The lights off, I tuck you in. Your eyes, heavy with sleep, struggle to stay open. You ask me in your sleepy voice, “Why am I different from other kids?” I ask what you mean and you say, “You know how I get frustrated easily and I can’t catch a ball… and sometimes I talk different?” I explain that everyone is unique and everyone has things that are difficult. Some things are because of autism and there are wonderful, awesome things about you too. You ask me to please enumerate them (and you say “enumerate” in such a way that I laugh and immediately oblige).
“Well,” I say, “You have such empathy, Sam. You are so aware of feelings — you might say you’ve been an A+ student in feelings.” And I remind you how starting at age two you studied the faces of all the Thomas the Tank engines and named their expressions and spent hours drawing pictures of feelings: Happy, Sad, Excited, Scared, Nervous.
“What else?” you ask.
I tell you that I’ve never known anyone who has a memory like yours. Your memory is astounding. You nod, “My brain is full of many facts.” Indeed. I tell you how I don’t know one single person who can draw our U.S. map from memory and tell me with absolute accuracy which state borders which state. Or who can tell me, when asked, who the 7th president was and whether he was Republican or Democrat and if he liked to eat cheese.
You mention your latest subject: Evolution. And you rattle off hominae and homini and homo erectus and tell me how neanderthals became extinct 30,000 years ago and we are part of the Great Apes, one big homini family. Ho.
“You see?” I say and touch your face. “Your memory is something special.” You smile but ask for more.
“Okay,” I say, “your enthusiasm is contagious.” And you ask me (of course you do), “Like a disease?” and I say no, no, no. “I mean your enthusiasm is SO great that other people sometimes “catch it”.
“You mean like a disease,” you say — not a question. I sigh, we are trapped in your literal mind. “Yes,” I tell you, “but a GOOD disease — it’s not a disease, but if it were a disease, it’s something everyone would like to catch.”
“Is stress like a disease?” you ask out of the blue. I tell you that it is, kind of, and you tell me that when I’m stressed that I should practice your techniques. “Oh?” I ask, bracing myself. “First you must count slowly to 4 — like this: ‘1…2….3….4….’ You should also smile more because this will trick your body into not being stressed. People like being with people who smile lots.” I ask if people includes you and you tell me it does.
“You are very wise, Sam,” and I tell you that you are more grown-up than most adults.
“Thank you,” you say, pleased.
I think how time is like a rubber band: it stretches from the past to the present, from what I knew to what I know…until eventually it snaps, and in breaking releases me. Today might be my 12th wedding anniversary but I feel a strange release. I feel free, at least more free than yesterday.
The difference is my boys, everything real and true and honest in my life.