The Telltale Desktop

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You can learn a lot by what someone keeps on their desk, and I’m developing a new appreciation for the tangible things that signify what’s important to our young man. We are designing a new, more professional workspace for him and so have been moving some things around. Here’s part of what I discovered:

  • a pencil sharpener, for when the electric one is too noisy
  • an eraser that does not make crumbs
  • a harmonica, for playing along to music on the computer ( with headphones on)
  • double stick tape, because we are out of regular and drawings must go up on the wall ASAP
  • two spare mouse batteries in a handy basket
  • the three little pigs and the big bad wolf, for inspiration
  • a battery charger for the camera we can’t find
  • a picture from the prom sent by a teacher
  • a ruler – probably because it fits nicely in that spot because he never uses it – except maybe to conduct a symphony now and then.

There were various pictures printed out from the internet taped to the table but I did not get to those in time for the photo – but one of them was of the chorus from Joseph Had a Little Overcoat, which is stuck in my memory in perpetuity.

I feel as though we are now truly seeing the emergence of an adult personality. Like all of us, there are parts of his childhood that he will never let go. Some patterns are set, but there is a self confidence about routine that seems less driven and more comfortable. He is taking charge of the things that matter to him and for now, he is trusting us to take care of the rest. We’re doing our best not to let him down.

In the meantime, maybe he can organize my desk for me.

Saturday Moment: Halloween Prep in Sodor Brings Some Surprises

IMG_0018He’s on a roll with drawings and decorating, and today the trains need Halloween prep. I never fail to marvel at the focus and precision he brings to these projects, which are totally his idea. Add to that he has positioned himself right in the middle of our own project of reorganizing part of the basement – we are working near and around him, going back and forth, calling to each other and generally making a racket. He is unperturbed. Add to this list of potential antecedents my request that he move part of his train set temporarily so that I can clean out and move a cabinet that holds various frames, craft supplies, toys and videos. I don’t really want him to see the things I intend to give away, but have already decided that I won’t give away anything he wants me to keep. We have finally learned to pick our battles.

IMG_0016I can tell he doesn’t want to move the train tracks out of my way, and I am prepared for him to declare that I am an Onion lady who is too full of organizing.  I wait a while to let the request sink in and focus on something else. Then he materializes in front of me, holding a box of videos: “I’m too old for these.” They are Richard Scarry ABC and counting videos. They are my favorites. But I take them and set them aside with the other “give away” things.

Then he appears with another box of videos, classic Disney this time. “We have all of these on DVD, which is more efficient.” Then I realize that, rather than move the tracks or allow me to navigate around them (which I couldn’t – I’m such a klutz I would definitely step on them) he is carefully removing everything from the cabinet himself.

IMG_0017So while he was constructing Halloween decorations for his trains, he was also making decisions about growing up, and managing change and doing it all beautifully, meticulously, and offering up explanations along the way. A task that would have been frought with emotion and behavior management (and that in younger years I would probably have attempted in the middle of the night or while he was somewhere else) had evolved so peacefully I almost didn’t notice – until I realized that he was having an easier time parting with things than I was (you don’t want that 12-foot train puzzle that you put together a thousand times, really?).

Not so long ago I wondered if he would ever grow out of some things and I concluded at the time that it didn’t hurt to wait. It’s not always true that all things come to those who wait, but on this day it is. As I was reminded by him more than once this week, “Patience is a virtue, Mom.” True, that.

Shelter in Place, Emerging in a Better One

Once you've seen fire on ice, anything seems possible.

Once you’ve seen fire on ice, anything seems possible.

So, I’ve been away from my own blogosphere a while. Sometimes it just doesn’t feel like the right thing to do. The concept of “shelter in place,” made real during the aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombing, really appealed to me over the past several months. The idea of staying in where it is safe so that the world can take time to set itself right before we venture out again. It doesn’t have to be about danger, but sometimes it is about preservation of self. This is what I have been doing – sheltering in place.

But today it seems right to venture back here. Today there is news that is worth sharing, because I can say that investing in hope pays dividends.

