My eldest son Justin, who has moderate autism, rushes in the door. He stops for several seconds to ditch his sneakers so my cry of “Shoes!” won’t follow him down the hallway to the refrigerator, where he's searching for his after-school snack.
After almost tripping over his coat, that I’ll remind him to hang up for the millionth time (in some ways, all kids are the same), I walk into the kitchen with his backpack to check on his progress.
He's already munching away contentedly, so I take the moment to reach into his backpack for his iPad and any goodies hidden within. As I delve into the bag, my hand brushes construction paper bundled in with his softest gloves. I extract it from its warm nest and smile.
It’s my Valentine.
The boys’ teachers have always been great about finding the time in school for the kids to create their exquisite constructions. Over the last few years my youngest son Zach has presented me with hearts of multiple shapes and sizes, with loving inscriptions proclaiming his feelings for me, and brightly colored drawings to accompany the sentiments.
He has proudly proclaimed, “He did this!” every single year since he started pre-school, and has made a point of bestowing his gift to me with great gusto. Zach completely understands the ritual, has hounded my husband two years straight to make sure he got Mommy “something."
I love this child.
Justin, however, has been a different story. Every year he’s come home with his own version of Valentine’s treasure, but try as I might, he’s shown no interest in watching me open it.
I’ve tried at mealtimes when he’s more focused. I’ve attempted to have him hand his original creation to me, but to no avail. The giving of gifts has been a non-event to him (receiving being far more fun in his opinion), so I’ve let the Valentine’s exchange go.
Except this year, I don’t have to.
As my son’s rectangular message escapes its confines I see Justin’s head whip around, and the whisper of a smile graces his mouth. He abandons his much-preferred DVD to walk the few steps across the kitchen to me, and gently takes his masterpiece from my fingers.
He closes it along the crease, smiles, looks me straight in the eyes, and returns it to my grasp. I open it and exclaim over both its beauty and the message within, the “I love you Mom” I can see he’s had assistance scribing, but it has still been wrought by his own hand.
Justin throws his arms around me, inclines his head for the “forehead kiss” he sometimes prefers to the real thing, and retreats to his favorite film. Connection made, moment concluded.
Happy Valentines Day to me.