March 18, 2013

The Whole Tooth, and Nothing but the Tooth

Posted in Fun Stuff, Life's Little Moments, My Take on Autism, Uncategorized tagged , , , , , at 9:41 am by autismmommytherapist

Xmas 2012 057

“Mom, I lost my tooth!” my youngest son cries with wonder, a shout coupled with excitement and tinged with a bit of disgust. I run over to the kitchen table and respond “Let me see!”, and indeed, when he carefully unfurls his fingers, it appears the tiny white object nestled in his palm is one that formerly resided in his mouth.

He smiles up at me with his new toothless grin, which I know I’ll come to adore as long as it lasts, and asks me if we can put it under the pillow tonight. I respond with an emphatic yes, and ask him what he’d like the tooth fairy to bring to him. He looks me straight in the eye and answers he wants to go to China.

That’s my boy. No pedestrian quarters for him.

I tell him that although the tooth fairy is quite efficient in her prize dispensing that unfortunately travel agent is not part of her job description, and he begrudgingly knocks his request down to a Phineas and Ferb book, a desire his mother actually can fulfill. He then runs to the bathroom to see the gap where his tooth once resided, touches it gingerly with his finger to see if it hurts.

It doesn’t. Satisfied, he runs back to his seat for lunch, already asking me if we can go somewhere today as his mother simultaneously figures out how she’ll escape to Barnes and Noble before nightfall. Soon he is focused entirely on consuming his lunch, tooth loss forgotten as he regales me with his day in the fast-paced world of kindergarten.

We’ve entered the arena of lost body parts. My little boy is growing up.

There are signs of it everywhere. I see his growth in the way he’d rather struggle to put on his gloves by himself than deign to ask for help. I witness his independence when he pushes his father and me out of the room at bedtime so he can read his last story alone. I acknowledge his progress when he clamors for privacy in the bathroom, an enclave which previously required adult attendance for him at all times. My not-so-little one is intent on figuring it all out for himself, and that’s as it should be.

He’s fine with it all. It’s just his mother who has to learn to adjust.

It’s not that Justin doesn’t strive for independence too. In the past year my eldest son has acquired so many new and important milestones, from completely dressing and undressing himself without prompts, to helping clean up at dinner which requires a number of prompts (I can’t blame him, I don’t like to do it either).

He no longer shadows us constantly, prefers to be with us but not on top of us in a room unless he’s hungry, then all bets are off. Justin’s making his way in the world too, at a different pace and trajectory than the rest of us, but his way nonetheless.

It’s simply hit me that while on some level my firstborn will always need our care, his little brother will not.

I realize that relief is welling in me, threatening to make this an emotional rather than a triumphant moment, and I push it back for later contemplation so I can be here, in the now, with Zach. I can’t stop my mind however from briefly returning to those dark days when he stopped speaking, playing with toys, or interacting with those he loved in any comprehensible way.

He has come so far from that painful abyss, the one in which he resided for such a seemingly endless time. My boy will have choices, although I no longer feel his life will necessarily be more fulfilling than his brother’s.

Zach is forging his own path, one that won’t always include us. To the core of my soul, I am eternally grateful.

He finishes his lunch with zeal and asks to go upstairs and place his tooth next to his brother’s, in the small silver receptacle I received at Justin’s birth. I take it down from its resting place and note that it needs a good polishing (and also note that this probably won’t happen). Zach takes off the lid dramatically, declaring with wide-eyed wonder that his deposit is bloodier than his brother’s, a fact which apparently is quite cool. He places his treasure inside and bounds from the room, already on to his next quest, to best me in yet another light saber duel.

I bet you can guess who will win.

On tippy-toe I replace the tiny teddy bear in its sacred spot, then prepare myself for a battle which will invariably include several stung knuckles. I realize I will have to practice this slow attrition of need, of always being central to his life. It is both a glorious and difficult path.

And one I will gladly walk with him.

