We were in the Lego store where the youngest daughter was ooh-ing and ah-ing an elaborate pink castle. The other two girls, having completed a proper wander around the very brightly lit store, were milling between a playtable filled with Legos (and a boy who was arraying most of them into a double tower with a completely symmetrical color-pattern) and the front entrance. Charlie was making a few turns through the store and then, on passing behing the elder daughter (she is actually the middle child), he briefly took hold of her elbows and smiled.
She smiled out of surprise and I remembered that Charlie had done the exact same thing to the youngest girl (over whom he towers by much more than a foot)---who had asked her mom last week, after seeing a commercial for Flushed Away, if "they were going to see the new movie with Charlie?"
Charlie being the only child that he is, I leap at any chance for him to spend time with other children----we are both more than a little ignorant in the ways of "typical" kids and especially girls: Dresses? dolls? pink? ---- These are not part of our household, where a not too unusual day (as today was) starts with rice and chicken for breakfast, a long bike ride, a trip to the barbershop for a buzzcut, a train ride into Jersey City, and ABA on a Friday afternoon.
The fact that our friend's daughters are, like Charlie, half-Asian, helps in more ways than meets the eye. It might be thought that Charlie, who does not exactly display the usual signs of noticing people (though he has been lingering in the vincinity of other children in the past few months), would not be too attentive to features like hair and eye color, skin complexion, and ethnic and racial features. But I think that he indeed does: When Charlie was a baby, he stared for hours at a photo spread of teddy bears with one smiling Asian girl posed among them (the title of the book was Baby's Colors and yes we should have known that it was kind of unusual that Charlie stared so fixedly at one page but hindsight could kill in Autismland).
And then there was Stella.
Stella was one of Charlie's first ABA therapists. She was a student at the college I was teaching at in St. Paul when Charlie was just diagnosed and I will always remember the day she walked into my office for an interview and I saw that she was........Asian. She was poised and ever-calm, even-tempered, attentive (greetings to Stella if you are reading this!) and from the moment she called Charlie to come and sit at his little blue plastic table, Charlie adored her. Stella had a red car that Charlie learned to look for from the front window; once when he and Jim were out for a walk, they sighted the red came and zoom raced Charlie after it.
Is it any coincidence that Charlie has been saying "Stella car!" for the past two days?
In Flushed Away, Rodney is a pampered rat living in a posh cage-house and enjoying all the finer things in life's rat race: golf, beach volleyball, and movie premieres in front of the wide-screened TV, with the silent companionship of a set of dolls. Rodney's lonely but well-provided life is sent into a literal whirl when a sewer rat, Sid, is coughed up through the kitchen sink drain and flushes Rodney down the toilet. Yes, I groaned at the prospect of this plot, but the familiarity of the scenery caught Charlie's attention: The toilet, far from being an appliance of mere necessity, has been the staging ground for numerous scripted reenactments of Charlie's (just think: what do the Teletubbies do at the end of their show, they jump down into a hole to their Tubbiehouse). "Fuss za toiwett," as Charlie pronounces.
Rodney ends up in the sewer and finds a thriving rat-sewer-city and the ninja-jumping boat-captaining Rita, among whose large family (with a father rat in a full-body cast and a rather eccentric, electricity-obsessed brother, Shocky) Rodney finds himself sharing soup slurps and warmly welcomed. Serious Danger portends in the form of a toad with regal pretensions, his French frog cousin, and halftime at the World Cup (this movie contains true bathroom humor without being overly grotesque) and Charlie followed the last 45 minutes of boat chases in the sewer rapids and slug-serenades with eyes fixed on the screen.
Suffice it to say that Rodney has to make a choice and that choice involves family, and letting flush away all the things---the unnecessary things---that one might have once thought so necessary to the good life, to life itself. Suffice it to say that life with Charlie makes Jim's and my choices---after seeming so hard at the start----easier with every day, with every connection made (like Charlie sharing his last French fry from his favorite hamburger stand with his dad). When you are trying to do the best for Charlie, choices become obvious, all else dross while friends shine with steady gold.