure he meant it, and I’m pretty sure he’s right.
Take for instance: just now, as Jonah is preparing an episode of “Mrs. Bean” to watch for lunch (actually Mr. Bean, but when I corrected G, J piped up, “He can call it whatever he wants!”), he was humming a church-like tune in his sweet monotonish voice. Surely not, I thought. But yep, he knows the churchy opening sequence of Mr. Bean so well that he can hum it. Who knows what the lyrics are. I can’t make them out and neither can he, but he makes them up as he goes, and it’s darn impressive.
And he’s very serious about eyeglasses at the moment. Yesterday we found a pair of (cheap) reading glasses at the drugstore and traipsed on over to Pearle Vision (I love those guys) to have them torque the lenses out and adjust the eyepads (for free—and they never seem put upon, even for the smallest or silliest of adjustments). He hasn’t taken the things off. Even wanted to wear them to OT today, but I talked him into letting me take care of them for the hour duration. His favorite activity there is called The Washing Machine and consists of getting inside a big bag full of plastic balls while the therapist wildly rocks him from side to side. He says the glasses help him read better, even though it troubles him some that he can touch his eyeballs through the frames.
And how is it that my baby’s forehead fits perfectly into the hollow my eye socket makes? And that cuddling with him in this way is surprisingly comforting, bone on bone? Or that when my back is turned to him, he will snuggle up into the space between my shoulder blades and that his big baby skull fits perfectly there too?
And what happens to Jonah, particularly, when he’s in front of a mirror?
I read a post today on Autism and Empathy titled Social Skills. In it, the author (who blogs at Abnormaldiversity) differentiates between two sets of social skills. The first she distinguishes as “the ability to ‘put yourself in another person’s shoes’ and imagine how you’d feel in their situation, and use that to decide how to treat them.” She comments that “this works well if the person you’re interacting with is similar to you, not so well if they’re quite different from you.” Neurotypical individuals rely heavily on this set, because, well, most people are similar enough to them that it works. Not so for most autistics. She continues:
The second set of skills is the ability to set aside your own perspective and pay attention to the other person, to figure out what they’re thinking and feeling by observation. This is more laborious and inconvenient, but it works with anyone, no matter how much they differ from you. Most NTs [neurotypicals] seldom get a chance to learn these skills, unless they travel to another culture, form a close bond with an animal (merely having a pet doesn’t necessarily count), or befriend someone with a developmental disability.
It occurred to me, watching Jonah watch himself be sad in front of the mirror on his bedroom closet door, that he was observing himself in the same way that he so attentively observes others (especially when it comes to emotions). This is how he figures things out. This may be why he doesn’t respond immediately when he sees his brother tumble painfully down the stairs (or off a rock, or from his trike, or down the driveway running full speed). It’s not that he doesn’t care. I think caring is exactly what he’s doing. He’s watching (he’s usually the one who informs us of accidents if we’re out of the room, out of the yard, etc.). He’s caring; it just takes longer to manifest itself in a way we recognize.
The other day he saw his sad face in the mirror and tried different ways to make himself sadder. His frown deepened. His eyes even leaked a few salty tears. “Look mom,” he said with a kind of wonder, “I’m crying real tears!” When he knows what a feeling looks like, he is quick to point it out, but some assessments just take more time to calibrate.
As Ettina, the blogger quoted above, puts it, this kind of intense observation “is important in understanding diversity, in seeing the rich variety of experience for what it is.” And if that’s just a part of why I find my children so terribly interesting (I won’t deny that the fact they come, in part, from me, has something to do with my fascination), then maybe I’m going a way toward inhabiting the particular universe I’ve been given.