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September 13, 2010

The Whole Tooth

Posted in Life's Little Moments tagged , , , at 6:15 am by autismmommytherapist

It’s Monday Madness here, the day where I generally try to make up for slacking off in the laundry department over the weekend and desperately attempt to rectify the situation with what seems like a dozen loads or so. I’m working on freeing Justin’s bedsheets at the moment, am ripping rounded edges mercilessly off his mattress as quickly as possible so my eldest won’t decide to disembark from the potty and bound into his brother’s room, waking him an hour earlier than necessary. I figure if we’re both up before 6:30, which sadly still seems an ungodly early hour to me even after seven years of sunrise awakenings, I might as well accomplish a few things as we wait for Justin’s welcome chariot to whisk him off to school. With a few more tugs I’m on my last and most difficult corner, when something small catches my eye. I reach down quickly, albeit a bit warily, and carefully scoop up the tiny artifact resting gently in the cavity of a crease, a gleaming white object deposited in what appears to be the center of Rainbow Fish’s eye.

It appears my son has lost his first tooth.

I handle it gingerly, cradle it in my palm, and for one moment am struck by how miraculous it is that I have found this. It would have been so easy for this attrition to have occurred at school, or on the bus, or somewhere else in the house where Justin would have unceremoniously disposed of it. He is unbalanced when things are out-of-place, would have relished the release of what must have been an uncomfortable feeling within the confines of his mouth. I am not surprised that he has excavated the offending body part, because it is clear he has assisted in its flight for freedom, as there remain the roots that once bound this fragile form to its neighbors. I know time is of the essence, so I rouse myself from my reverie, and remind myself I still have a toothless child waiting for me in the bathroom. I stride quickly to his bureau to wrap my precious find in tissue, where it will wait patiently for me to celebrate its unique properties by embedding it permanently in a silver teddy bear receptacle given to my son at birth for this exact purpose. I have time to reflect that I never thought I’d fill this with Justin’s tooth, that instead it would be one more object passed down to Zachary, pristine and inviolate. I smile at the thought I will have to purchase something similar for my youngest when the time comes, so he can complete the tradition as well.

I had thought when this momentous milestone occurred with Justin that I’d be sad, regretful that the rituals of my youth would have no meaning for him, would in fact perhaps cause him dismay. I can easily recall the excitement I felt at six when my rite of passage occurred, can remember the overwhelming anticipation of what would assuredly be a gift from the tooth fairy, a coveted quarter that I would probably put aside to put toward the purchase of an ice cream cone or bubble gum. There was a day years ago, not long after Justin’s diagnosis, where I felt such a sense of loss at all the imaginary events which he would miss, the sittings with Santa, the embrace of the Easter Bunny, the Herculean effort required to summon the patience to await the periodic arrival of my ethereal friend, that I felt compelled to write them all down, acknowledge the loss, then destroy the list. As it turned out, we are still able to celebrate all these milestones, just with a different interpretation, as I have learned to redirect the emphasis on aspects of these holidays and events so that they have meaning to my son. Over the years I’ve had to view everything through Justin’s eyes, immerse myself in his world in order to give him pleasure at these staples of childhood. So far, since I’ve been able to release myself from the rigid boundaries of my own memories, he’s enjoyed himself immensely.

I rush back to the bathroom, now perilously close to risking the awakening of a child still possessing a full array of baby teeth, and remind myself that this triumph can still be celebrated, still rewarded, but it will have to be Justin-style. I will not be sneaking into his room at night to stealthily ensconce a shining obelisk under his pillow, would never be foolish enough to either leave him alone with money he could ingest, nor risk liberating him from the hard-won constraints of slumber. No, I’ll have to conjure up another treat, perhaps something as simple as a walk on the boardwalk, or perhaps a new DVD. He will not make the connection between the loss of a body part and the prize, and the fact is, that connection is irrelevant. He will be pleased, and I will know why. That is all that matters.

I cross the cold tile to kneel down in front of my son on his throne. As I encourage him to dress himself he smiles, revealing the missing front tooth that I must have been blind or too wrapped in the fog of my morning fatigue to notice before. There it is, the rough-worn edges, the gap, the empty space waiting to be filled with permanence. I return his smile, for I know that once again I have won that ongoing battle in my head, reconjured my scenario of what should be and replaced it with what instead will transpire, what will turn out to be enough.

And as he reaches for my hand to ease the ache of loss, I can only acknowledge the gain for both of us.