As of this morning the splinter was still in Charlie's foot and on my mind and I was on the phone with the doctor's office soon as it opened this morning. "11:00," said the nurse. "I'm can't get off from work," I said (mentally adding, and Charlie's still in school, and he just got back after a long break). "1.30pm," said the nurse. "Anything later?" I pleaded. "4---but we don't have any extra personnel then," sighed the nurse. "That's all right. I can hold him," I said, highly relieved.
A few years ago, it seemed all-important that Charlie not only do what his same-aged peers could do--knowing the alphabet, bike-riding--but that he do these things at the "appropriate developmental age." Notions like "mainstreaming" and "indistinguishable" and "typical" and the like floated through our vocabulary. And yet I often felt nervous to use those words. Indeed, thinking of that sort sometimes led us to pre-determine our expectations of Charlie so that these were not appropriate for him.
(This is not to say that we do not have the highest expectations for Charlie--it is to say that those expectations our based in living with Charlie and knowing where he is.)
We were able to teach Charlie to sit still at the barber, to zoom his bike down the street, and much more. We tried Charlie in the dentist's chair and ended up having to (with the hygienist's help) hold him still while the dentist work fast and frantic. Charlie got his tongue nicked by accident and had a sore in his mouth for a month and has not been back to the dentist in over a year. We consulted with our dentist, who has an adult autistic son and who urged us to teach Charlie to sit in the chair, and to use anaesthesia as a last resort (while adding, "you do what you have to do"). We have started a dental program at school and at home and are searching for a dentist who will let Charlie get his teeth checked in a series of visits.
We are trying our best to meet Charlie where he is. With him sometimes guiding and with us sometimes taking the lead, we try all to move forward and keep learning together.
So, to get out that splinter, I pre-prepared Charlie with a straightforward account of What Will Happen. We stopped at the store for a pack of sushi. We went over the What Will Happen in the waiting room (amid 15 other sick children) and in the examination room and Charlie lay on his stomach on a pillow we had brought, the doctor put on a headlamp, the nurse held Charlie's food, I mentally noted the distance between his head and the wall and------
The splinter came out in 5 seconds. "Dropped it," said the doctor. I handed Charlie the sushi and grabbed his shoes and put them near the exam table. (He must have eaten half the sushi before I backed out of the parking lot.) (And thanks to Eli's mom.)
Charlie was all grins the rest of the day. "Bread" he said as he opened the freezer and watched as I put a piece in the toaster. "Barn plate!" Charlie smiled and went to nibble the bread on the couch and to be on the lookout for his ABA therapist: "Hi Charlie! You want to take that upstairs?" "Bankett!" said Charlie and ran up with the bread and the plate. Between working at the table on the latest programs after yesterday's meeting, Charlie leaned against the therapist and requested, and gave her, a bunch of hugs.
"Suit on!" said Charlie after the therapist drove off. He ran upstairs and down ready for the pool. "We have to wait an hour," I said. "Waitourrrr," said Charlie and proceeded to do so, running on the grass in our front yard and back into the living room.
It is thanks to Charlie that I have learned how to swim, the result of pulling on my swimsuit for countless nights on cold days and hot and following him around the pool, lest he dart under the lane markers or splash into some senior citizen's exercise routine. Since Tuesday night, I have had Charlie's stomach illness (thanks to symbiosis) and told him tonight, "Charlie, Mom's not getting in the pool, she has the stomach thing you had this weekend." (I packed my suit, just in case.)
For the past few months, Charlie's swimming has been mostly floating here and there on a swim noodle; I have had to prod and coax him to do swim on his own. Tonight, he did every single thing he can do:
- face in the water
- blowing bubbles
- touching the bottom (8 feet)
- swimming on the bottom (in 5-6 feet)
- backfloat with arm action
- 360˚ flips
I watched from the side of the pool.
I thought about how, as an Autismland parent, we are prone to pre-determine our wishes, wants, dreams, goals, for our children. Yes, we need high standards; we also vitally need to see as honestly as possible what and where are children are, and go from there.
Pre-determining outcomes is a dangerous business. I had only to tell my students, "Yes, I am still sick" with the addendum of Charlie's impending splinter-removal doctor's appointment for them to say,
"You're having a bad day."
"We'll see," I said. I got up from my desk, grabbed a dry-erase marker, and said: "Homework? Review for the exam has started."
"You know, this has been a weird day," said one student.
"How so?" I said as I wrote out the present middle of the verb for "write" (grapho).
"I was walking to school today and I saw a car go through the window of a Washington Mutual," was the response.
"Oh no, thanks to one of those metal boxes that controls the electrical switches," said the student. "But you know, as soon I saw it, I ran to see if anyone was, I mean, under the car."
"Yes," I said. The student related more details and we eventually got back to the conjugation of grapho in the present middle.
"Well, tuchê is Greek for 'accident,'" I said as I wrote on the board. "And 'chance, happenstance, fate.'"
"So something was fated to happen," said the student who had witnessed the car going through the bank window.
"Yeeeesss," I said.
"But that's deterministic," said the student (a philosophy major). "So tuchê implies that something was pre-determined, was pre-destined to happened. That's determinism!"
"A dangerous way of thinking," I said.
Pause; smile (me).
"Homework, now, is on the future tense--and how do you translate the future?"
"Will write," was the answer.
I do not know--I cannot control--what tomorrow, or the fates have in store for Charlie, or for me.
I do know that, even though Charlie woke up ten minutes before the bus came (because I woke up late) and had that splinter in his foot for much of the day, he had a great day, against all expectations.
And that, while I do not know what tomorrow might bring, today's view has turned out all right.
Here's to the future.