June 15, 2011

Heaven and Earth

Posted in Life's Little Moments tagged , , at 9:24 am by autismmommytherapist

“Mom, what’s a soul?” my smallest son asks me as he runs pell-mell toward the end of the pier, his middle-aged mom trying desperately to keep at least five feet from his retreating backside. I gather my thoughts in the amount of time it takes me to pretend I’ve caught up with him (he always slows down out of pity), and together we collapse at dock’s end. I’m about to respond when he follows up with “Mom, when will you die?”, which knocks the breath out of me far more than this run down the fishing pier ever could. I silently curse my husband under my breath (he’s never around for the good questions), gather Zach into my lap, and remind myself that he’s four, and that it’s still okay to lie to him.

Hell, I might even save him six months of therapy down the road.

I’m not a strong believer in the afterlife, although perfectly happy to encourage anyone to embrace whatever gives them peace. At forty-four I anticipate I’m about half-way done, and since the last decade has been such a blast, what with the infertility years, the miscarriages, and the two kids with neurological disorders, I figure I deserve a good rest. If I make it to my eighties and Justin (in theory) has a safe place to live, I’m completely comfortable with taking a long, quiet, permanent nap. As long as there was some good wine, dark chocolate, and a Stevie Nicks song or two in my last moments to ease me into oblivion, me and the Grim Reaper, well, we’re good.

Unfortunately, I’m certain me and my four-year-old won’t quite see eye-to-eye on this one.

I must have waited too long to respond, because his next query revolves around the possibility of dinosaur heaven, and I know I’d better quickly address his questions before he forgets he’s asked them. I remind him that when we die our bones remain in the ground, and sometimes people go to visit those bones in graveyards to say hi to the people they’ve loved. I tell him that souls are the best parts of our spirits, the special qualities of who we are, the “stuff” that makes him Zachy. I share with him that (please dear universe) I won’t be dying for a very, very, long time, but that someday we’ll be together in heaven, along with Daddy and Justin, and yes, the soul of the dead squirrel in front of our house that he won’t stop talking about.

He looks at me quizzically, and I can see he doesn’t quite buy what I’m saying. Perhaps there will be an added six months of therapy after all.

These dialogues are new territory for me and Jeff. My “conversations” with Justin never delve into the world of imagination, instead remain entirely concrete in nature. There were a few years that despite his intelligence I wasn’t certain he understood even my simplest commands, such as “pick up that toy” or “please eat”, or, more frequently, “stop pinching me now”. We also entertained the idea that he did comprehend our requests, and simply found them far too mundane to concede to them. Trust me, if you could have seen the frequent looks of disdain I received while trying to convince him to engage in a far less motivating activity than the one he was clearly enjoying, you’d have had your doubts too.

Justin’s matured a great deal in the last few years, and now I’m absolutely certain he comprehends what we’re asking him, as now he usually complies with our first request. When it comes to the land of imagination however, the Santas, Easter Bunnies and Tooth Fairies that usually command a great deal of play in childhood, I’m almost certain he doesn’t consider them. I’m pretty sure that giant rabbit on the Easter bunny train was just a sweaty guy in a big white suit to him, and since he derives pleasure from the holidays in his own concrete fashion, I’m fine with that.

Besides, it’s one less kid with whom I’ll ever have to have the “death talk”.

With Zach, things will be different. I’ve already tried to explain the concept of “bad people” to him (“but Mommy, if you’ll protect me, why do I have to scream “NO!” and run from them?). I’ve attempted to interpret for my youngest why Justin destroys his favorite books if we don’t catch him quickly enough (I’d like someone to explain that to me too), and that’s it’s unacceptable for Zach to follow suit. We’ve had entire rapid-fire discussions about volcanoes, earthquakes, and tornadoes that have had me dashing for Google at lunchtime.

Trust me, it’s been a while since Mommy’s fifth grade science class.

I have to admit, I love it all. From the questions about the vagaries of weather and the lifespan of butterflies, to queries about the afterlife, I find his inquisitiveness so compelling, his curiosity a joy. These dialogues are a double-edged sword however, because I also know I’ll never stop yearning to have them with Justin. Although we convey so much to one another with our collective gaze, I’d still move heaven and earth to hear him utter something other than the word “mom” before I go.

Try explaining that expression to a four-year-old.

Eventually Zach clambers out of my lap, apparently satisfied by what I consider my lame explanations. He proclaims his desire for “juice and pretzels”, and I know our existential portion of the day’s events is concluded, and we’ll soon head for home. I take his hand, and for once he is quiet, perhaps exhausted by his run, or his perennial quest for knowledge. His mommy is exhausted too by the necessity of answering things “right”, although I know sometimes, I won’t. That’s just the nature of parenthood.

But this morning at least, we’re okay. And the one question I know neither one of us needs to ask, is who needs a good nap.