In a post last summer, I wondered when it was okay to give aways things that most children outgrow during high school. We all have remnants from our childhood stashed away somewhere (don’t we?), but in the case of our boy we have, well, a lot of things we know that he is not ready to part with. So I kept most of  it. In that process, I took a very long look at the book shelf. The ABC and farm books are long since packed away, but many of the most beautifully illustrated books, picture encyclopedias and easy readers remain. I know he appreciates the images and that they inform both his understanding of a story and his artistic sensibilities.  Still, I very deliberately left the collection of biographies on the shelf next to the head of the bed. I bought them during the middle school years, when they were age appropriate, because they were fact-based, had lot of photos but contained some narrative stretches on highly reinforcing figures in history: Teddy Roosevelt, Abraham Lincoln, Amelia Earhart. He always looks up facts on the internet about these people; I convinced myself the books were still useful, and they look nice (and not too incongruous) on the shelf, too.

IMG_7353I know he will never be in love with books the way I was. I know he will never delight in conjuring places, events and people from a page dense with type. I know that I am lucky that his visual learning style is tailor-made for 21st century digital information. I know all of that, but all of my knowingness didn’t prepare me for the moment when, upon peeking in to say good night, I saw him reach over and slip a book off the biography shelf, open it and begin reading. Reading for pleasure. Reading for information. Reading pages on which there were no pictures at all. Just type. I slipped away unnoticed, afraid that I would interrupt and ruin the moment by making too big a deal of it.

But it was a big deal. It reminded me (not for the first time) that I kid myself that I know more about him than I do, and that creating limited opportunities for him will yield limited results. I won’t be placing Ulysses on the shelf anytime soon, but I’ll be upping the ante on a lot of fronts based on this moment. It also reminded me that one of the reasons that I felt the need to shelter in place was that the conversations that swirl around the senior year of high school are all about competition and achievement. Conversations that lead to well-meaning questions that I don’t necessarily want to answer. That simple act of opening a book means more to me than an 800 SAT score, but there aren’t many who would understand that, and I am past the point of wanting to explain it (and yet here I am, explaining it).

I need to leave more books on the shelf, more doors ajar, more options on the table. We don’t have to have anyone’s life mapped out by May.

But I had to know something. The next morning at breakfast, I asked him what he read before bed last night.

“I was reading about Abraham Lincoln,” he said.

“Were you looking for something specific?”

“Yes, I wanted to know how he met his wife, Mary Todd.”

Relationships. He was reading to learn about relationships.

Finding Inspiration in the Life of Roger Ebert

IMG_3671“‘Kindness’ covers all of my political beliefs. No need to spell them out. I believe that if, at the end, according to our abilities, we have done something to make others a little happier, and something to make ourselves a little happier, that is about the best we can do. To make others less happy is a crime. To make ourselves unhappy is where all crime starts. We must try to contribute joy to the world. That is true no matter what our problems, our health, our circumstances. We must try. I didn’t always know this and am happy I lived long enough to find it out.”

– Roger Ebert

Roger Ebert died today. I loved watching Siskel and Ebert, and even though I found myself agreeing with Gene Siskel more on serious films (my first movie critic love was Pauline Kael – I read all of her books and wrote a paper on her in high school), when Ebert said a movie was delightful I knew it was worth watching. When I got around to reading his reviews instead of watching him on TV, I liked him even more. Finally, the grace and bravery with which he handled his disabilities at the hands of cancer made him a hero. By that time (2006) I was trolling for examples of what people did when life threw them a curve. So many people withdraw from public life when faced with that kind of adversity, but he understood, used and took solace in the healing power of the written word. When we visited Chicago in October 2011, the only souvenir I brought back was a signed first edition of his memoir, Life Itself.

We take inspiration where we find it, which means it is important to raise our heads sometimes and take in the world free from the lens of autism. What better way to do that than watch movies, which can transport us to times and places far beyond our oft-constripted world. When I am looking for  a good movie – new or old – my first stop is the great movies page on rogerebert.com. You don’t have to read Robert Ebert to admire him, but if you need inspiration, there is a lot to choose from.

Pick a movie, any movie.

Saturday Moment: I Detect a Theme

The chase is on

The chase is on!

I don’t know why it is that we get so tired of some things while others endure. The excitement of chases has been there since the first game of tag in the toddler days. It is a cumulative process; we watch, do and draw the same things over and over year after year, just adding details and getting better. A few years back there was an Open Season for Rabbits and Ducks sign nailed to a tree in our back yard. I love that he added the latin name for Wile E. Coyote – he really empathizes with him even as he delights in the Road Runner’s narrow escapes. “That poor coyote, he keeps getting killed, and that road runner is just far too fast.” There’s a metaphor in there somewhere.