January 13, 2011
My oldest son has his first crush.
Yes, there have been minor dalliances before, a connection with his chaperone at special needs church group, and a few flirtations with the cute girls in his buddy program when he attended public school. He’s reveled in their attention, even sought it out on occasion, but the look on his face when in their company has strongly resembled the one he reserves for both his mother and grandma. There’s been no special quality to his demeanor, just an unbridled joy that someone is playing with him, and whether that person has been ten or sixty has been completely irrelevant to him.
I realized my son’s feelings for this particular teen-aged girl had evolved from a more pure form of love to an actual crush this past weekend, when I witnessed the look on his face as saw her enter our home. Normally, he just jumps up and down with joy, parading his happiness at her arrival with absolute glee. But today, well, today was different. I watched in fascination as he shyly sat down and covered his face with his hands, peeking out at her between two loosely laced fingers. He didn’t rush over to her as he usually does. Instead, he waited for her to approach him with her usual hug, after which he buried his face in her stomach and wrapped his arms so tightly around her I was afraid she wouldn’t be able to breathe. When I acknowledged the transformation, the subtle shift in his emotions, I found myself having trouble breathing too.
He couldn’t have chosen a better person to be the recipient of his affections. This young lady is a neighbor of ours, has endured a rather difficult life at times, and has come through all of her battles with tenacious grace. She is bright, sweet, and possesses an innate sense of justice that she wields with impunity whether someone is being rude to her, or rude to someone she loves. There is an edge to her I didn’t discover in myself until I was almost thirty, and an optimism regarding the life she hopes will unfold for her that has garnered my complete respect. If I’d had a daughter (although now I’m fairly certain I’d never have the energy for that gig), I’d have been lucky if my offspring resembled this not-quite-girl, not-yet-woman.
I am well aware that this may be Justin’s sole foray into the world of “romantic love”, an opportunity where his affections, although of course not returned, will not be entirely spurned either. I am grateful for their interaction, this chance for him to be treated with kindness and respect, this time for him to be unguarded in his emotions. I know he’s lucky to experience this, and will probably have these moments a few years longer until this lovely girl goes off to college (unless my bribes to encourage her to remain around the corner actually work out). I am happy for him.
But of course, planner extraordinaire that I am, I can’t actually dwell entirely in the present, I must of course contemplate the future. I have to wonder what my son will desire in his lifetime, what, if he could speak, would comprise his own grand plan for his future. In an irony not lost on me, (and there are many of these in my life), I once worked as a young woman in a group home for autistic men. As most of them were non-verbal, I often wondered if they felt in any way that they were missing out on the trappings of “normal” life, if they longed for anything other than their structured routine, the chores and errands and meal-makings that bookended their daily lives. I remember thinking they seemed content, but this was several decades ago when communicative devices were not in abundance as they are now, and since they didn’t speak, there was no way to really gage the measure of their happiness other than with the absence of their angst.
I watch my son disengage from his paramour, gently take her hand and lead her to the computer room, and I acknowledge to myself I may never really know either what he wants, or what he needs, despite the incredible advances in technology now available to him. Requests for movies, snacks, and the occasional query regarding a hug are lovely, and I’m thrilled he can communicate them to me, but his technological device does not permit me to plumb the depths of his soul. And I will tell you, without equivocation, that even without the capacity for speech, even without the structured placement of verbs and nouns and adjectives, a lovely soul does there reside.
They both giggle as they mount the stairs, and my son throws the briefest of glances my way, an acknowledgement that mommy’s done right by him, that he is indeed, in this moment, supremely happy with his life. I remind myself, as I often do, that all we really have is this time, this particular moment, and I should dwell here and nowhere else.
And I promise myself, I’ll try.