October 4, 2010

Suit Yourself

Posted in My Take on Autism tagged , at 6:30 am by autismmommytherapist

“What’s a suit, mama?” my youngest inquires as he struggles to pull off his dot-art christened t-shirt before his nightly bath begins. I consider responding “Well, ‘60s grandma would say it’s a mean man who’s part of the Establishment”, but I know that’s way out of line for a three-year-old. I settle with “a suit is a fancy outfit that you wear when you want to show someone respect, Zach.”

“What’s respect, mom?”


“Respect is, well, when you think somebody is great, and you want to show them that by wearing nice clothes.”

I see him taking it in, pondering, then rejecting this line of questioning with an emphatic “I NEED the ducks tonight!”, and I gratefully place son and water fowl together in our bathtub, now opaque with suds. In a few minutes he’ll get to see firsthand what I’m referring to anyway, and my brain hurts from multi-tasking, so for now I can let this go.

I’ve told Zach he’s going to try on a suit before he goes to bed because this weekend my college roommate is celebrating a huge milestone, proudly watching her truly incredible and compassionate son make the transition from boy to man in traditional Jewish fashion. Despite the myriad difficulties in having the McCafferty clan attend, I am determined we will all make an appearance, even if briefly, and we will all be properly attired. Truth be told, I’m really excited for this event, having watched this incredible, compassionate young man grow from bris to Bar Mitzvah, and frankly I’m also eager to see how my sons will look when all they’re all decked out. There aren’t a lot of invitations to fancy affairs here, and this is the first time either child will be required to wear anything nicer than a typical WASP uniform of khakis, button-downs, and loafers. I’m hoping they clean up well.

I’m also hoping, at least in Justin’s case, that he’ll tolerate the costume change, particularly since I’m abandoning my husband for temple services that morning, and he and the sitter will be left alone to fend for themselves. There’s no way I’m attempting a tie (God will have to look the other way on this one), but I’m fairly certain I can get him in his grown-up shirt and vest. I’m not nearly as sure about his spiffy shoes, but lately he’s had a footwear fetish, one that entails exchanging his sneakers randomly for his Uggs or sandals (and less benign, hiding my shoes around the house). I’m hoping he’ll find the new prospects exciting, and at least allow me to ascertain if they fit. I’ve got a stash of animal crackers on hand, the new reinforcer du jour, and I figure I might be able to bribe him with lions and monkeys for thirty seconds while I shove those suckers on.

After all, they aren’t Tivas.

Eventually bathtime is concluded, both boys wiped clean, teeth brushed, ducks carefully returned to their “nest”. Jeff and I divide and conquer, he leading Zach to his bedroom to reveal to him the mysteries of a suit, and me with Justin to do the same. My eldest runs ahead of me with his discarded clothes in hand and deposits them in the hamper, good boy that he is, and runs back to me for the first of his nightly hugs. He takes two steps and halts, looks down to where his custom-made pjs, the ones that he can’t get out of, usually reside. He is instead confronted with a complete ensemble that clearly has nothing to do with slumber, and he looks at me, confused, but not upset.

I’ll take it.

Over the next five minutes I am able to stuff him into his fancy socks and trousers, plead with him to hold still long enough to mate most of the buttons with their holes, and even get his vest on somewhat appropriately. He complies when I ask him to sit down so I can attempt that shiny black leather, and am rewarded with a smile and compliance, no resistance at all. He’s excited, so his feet won’t stay still, but finally after several tries I’ve secured the shoes, looped and laced the ties, and there is only one thing left to do.

Ask him to stand up so I can take it all in.

He does, and I know I will have mere seconds to regard him before he starts running back and forth across the bedroom in his perseverative ritual I have yet to completely comprehend, but which I interpret to mean excitement. I sit back and really look at him, head to toe, as he stands uniquely still, hands calm, straight-backed. I believe, in his own way, he’s proud.

I emblazon this moment in my mind in part because he looks so damn grown-up, and in part because I am aware I may not get this opportunity again. I never know from day-to-day what Justin will tolerate fashion-wise, and I’ve come to believe that there are only so many battles worth fighting with my son. I also have to acknowledge that the trajectory of my eldest’s life will be very different from what I anticipated. Given the lack of females attending his autistic private school, I doubt I’ll watch him don a rose-laden tux for a prom. He may not comply and slip on the suit jacket I most certainly will select for him at his high school graduation at twenty-one. I am certain he won’t escort me down the aisle one day in a grown-up version of today’s duds, eagerly depositing me in my seat so he can make his way to the altar to await his love, and his future. I may never see him sport a three-piece outfit again.

But right now, he takes my breath away. I am correct in my prediction, and soon my son is bounding around the room as he breaks in his stiff soles, magic concluded. Zach bursts in the door and declares “Mom, I am HANDSOME!”. I check him out and say “Yes, honey, you are, and Justin is too.”

And as Jeff and I begin to disrobe the boys, we smile at one another, and acknowledge our own milestone of transition in this household, our travels from uncertainty and fear, to acceptance and peace.

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