He forgot his glasses . . . again. He forgets his glasses a lot. When I prompted him to get them, he turned those stunning blue eyes to me and smiled.
His eyes were the second thing I noticed about him. After three months of wondering what his cleft lip would look like (and being pleasantly surprised that it wasn't as horrible as I thought it would be), I noticed his eyes: light blue, striking, all-knowing.
Once he was home from the NICU, I noticed that he was all round, smooth, creamy cheeks, knobby upper lip, and eyes. He was darling.
I would hold him and his eyes would search the corners of the room. "Do you see the angels?" I would whisper to him. I was convinced that angels had to be watching over him. He was so quiet and peaceful.
Until night. Then he couldn't sleep. One night, Hubby and I were up at 4 a.m. cleaning behind our refrigerator because Slim was still wide-eyed and awake (we FINALLY made him "cry-it-out" at eleven months, but a lot of good that did).
There would be tougher times: surgeries, physical therapy, speech therapy, temper tantrums we couldn't explain, odd behaviors, and diagnoses. Maybe those were a relief.
This year he turned twelve on New Year's Eve. I said to him as I gave him his birthday hug and kiss, "Now Slim, you can't get any bigger than this. You must stay like this forever." I am able to comfortably hug and kiss him without bending over at all. His head nestles in a perfect spot near my shoulder.
He pulls away. "But Mom, growing is a natural part of life. I can't just STOP growing." And he walks away.
Ever the realist.
I look at him a lot with new eyes these days. He's different. Well, he's always been different; but he is different.
He eats his food with the gusto of a tween who is, in fact, still growing. He makes polite and pleasant conversation at the dinner table as opposed to his brothers' arguing and refusal to eat what's been put in front of them.
When he is asked to help, he says, "Okay," and helps. No matter what it is - taking out the garbage, buckling his brother's car seat, walking the dog, or emptying the dishwasher. He helps without complaining. Oh, he still may need reminders to follow through with some of the tasks, and he probably always will; but the boy gets stuff done.
We see a boy from his class at the sledding hill. They chat and hang out a little. When it is time for his friend to leave, Slim says, "Hey, we'll talk about this at recess next week, okay?" While I love how normal that looks and sounds, I know there will be no such discussion at recess.
A group of teenage girls walks by with pink sleds and matching hats and gloves. Slim is quick to notice and say, "Hey, ladies! It's a great day for sledding." They smile and 'awww' at him. He walks away with the swagger of someone able to pull off wearing this shirt:
Sometimes I pretend he doesn't have Autism. Sometimes I hold on to those typical moments so tightly and expand them in my mind. I imagine that he is a handsome young freshman, asking a girl to a dance and going with all of their friends. I even go so far as to insert his brother into the equation because, after all, there is no celebrating any of Slim's milestones without wondering how Joey would be celebrating them and what he would be like as a twelve-year-old, too (as long as I am fantasizing about things).
I get an email from the music teacher that contains Slim's audition time for the junior high play. I am shocked, but not at all surprised. "Why didn't you tell me you signed up to audition?"
"I wanted it to be a surprise," he answers with a big smile and those light eyes twinkling.
I'm not sure if Joey would have signed up for an audition, I'm thinking to myself as I drive Slim to school. "It's so awesome that you're doing this. And you're not even nervous!" I look at him in the rear view mirror.
"Well, I am a little nervous." There it is again: normalcy. Typical behavior.
In so many ways, I think we lucked out. We have this amazing tween who is sweet and loving and confident and helpful and cherishes his parents.
And in so many ways I know the road ahead of us is only going to get harder as he struggles to accept his autism and what that means for him in relationships, education, jobs, and society.
I've wanted to freeze time a lot in the past week. The times when he stands side-by-side with one of his brothers, emptying the dishwasher and talking about Star Wars or Minecraft, laughing at inside jokes.
When he and I walk the puppy together and talk about nothing and everything, I want to keep walking until we can get to a place where his differences don't matter. Where they don't even exist.
I get an email from the music teacher that contains the cast list. I scan it, preparing to be disappointed.
But there is his name:
Old man = Slim Glow
My heart leaps and tears spring to my eyes. He needs this. I need this.
If he were typical (normal - blah, what IS normal??), I'm not sure he would have even tried. But what I am sure of is that he walked into that room, quirky as all get-out with those glasses slipping down his nose, and they saw something in him.
He gets a chance. His chance to shine, and I'm hoping that everyone else sees what we have been seeing lately: this wonderfully sweet, delightfully quirky, typically atypical twelve-year-old boy who has no place to go (despite his mom's best efforts to impede him) but up and up and up.