The other day Jill and I ran into one of Alex’s therapists from his old school. He asked how Alex was doing, and said that Alex’s old teachers have checked this site but lately hadn’t seen much written about him.
“Well,” Jill offered, “there isn’t much to write about.”
Thank god. This is approximately the 178th essay about Alex, so I have to think I’ve covered a kid who’s not yet half-way through kindergarten. Still, the topics have wavered off Alex lately, off doctors, oxygen tanks and special needs, and onto the antics of full-term Ned, potholes and hilltops of marriage, and mental doodles about novelists and air travel. Some readers have said the topics have wavered too much.
It has been a busy year regarding Alex. In late spring we started scouting for the right public school. By summer, we were arguing with the Board of Ed. for the right public school. By fall, we were lifting Alex onto the bus to take him to the right public school. Alex’s schooling has, in many ways, been the best thing about the second half of 2003. Last month, I attended the first of what I suspect will be 15 years’ worth of PTA meetings, many of which will be on behalf of Alex, whose education will require, well, special needs in the age of budget cuts (one PTA mom reported she donated paper towels to her school by stuffing the rolls into the seat pocket of her son’s wheelchair). Most nights, one of us sits with Alex and does real homework, at which he is becoming more comfortable; the other night he and I were making F’s hand-over-hand; my fingers felt him take over on the downward slash and the two lines across, his own featherweight force guiding my hand through the ! letters.
He’s talking more. We’ve taken a solitary “Please” and built it into “More, please,” “More, please, daddy,” and “More pretzels, please, daddy.” “Thank you” and “You’re welcome” we’re all using in almost the correct order. We get the clearest utterances out of Alex when he’s uncomfortable: Once when we had a fever, he said, “I’m thirsty.” Once when he was tired he snapped, “Tired! Take a nap!”
In general, however, I drift on Alex day to day. Yesterday, for instance, was the second afternoon of a snowbound weekend. Jill and Ned were at a neighbor’s. Alex sat at the little table, zipping through a simple jigsaw puzzle. I was watching the Redskins-Giants game with the volume off; I heard the puzzle come together with little clicks. I’d brought the red tricycle into the living room, but Alex wasn’t interested. Untouched toy cars littered the toy garage. I doubt he was tired, since all we’d done all day was walk down the nine flights of stairs to get the mail and tour the battleship-gray basement of our building. Forget outdoors: On Saturday, for some reason I’d figured Alex might like a little walk in a blizzard. Trouble was, Alex had already looked out the living room window, and as we neared the door of our building he grabbed the railing and dug in as though trying to keep his footing on a capsizing deck.
“Oh, c’mon Alex, let’s take a little walk!” Misguided faith, I guess, propelled him into the wind chill. By the end of the block he did what any sensible person except a father would do, and waded and slid toward the convenience store. “Cheez Doodles!” I heard him plead into the wind. “Cheez Doodles, PLEASE!” No, no Cheez Doodles (I should’ve bought him some), but yet another pointless corner or two before he spun into my abdomen and pleaded to be carried the block and half home. About the only thing that walk accomplished was maybe teaching Alex the word “lunatic.”
On Sunday, as football players moved around the field without sound, it struck me that I don’t spend enough time educating Alex. Even on a Saturday of lousy weather I’d opted for the kind of easy activity I’ve been doing with him since the days of having to slide oxygen tanks into the bottom of the stroller.
Nowadays, there’s art and reading. There’s wrapping his fine fingers around crayons and feeling his pressure create more letters. There’s planting the easel in the center of the living room and discovering how much Crayola was lying when they printed “washable” on the paint bottle. There are the F’s. There is the future. There’s more than just no more oxygen tank.
Jeff Stimpson, 49, is a native of Bangor, Maine, and lives in New York with his wife Jill and two sons. He is the author of Alex: The Fathering of a Preemie and Alex the Boy: Episodes From a Family’s Life With Autism (both available on Amazon). He maintains a blog about his family at http://jeffslife.tripod.com/alextheboy, and is a frequent contributor to various sites and publications on special-needs parenting, such as Autism-Asperger’s Digest, Autism Spectrum News, and The Autism Society news blog.Tweet