Where is this all going?
I ask myself this at least five times a week.
I ask it when I sign another form with Autism Spectrum Disorder typed next to my son Jack’s name.
I ask it when I call Walgreens for a refill of anti-anxiety medication, or make a late-night run for Melatonin.
I ask it when Jack discards his latest obsession like an old sweater, and wraps himself even tighter within something scratchy and new.
In other words, he has traded filling the kitchen with ice all day for wearing Biore strips on his nose and chewing the sleeves of his shirt.
He’s very tall, you see, and I had to buy him a men’s shirt, size medium, but the sleeves are too long and they cover part of his hands so every time I look at him, he has the cloth bunched between is teeth. It is driving me stark, raving crazy berserk.
I never, ever thought I would miss the days of ice in the sink.
Where is this going?
Sometimes I ask the question right out loud. Sometimes I whisper it under my breath, and other times I think it to myself in my head.
I asked it the other morning when I stood next to him and watched him pull his coat on, carefully pushing his arms through the sleeves.
Mom. To tell me. Is there Santa.
He is thirteen-almost-fourteen. He is officially a teenager, and he’s old enough to know. I mean, I don’t exactly relish the idea of sitting a twenty-five year old down and explaining it.
Yet, on the other proverbial hand, in his heart and mind he is only eight-maybe-nine-on-a-good-day. Yes, his body is doing weird things and hormones are heavily at work, but his spirit is still lagging behind by a number of years.
And this tall boy of mine has so few pleasures in his life—so little makes him laugh out loud, or smile widely, or look forward to an event or a day.
He loves Pizza Hut on a Saturday night, or the latest Disney movie on Blu-Ray.
He gets excited to put Santa’s boots next to the fireplace, and make a new recipe for sugar cookies from an old friend.
How can I take this from him? How can I steal this joy? It seems wrong, somehow.
Besides, what if he tells a million people and ruins Christmas for a bunch of little kids and his younger brother Henry? I mean, this is not exactly a person known for keeping secrets or applying what you might call a filter to his every waking thought. Why, just the other day he barged over to a customer in Target and asked if she was getting married before her baby was born.
To be fair, she wasn’t wearing a wedding ring.
But she wasn’t pregnant either.
To tell, or not to tell? I had about thirty-two seconds to make up my mind before he started to ask again.
For me. I want. The truth.
If there is any one single thing I want people to know about having a child with autism, it is the bubble of contradiction in which I live.
See, I am like an old, tired grandfather clock. Inside of me, there is a pendulum that swings wildly from one end of my heart to the other. At the same time, the seconds and minutes and days tick away in my brain.
I am running out of time. There is still so much to teach him, and show him, and model for him.
There is no going back, that’s the thing. There is no undoing a conversation like this one. Once he knows, he knows.
Where is this all going?
Well, buddy, I’ll tell you everything you want to know. If you think you’re ready.
Yes. For me. To be ready.
So I did. I told him about magic and childhood and believing in things you can’t always see.
I told him that at some point in their life, everyone realizes what’s true and what’s not, and then it is their job to keep the magic alive for others. This job is very, very important and only special people can be trusted to do it.
I smiled while I talked and I shrugged my shoulders and nodded my head, but on the inside I was secretly a little sad, but also relieved. You know, because of the pendulum.
I couldn’t tell what he was thinking. His expression never really changed. He just looked down at his hands and reported back to me.
Now I. To know.
Yes, buddy. Now you know.
He slung his backpack over his shoulder and turned to leave. With his hand on the doorknob, he looked back at me. And what he said was like a shiny new gift on an outstretched hand. It was an idea, that maybe you actually can have both. You can balance facts and magic together in your heart and your mind, and make a choice.
I still will. To believe. Anyway.
He opened the door and walked out to the bus.
I guess it doesn’t matter where we’re going. Sometimes, it only matters where we are.
Wishing you the merriest, most magical Christmas ever.