August 7, 2011
Brick by Brick
It’s 6:15 on a Saturday morning, and I’m stumbling around the kitchen more than usual at this early hour because I stayed up late to catch up on the Big C last night (truly, are there many actresses more fabulous out there than Laura Linney?), and I know I’ll be paying for my choice all day. I drop Justin’s toast butter side down on our cold tile floor and mutter expletives under my breath for only my ears to hear, then trudge back to the refrigerator to start the process all over again. I call to my son once again to come to the table, grumpily insert a second piece of bread into our toaster, then head to the living room in the hope of luring Justin in for his least favorite meal of the day.
I’m on the threshold of kitchen and living room when he breezes by me with a box in his hand, grabs the juice waiting for him on the counter, then sits in his chair and turns to me expectantly as if to say “Woman, my meal is usually waiting for me, what’s going on here?” I have to smile at the look on his face as I rescue his whole grains slice from an imminent charring, and head over to serve him.
It appears that instead of his DVD player, his usual companion, today my child has selected a box of Legos to accompany him. This box contains a myriad of plastic pieces that if assembled correctly will create a fire house for a tiny, but beaming, Elmo figure. I’ve witnessed Zachary create this contraption many times, generally in locations throughout our home where me and my husband have usually tripped over it. Justin has never shown the slightest bit of interest in its contents other than the occasional twirl of an errant plastic piece, so I’m a bit curious as to what he intends to do with the set.
I place his favorite plate in front of him and urge (beg) him to eat, then settle down next to him, as sometimes cajoling him in close proximity gets results. He pushes my handiwork away (and given my culinary skills, I really can’t blame him), and dumps the open box out on the table in a fairly controlled fashion, with only a few red rectangles sliding to the floor. He looks at me. He stares at the Legos. He looks back at the box, grabs my hand, extends my pointer finger, and jabs it at the picture.
It would seem, for the first time in, well, the history of his existence, my boy would like to build something.
It’s not that there haven’t been attempts at construction over the years, but in general, all forays into the world of building have been met with either great disdain, or a caterwauling cry of contempt that should have woken the dead. Over the years alphabet blocks, huge plastic cubes, and my personal childhood favorite, Lincoln logs, have all been relegated to the slightly dusty recesses of our toy closet, mostly in the hopes that our second child might exhibit some interest in playing with them.
To our delight, Zach has enjoyed them, and proven himself rather adept at handling them. There remains only one contraption for which our eldest ever displayed the slightest bit of pleasure. Its main purpose was to convey multi-colored marbles through convoluted configurations I was never spatial enough to form correctly, and even then, Justin’s approval of it was limited. I recall that once when I’d conscripted Jeff to construct a particularly complicated adaptation, the entire thing collapsed around us. To this day, I believe I can still summon the howls from our son that accompanied it to its demise. I’m pretty certain everyone in our lovely suburban neighborhood probably could as well.
At the time, we decided to put his future as an architect on hold.
But today it seems my son would like to build, and together, as his abandoned breakfast grows cold, that is exactly what we do. He tries to make me do it, which despite the fact that this activity is geared toward a three-year-old is laughable, but I persist in encouraging his independence. We begin from the ground up, me pushing his fingers toward specific pieces, then gesturing toward the photo. It is slow going at first, but eventually he is conquering doorways and window sills, attaching a roof and a garage with ease. The frame is slightly askew, and at the end of the activity it seems a flower pot may not find its appropriate home, will instead remain perched precariously on a ledge at the insistence of my son. Of course, I let it linger there. After all, who am I to interfere in the creative process?
When he finishes he brings Elmo into the fold, positioning him carefully in front of the entrance to the fire house, glances briefly at me with what is clearly a look of intense satisfaction, and grabs a piece of slightly overcooked bacon. I’m still slightly stunned by our morning activity, and as I always do, I run for the camera before our creation is destroyed and snap away for evidence. I sit back with my Coke90 and contemplate the scene before me, regarding my son who has already moved past his architectural desires and is, to my happiness, consuming his meal.
One of the most difficult things for me, in the constant push and pull of a life with autism, is trying to tease out which activities Justin would truly enjoy, and which are simply beyond the scope of his pleasure. I never want him to miss out on anything, yet want to remain cognizant of the limitations of his interests as well. His father and I are contemplating having him groomed for the equine portion of the Special Olympics, despite my fears that when he sees a strange venue, he’ll balk at participating. Every year when POAC holds its surf events I manage to get that struggling child to at least stand on a board, because he loves those amusement rides so much, and one day the urge to ride the waves just might kick in. We give it our best shot as a family to include him in everything possible. Ultimately, the hope is that like bowling or horse-back riding, something will click, and perhaps a lifelong passion will be discovered. Particularly with this child, since we can’t ask him his interests, we’ll never know unless we try.
And maybe, if we’re really fortunate, there will be other days where Justin himself shows us the way.