“Tomorrow. Tomorrow you have to take me to the Monarch’s game”, Jack announced to me curtly.
“Huh?” I asked, narrowing my eyes at him. It was exactly 7:04 on Saturday morning, and I was standing at the Keurig, waiting for my much-needed cup of Newman’s Extra Bold to finish pouring. Joe and I had returned from New York late the afternoon before and my tired brain had not adjusted to the day’s demands just yet, never mind information about going to a hockey game.
“I need. To go. I am singing there.” Just then I looked down and noticed he was wearing the lime green t-shirt that had mysteriously come home in his back pack the week before, the one with “RBS Singers” written in a slant next to a giant G-clef.
The rest of the conversation went something like this:
Me: Singing where?
Me: Where is there?
Jack: It’s where I’m singing.
Me: WHERE IS THAT?
Jack: At the MONARCH’S GAME! What is WRONG WITH YOU?
It was like having a conversation with the Joker.
I had no idea what he was talking about, and I looked across the kitchen at Joe for some guidance, but he shrugged his shoulders in his classic I have no idea either gesture. Our weekend was already bursting at the seams with basketball games, cub scout dinners, a dental conference, and church. I checked the calendar once again and saw nothing about singing or the Monarchs.
I sipped my coffee and slowly started to remember his teacher mentioning that Jack had started to sing with the school chorus, that a few afternoons a week he went down to rehearsals and belted out some tunes. (Or, in his case, probably just hummed along. Jack does not like to sing out loud.) Vaguely, I recalled signing a permission slip saying his participation in this group was okay with me. I think it was printed on light blue paper. But I had absolutely no recollection of a hockey game on Sunday.
It’s possible I missed this information, but I doubt it. When you have a child with limited communication skills, one who can go an entire day without uttering a complete sentence, you tend to pay attention; to savor every word. (Unless, of course, that same child is ranting about sexy pancakes or why can’t we go to Nicaragua for hours and hours. That, I tend to block out.) But I’m certain if Jack came home from school talking about singing at a sporting event, I’d have remembered.
I pressed him for more details. What song was he singing? “I can’t tell you.” Who else was in chorus, could I call another parent to figure out the details? “No. You don’t know these people.” And so, for the remainder of the morning, this is how it went; my trying to pull words and information from him while he said things like stop talking about it and I will sing loudly. It reminded me of pulling bright silky scarves one by one out of a clown’s mouth.
It also reminded me of how much Jack still struggles to communicate. Although he’s come a long way since the early days of silence, my eight-year old works very hard to put words and requests together. And accompanying his expressive delay is his frustration; the what is wrong with you part of our dialogue and the why don’t you understand me of his world.
There are, of course, times when Jack seems able to find his words and communicate just fine. Oddly enough, these are the times I most wish he couldn’t speak, because he usually winds up shouting things like was your skin always that color and what happened to your legs. At the very least, I wish he knew how to whisper.
I mean, you haven’t lived until you’ve watched a basketball game with Jack narrating every play. And I’m not talking about a game on television, recounted from the privacy of our home and the comfort of our deep red couch. I mean a real live game, one in which his fourth grade brother runs and dribbles and shoots. Every Saturday for the past month, Jack has taken up his position at the side of the court in the middle-school gym and bellowed out colorful comments like, “He missed the basket AGAIN!” and “That one WASN’T EVEN CLOSE!” (These remarks are not limited to one team or player in particular. Jack could never be accused of playing favorites.)
It’s not unusual for him to blurt out an odd phrase or observation, something completely unconnected to the event or activity at hand. One day we were driving through the city of Manchester and his stream of consciousness went like this: these buildings are tall someday I will die are meatballs always round. I imagine there is a track inside his mind, one that moves very quickly and crookedly; dodging and darting from one topic to the next without pause. Topics like license plates and how do you say welcome in Swahili and the shape of meat. I imagine it’s exhausting.
But alongside the social gaffes and heartbreaking monologues that feel like paper cuts across my heart, there are special moments. Moments when the moon is blue and the ants are quiet and the license plates have been counted, and I hear his robotic voice saying things like will you play Candyland and now I like spinach. And rarely, so rarely I can count the number of times on one hand that I’ve heard it, the magical I love you.
I wonder what else he has stored in that magnificent brain, what else we’re missing. (Besides important details like singing in the school choir at a hockey game.) Maybe he has the answers to the Nixon scandal or knows what Adele named her baby. Just yesterday he told me he hasn’t eaten a peanut butter and jelly sandwich since July of 2011, so anything is possible.
Right now you’re probably wondering what happened with Sunday night, if I was ever able to untangle the running track of Jack’s mind and figure out what he was talking about. He and I were getting nowhere together, so I looked through some old e-mails and found a note from the principal outlining the details of the hockey game. And although it felt like we couldn’t add one more single thing to our weekend, we made room for Jack to sing at the Monarch’s game.
Because there is always room for a song, especially for my son who struggles to find the words. My son who wants to sing out loud.
If you liked this post, be sure to check out What Color is Monday? for more on Jack and the Cariello family.