February 13, 2012
My Un-Birthday Boy
I open the back door of our SUV, and instead of receiving a hug from my usually happy and active post-horseback-riding boy, I view instead a morose, still child, with tears brimming from his eyes. I release Justin from his constraints and he slides quickly out of the car, agitated, and heads toward the street. This is the opposite of his Saturday routine, where he generally runs toward the house excitedly, throwing himself across the threshold in pursuit of snacks. Today I have to block him as it looks like he’s trying for tarmac, but just at the lip where street and sidewalk meet, he stops. He puts both hands on my shoulders, gives me a look more of hurt than of anger, and buries his head in my chest.
We make it back to the house, he sliding along reluctantly as I lug boy and bag back to safety, his mother simultaneously trying to puzzle this one out. Even though my eldest can’t talk, and at times there are no icons for what he desires on his iPad, I generally (and thankfully) often comprehend his needs. As the door bangs open I watch him run a few feet into the foyer, stop dead in his tracks, and regard the archway that divides living and dining room. Jeff comes into the room, and we hear a slight sob emanate from my son.
We then witness him run behind the couch, lift up a “sedated” helium balloon held captive by its plastic bag, the one we bought for his brother’s “kid party” that we’re hoping lasts for the family fete too. He sinks onto the sofa in despair, and I whip out his communicative device, cajole him into enough of an upright position to access it, and wait. Justin runs his hands over wet eyes, gives me one last forlorn look, and hits several icons. The rather flat, atonal voice of the iPad queen blurts out “I want. My birthday is. May 12, 2003”. My husband and I look at each other as Justin buries his head once more into our accent pillows.
Justin had seen the balloon before we left. Upon returning, he noted the dearth of cars on the street which would signify his guests’ arrival. The absence of the banner strung along the width of our home, the one always heralding an impending celebration, was the last straw.
My boy thought today we’d be hosting his family birthday party.
Truth be told, numerous thoughts fight for purchase in my tired mind at that moment. I think about how this kid just used visual clues he hasn’t witnessed in a year to make an assumption about this day. I consider how he’s clearly distraught, but hasn’t gone after either of his parents to protest the fact that his birthday will not be celebrated this Saturday. Finally, I mull over how truly unpleasant the rest of our afternoon might be.
I admit, that last one gets a lot of attention.
Despite the fact that the rest of our day may be spent in what I like to call “survival mode”, I have to say, I’m impressed. He didn’t miss a trick. He communicated his needs. And as I watch him take a juice box from my husband’s hand, it even appears he’ll be rising above the insult that his parents won’t be celebrating his birthday three months early.
We always assume comprehension with Justin. But sometimes I think he understands even more than we think he does.
Soon, my boy is responding gleefully to tickles from his beloved dad, and I watch as he lurches off the couch, grasping his father’s outstretched hand. They’ll be heading upstairs to computer games only Jeff knows how to command with any aptitude whatsoever, and it seems that our “gaffe” will be forgiven. As they ascend the staircase my spouse throws me the “we dodged that one” look, and I smile, because to Justin’s credit, we did.
I think back years ago to some really dark days when my youngest was a toddler, and I wasn’t certain he’d ever communicate in any way other than screams and sobs. My mantra for that period was “he understands more than you think, he’ll get through this, together you’ll find a way”. It took a long, long time, and there were more than a few bumps in the proverbial communication road.
But finally, it does appear that my son is finding his way.