I am two rooms away from Justin when I hear a mighty “ACHOO!”, and I grab my wad of tissues and sprint to his side just in time to avert a major snot disaster. This is the fourth consecutive week of illnesses chez McCafferty, and I’m beginning to think we should mark the sign of the plague on our front door.
Fortunately, this one is nothing serious, and my poor boy is simply suffering from your average garden variety cold. It’s debilitating enough to keep him home, yet unintrusive enough for him to indicate every five minutes (by handing me his shoes and his backpack) that he’d prefer to go to school.
Trust me, Mommy is completely on board with that desire.
The one positive about the rotating sicknesses around here is that the situation has engendered a number of interesting conversations with Zachary around germs, viruses, bacteria, and contagion in general. He’s been fascinated with the concept that there are things that exist in the world which we are unable to see with the naked eye, an idea which took a bit of convincing to get him to accept. He is particularly interested in the existence of viruses, has asked a myriad of questions as to why most of the ones we catch can’t be treated with medicines, was happy to hear that most of the time people recover.
The thought that sometimes the symptoms engendered by said viruses are permanent actually rendered him speechless for almost a minute (an absolute rarity in our house). As I regarded him in his temporary muteness, I had a feeling something revelatory would follow this line of dialogue.
It turns out, I was right.
My youngest child fixed me with his most imperious “we will discuss now” stare, and asked me “If viruses do things to people, will Justin talk now?”, and frankly I am floored that he has linked these two events in his mind. We’ve talked about autism a great deal in this household, and Zach seems completely on board with the fact that his big brother mostly produces solely the “e” sound in all of his communications with the world.
He has on occasion shared with us his interpretations of what Justin is really trying to say (and while they’ve often been amusing, as in “give Zachary pretzels”, I figure he’s probably been right more than half the time). We’ve never really explored Justin’s future, a topic which I am certain we will revisit many times as the years unfold, nor have we analyzed his prognosis for conversation.
It seems whether I’m ready or not, we’re about to have that conversation now.
I kneel down on the floor in front of him and draw him to me, and tell him no, the microscopic intruder that has invaded his brother’s sinuses will not grant him the power of traditional speech when it departs. I gently let him know that his elder brother is almost nine, that at this point the ebb and flow of vowels and consonants will most likely remain forever relegated to the recesses of his brain, perhaps due to his severe apraxia, or some other culprit we have been unable to address.
I watch Zach take this information in as I share it in a way I feel will make sense to a five-year-old, and wait for his follow-up response. There isn’t any, but I’m not yet done with this topic, as there is so much more I need him to know.
I pull my youngest slightly closer to me, and tell him with conviction that in his own way his brother does talk, even though it’s not the manner in which the other inhabitants of this house converse. I remind him that Justin employs an iPad to convey his wants and desires, that this device speaks for him, and Zach smiles, because he’s enjoyed listening to the slightly stilted cadence of the iPad lady’s voice himself.
I explain to him that my eldest conveys a world of emotions with his eyes alone, that his father and I can grasp what he’s thinking just from that intense gaze he’s always offered to those he adores. I tell him that Justin “talks” to him every night when he rushes in to his big brother’s room to wish him peaceful slumber, that when he reaches from under his cocooned covers to squeeze Zach’s hand in thanks, he is also conveying his love.
Zach nods his head seriously, then asks for juice.
I recognize that we’re done with this topic for now, but that the ebb and flow of query and response will be cyclic and oft-repeated. I hope I’ve made it clear to Zach that like the viruses seemingly targeting our household in their callous disregard for our health, that there are many things transpiring here not readily apparent to the naked eye.
A person would have to not just look at my eldest, but really see him to know that he does create a bridge from his world to ours. If we are receptive enough, most of the time we will recognize his attempts.
And as I head to the refrigerator to mix Zach’s secret elixir of liquid fruits and vegetables, I remind myself that in regards to Justin, I must always remember to listen to him too.