Lighting the fire

I’ve made mention in the past about having to adjust expectations – mine for what I hope and do – but also as regards my kids.

There are two of them, both boys, both smart, wild, mercurial…nothing like the fantasy children I might have envisioned at one point in my stupid youth. I know you did it too – even if you didn’t daydream about changing diapers, sleep deprivation, or maddening conversations with a legalist of an adolescent – you had in your head what you figured having a kid would be about.

Right, like sleepy Saturday mornings, lazing about with brioche french toast and edu-tainment: gentle cartoons with a message. Reality, more like…being woken at 5am by the television that you forgot to adjust before going to bed the night before…hearing cupboards creak open stealthily while your progeny hunt(s) for gummies…the inevitable whining, disagreements over what to watch, someone is hogging something….

No, back to fantasy land, you say to yourself as you unsuccessfully try to doze off, back to the twins Maria and Marcus, who prefer to study Mensa flash cards, walk the dog unasked, and bring you breakfast in bed.

Reality is that I grudgingly admit that I prefer the madness to Maria and Marcus, who are probably Children of the Corn anyway.

When our older son was diagnosed with autism back in 2004, we already knew that something was up. Nonetheless, I had been living in this fantasy of turning my brilliant child into a lover of books. I would read to him, I could see it so clearly, for hours we would read until he was spouting Newtonian theory and Yeatsian prose. Wrong!

That doesn’t happen under typical circumstances, much less his – I was a rookie parent in uncharted territory. But I’ll say t his until the day I die – the ONLY thing I was bummed about was that he wasn’t interested in books, aside from eating them. I did not grieve, or freak out about the diagnosis – and now I really try not to use the “D” where most people might in “ASD” – to me, it isn’t a “disorder” – it’s only a difference – and as a parent, I’m only trying to help build the bridge between us.

It’s been a while since that visit to UConn, with its assessment – it’s also been a while since I stopped buying books like a crazed seagull eyeing a beach full of coolers. We’re moving more thoughtfully, he and I. True, I have to keep reminding myself not to talk to him in certain ways…there are moments of frustration for all of us. We don’t have his assistive communication set up yet (his school is working on getting a device traveling back and forth), and so it’s a lot of guesswork about what is meaningful.

When it boiled down, though, and I really look at what he can do with schoolwork, he’s no different than his peers. There are subjects that bore the crap out of him. And he would rather throw a fit than have to deal with some of it. Hell, I was a kid who couldn’t stay focused long enough to ever do my homework, not until I started running. He has math down, loves the periodic table, outer space, cars, music…could not care less about English or Art, really.

But I started hearing that he would likely be able to take in anything I read to him, even if he couldn’t spit out answers to questions about it. And so I’ve changed expectations again. It didn’t take long to realize that he really, really, really dislikes fantasy and science fiction – in short, stuff that cannot be defined by the laws of the apparent – the realities and truths of the world we live in. Me, I love that stuff, and it’s hard, oh so hard that I can’t get him into Neil Gaiman, Madeleine L’Engle, Lloyd Alexander, Roald Dahl, to name but a few.

Maybe someday he’ll give all that a try, though.

I had read A Wrinkle In Time to him, and noted his impatience during the sojourn with the Mrs. W’s, other worlds, but it was inescapable when I tried the Lightning Thief. The rationale was that Charles Wallace and Percy Jackson were both boys who did not “fit” – and that he might find it cool to see them turn into heroes. He put his foot down about a chapter or two into Percy Jackson, though. “NO!”

Well, we’d read Blood on the River for school, about the Jamestown settlement. He’d gotten off on that. So I hunted for more like that. I found The Mostly True Adventures of Homer P. Figg by Rodman Philbrick, about a boy who tried to save his brother from fighting in the Civil War. Perhaps a little more wacky than he wanted, but it was piercing into the correct vein.

After that, it was Dangerous Waters – Gregory Mone’s Titanic adventure, and then Laurie Halse Anderson’s Chains. Chains, by the way, is really affecting – my kiddo got really upset when Isabel found herself being punished in a public square. I knew what he was thinking; so totally not fair. But here’s the thing – I think kids have to hear the unpleasantness of history, see the damage, the wages of war, the body counts – if we ever want better for the human race, we can’t whitewash the past.

We’re almost done with Number the Stars now, Lois Lowry’s masterpiece of Danish Resistance during WWII. Normally, we can get through about half an hour at a go, but last night, with Annemarie’s mother leading the Rosens to the boat, and then Annemarie needing to spirit the handkerchief to her uncle…we were going right along, and I could see him hanging onto every word, especially as the Nazi soldiers are rifling through her basket.

The sequel to Chains is waiting for the Christmas stocking, so after Number the Stars…I don’t know what we’ll read next yet. We have The Witch of Blackbird Pond (Elizabeth George Speare), Sing Down the Moon (Scott O’Dell), and Attack of the Turtle (Drew Carlson), but I’ve noted a bunch in the bookstores that looked interesting as well….

See how easily it can happen? Idealism creeps back in…it’s exciting to figure out what he might find compelling and interesting. And I realize that it’s only my own limitations that held us back – I’m not going to cry over wasted time – but I’m not going to let more of it slip through our fingers.


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