I wanted to write you a note and apologize for my reaction yesterday. You know, when you asked if I could tell you a little bit about my son Jack? I’m sorry I couldn’t come up with a better answer.
I guess I was taken aback a little. Don’t get me wrong—it’s a great question, and you have every right to ask me, seeing as you’ll be his camp counselor for the next week or so.
I signed him up for this camp in February. Diligently, I filled out all the forms way ahead of time. Carefully, I noted his autism diagnosis and the medication he takes and the fact that he has crushing anxiety.
Yet when you asked me to describe him, I was at a loss for words.
Okay, let me think. What can I tell you? He’s thirteen. I guess you probably know that already.
He’s our second oldest child and he has three brothers and one sister.
He wakes up very early—usually before six, and the first thing he likes to do in the morning is take a bath.
After he’s done with his bath he likes to eat his breakfast, and then he waters the flowers we keep in pots outside because that’s one of his jobs for the summer. He fills up the green plastic watering can and he walks the length of our long front porch, bending over each plant until he’s satisfied. When he’s done, he sits in a rocking chair and looks out over the lawn, like an 80-year old who has just retired.
He loves movies.
He wants to enter a contest to choose the next flavor of Oreos. So far, he’s come up with buttered popcorn, avocado, and banana.
He doesn’t laugh a lot. If you’re lucky, you might get him to smile by telling him avocado Oreos sound absolutely disgusting, but be prepared to debate the topic for the rest of the day.
He loves avocados.
He jumps around a lot. This is called self-stimulation, or stimming for short. We call it his zoomies.
If you ask him a question, he may hesitate before he answers you. I promise, he’s not ignoring you. It’s just that the words pile up in his head like so many colorful jellybeans in a jar and he has to sort through each one, and put them in order. This takes time.
He’s not great when it comes to, uh, boundaries. This means he may try to touch your hair to see if it’s soft, or he’ll ask how much you paid for your car.
He gets very upset when he can’t find his glasses. He can barely see a thing without them.
He doesn’t like to be hugged.
Sometimes he eats raw spaghetti right out of the box. I don’t know why.
Sometimes he hums a-b-c-d under his breath over and over again. I don’t know why.
Sometimes he asks what our plan is for dinner about a hundred times. I don’t know why.
Okay, actually I do know why. He eats raw spaghetti because he craves foods with a crunchy texture, and he hums to make himself feel calm when he’s starting to get nervous, and he takes comfort in routine, and his schedule.
He is smart.
He is unusual.
He is exactly like no one else you’ve ever met in your life.
Maybe you’re wondering why we decided to send our son Jack to a regular camp full of regular kids, when he is not-so-regular.
It’s a complicated question. I guess you could say I feel desperate to give him a normal childhood. Not necessarily to make him normal, because I don’t think that’s possible, but to give him the same, regular experiences his brothers and sister have.
He didn’t want to go to camp. At first, he screamed and yelled and cried about it.
Then he asked approximately nine thousand six hundred and twenty-two questions about it.
Then he went online and checked out the website and looked at the daily schedule and realized he couldn’t bring his ITouch because no devices are allowed.
Then we were back to the screaming and the yelling for a while.
This went on for, oh, I don’t know, three months?
He helped me pick out a little toiletry kit at Target with tiny bottles of shampoo and conditioner and a toothbrush. We stood in the aisle and he turned it over and over in his hands and rubbed the zipper between his fingers. He reminded me he was not going to camp.
We packed his things into the black trunk we’d bought. He folded his towel and his two bathing suits and he counted out six pairs of socks. He reminded me he was not going to camp.
All this time, I was adamant. I was determined. He was going to camp! He was going to swim and have fun and eat s’mores around the warm glow of a fire! He was going to make friends.
Jack has no friends.
But camp was going to solve this! There would be bonding and marshmallows and dodge ball! I was sure of it.
Then something weird happened. At about the same time we started packing, I got very nervous. I started to wonder what I had done. I mean, why on earth did I think this not-so-regular boy of mine could go to a regular camp full of regular kids? I mean, he doesn’t even go to a regular school. Nothing about him is regular; from the way he talks to the way he moves.
What if the other boys made fun of him, or imitated the way he jumps around?
What if he was desperately lonely?
What if he got lost?
Yesterday morning he was agitated. We rolled his trunk out to the car. He reminded me he wasn’t going.
We pulled up to the camp and parked under the tall, shady pine trees. His brothers and his sister started to talk excitedly about the dining hall and the baseball fields. Jack reminded me he wasn’t going.
We took out his things and walked into his cabin. For the first time all morning, he was quiet.
He went to his trunk and he took out his sleeping bag. Carefully, he unrolled it onto the last empty bed and he arranged his favorite pillow—the one shaped like a moose—on top. I held my breath.
He walked over to where I stood, and he whispered something in my ear. It was then that I knew. I knew he was willing to try.
Do not for. Forget to water. My flowers.
I miss him so much.
Please, take good care of my son.
Tell him the flowers are blooming.