All right, kids... come sit with Daddy and we'll read stories!
Richie and Maelynn love this time. On nights when it's too late, they're so disappointed. They run to their tallest hero and snuggle close, stuffies in hand, ready for one... or four, who's counting... adventures before dreamtime.
Ryan, on the other hand, is not impressed. Oh, there are stories he loves. He adores the ones we read over and over to him as a baby. Interesting, right? Most of the others, meh. He has better things to do.
Or does he?
What is he thinking? What part of this bothers him? Is it the sound of our voices? The close proximity to each other?
I've read of a mother who gets quite a lot of undeserved press who says she remembers the moment when her son, I don't know... turned autistic? That the soul left his eyes.
Not my experience.
My son's eyes are fiercely expressive. He is severely autistic and those eyes are one of the few windows we have to his world. For storytime? They're unimpressed.
So often I wonder what he's thinking. What's in that head? What's in his heart? Sometimes the heart is more readily visible. When he walks in the kitchen and throws his arms around me, falling into a hug; when he runs in from the living room, giggling, half knocking me off my chair; when he's angry and his eyes flash with rage... he feels. He's empathetic. He loves. He hurts.
I can't imagine going through life, feeling the range of emotions possible for any human, not being able to verbally express myself. Imagine being frustrated and having no way to tell someone? I'll never forget the time he'd been fussy all day... I think he was almost six... and I asked if he had angry eyes. He quietly said yes. When I asked if he'd like some medicine for his angry eyes, he also said yes. I gave him some pain reliever and his attitude markedly improved. Immediately, we made an appointment with his ophthalmologist and found out that he needed glasses. Badly.
Then there was the time when he was three and we'd just moved to the nightmare of an old house turned duplex here in town. The floors were old hardwood, which would have been wonderful if they'd been refinished after the carpet was taken. I was sitting on the couch, hugely pregnant with Richie, when Ryan walked to the table and screamed, "NO NO NO!" over and over. A quick look told me that he'd jammed a ginormous splinter into the bottom of his foot. Now, when stuff like that happens, he cries out with tears you can hear, "I got huuuuuurt!!!!"
And he only does that when he's really hurt. When he rattles off lines from this and that constantly, including phrases like "Do you feel sick?" it's good to know that one thing is meaningful. If I hear "I got hurt" I know to run. Whew.
That's good, too... because he screams a lot. Just while I was typing this, he shouted something random. I mean LOUD. Made me jump. Made Richie jump, then say, "Mommy, Ryan just made me jump when he screamed."
I wonder why he screams. If it is the way it feels, or fulfills something he just needs to do, or if it's expressing something.
I wonder why he hits. Maybe he's just that angry all the time, or maybe just like that little girl I read about who feels like her body will explode if she doesn't hit something.
I wonder why he laughs randomly. I wish I could share the joke... so I do. I just laugh with him, if it's a place where it's appropriate. And there are times when I just wish I could understand what he's saying when he says something, then cracks up. Mostly at these times, I'm just glad he's happy.
Then there are the times when he goes from the deep throes of a hitting, screaming, violent meltdown, to immediately giggling so hard he can't stop. A 180 degree flip in an instant.
I keep putting the computer in front of him when he wants to type, hoping he'll have a Carly Fleischmann-like breakthrough.
I treasure the few, though maybe three-sentence exchanges we've had. The lack of communication with Ryan has brought my conversations with his siblings into a sharper relief of thanksgiving.
He is amazing. He's funny, sweet, intelligent, and creative. He has a crazy-sharp memory. He draws elevator panels he's seen and road signs in order. He draws pictures of he and I at the top of the elevator with no eyes. Circles but no pupils. He draws his daddy and I the same way. Always smiling.
It's like walking around with a geode in a place where no one knows what it is and no hammer.
He's so many kinds of wonderful, and so much is locked inside. We want him to have a happy life, as happy and content as possible. We fight within and between ourselves about how much to push him and how much to indulge.
This morning, I sat with my daughter who's all of three, and we had a great conversation about trains. We had a delicious time of pretending, last night, that she'd bought me a pink iPad, loaded with Thomas and Cars apps. Richie tells me of his favorite stuffies and his best car treats. I watch them both pretend with their foam swords, pirates on an adventure. In the middle of the living-room-ship is Ryan, stimming on his precious trackmaster Gordon. He's oblivious, except for the occasional shocking shout of "STOP!' cried Thomas!" or "Bust my buffers,' cried Mavis!" They try to draw him into their play, making him a prop in a way.
I wonder if he wants to participate but doesn't know how. I wonder if he feels like I do in a crowd of people at a party where there's no job for me to do... no purpose for me to serve. I wonder if he's wishing he knew how to play.
I wonder if he understands when I apologize when I've been to hard on him. When I ask forgiveness... when I've been the cranky, cantankerous mother instead of the loving, kind, understanding mother... does he process those tears and words of desperate hope that he'll forgive me?
We do the same things over and over. We find something he likes, and we do it with controlled abandon. We live by timers and schedules and first-then statements.
And every day, I wonder if it's enough.
I hope it is. I pray it is. So thankful we are for the lessons of God's sovereignty that allow us to rest. How do you rest without the knowledge that you don't have to do it all yourself? As wound up as I become with that knowledge, I don't want to know me without it.
All because I wonder. I wonder and I will continue to love and seek his favorites, his dislikes, his everything. I wonder because I know he's wonderful.
Thanks be to God for Ryan, and for the wonder that he and all our children are.