A local mom of a son with autism remembers, fondly, one milestone met more than a little late.
This past weekend, I “spring-cleaned” my son’s bedroom. As every New York City parent knows, in addition to reducing apartment clutter, these kinds of transitions encourage second looks at the things that you could never bring yourself to give away even if your child has long outgrown them.
For our family, it’s the pig.
This papier-mâché animal I’m referring to has a history in my husband’s family. Years ago, his parents brought it back from a Mexican vacation and it became a fixture under their living room coffee table. Painted bronze, it looked like a weighty sculpture. We’d always been meaning to transform it, so when I was pregnant with Brooks, opportunity finally knocked in the form of a unique piece of nursery decor.
Our close friend Laura took on the project of repainting the pig with unparalleled focus and dedication, and with Alan, her husband/pig-assistant at her side. When Brooks was about 10 months old, the masterpiece (and I don’t use that word lightly) was delivered. It was named “Brooks’s Garden” and was full of brightly colored flowers surrounded by its own ecosystem of hand-drawn ducks, butterflies, and snails; it even had a multi-tunnel ant farm on the underbelly! She and Alan had also created a picture book full of close-ups of all her characters. Laura assured us that Brooks would soon be making a game out of finding the dragonfly in the book and then matching it to the one on the pig.
Of course, we didn’t know back then that Brooks would, in fact, not soon make a game out of the pig; that he would not soon play any games, imaginary or otherwise; that he would not even begin to speak until he was 3. Any attempts to play the pig game—and there were many over the years—were thwarted by Brooks’s multiple challenges.
The pig, of course, has always maintained a place of honor in Brooks’s room (with the book at its feet), but I don’t remember the last time we talked about it. So when I was giving Brooks and my husband a tour of his new first-grader bedroom, I asked Brooks if he remembered who made him the pig. Surprisingly, he didn’t.
But he knows now—we retold the story that my son now has the necessary skills and maturity to understand and retain. And when I suggested we match up the pictures in the book to the pig, he was thrilled to try it. So finally, the three of us carefully flipped the pig around and identified each picture, just the way Laura predicted so long ago.
And when Brooks saw the last page of the book—of Laura holding the freshly-painted pig—his smile filled the room.
There is an undeniable and exclusive joy that accompanies times like these, when I am hit so squarely with how far Brooks has come. But I have to admit that I am also haunted by what might have been if he hadn’t responded so well to therapy—how I would have managed to accept never hearing the sound of his excited high-pitched voice as he finds the butterfly: “Look Mom: It’s right here!”
For better or worse, these emotions are intertwined for me. They weigh me down like a bronze statue and they make me as light as a hummingbird on a pig.
Marni Goltsman, web producer at the Paley Center and blogger at Insideschools.org, is currently writing a full-length play based on her experiences with autism. Insideschools.org, a project of the Center for New York City Affairs at The New School, features independent reviews of all NYC public schools as well as timely information on admissions and other education policies important to all families.
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