Ready to leave, and I touch his arm, just two of my fingers, gentle, against the bony jut of his elbow.
“Don’t you want a jacket?”
I ask instead of tell, because this is not a life-threatening situation, and because choices facilitate growth; the understanding that someone else can have a broader perspective, that Love can be trusted. I can still feel the sharp morning on my fingertips, remembering the chill when I swung my bare feet out of bed. He’ll be cold—uncomfortable, even—but he’ll not freeze. It takes Adam half a season to embrace the change in the weather, and things he can’t say to me stop up the silence between us like a knot of cotton: Sometimes fabric feels good against his skin, like a covering hand–warm, safe, and sometimes the fibers chafe and prick like needles. Maybe on the latter days it feels as though the relentless sensation will drive him mad. So many years of learning him and I still can’t measure the condition of his nervous system. But I know what it feels like outside, and I know those long, thin arms of his will feel chilled.
“It’s chilly out there today,” I say, continuing.
He glances at me. “No.” It’s barely a consideration. He flings the word, solid, then moves away from me toward the door. Autistic teenagers only differ from their peers in some ways. His bluntness isn’t meant as disrespect, but it is decisive. In other ways, like the speculation that parents actually have no expertise, autism changes nothing about Adam’s perceptions. He thinks he knows what he needs, and he’s pretty sure I don’t. Some lessons, especially the least destructive ones, all children need to learn experientially. I let him go, turning toward another task: getting Riley on her way. She sits at the table with her long, brassy hair covering her shoulders, waiting for me to pick up the hairbrush and tend to her hair. She could do this herself, but she prefers the connection with me; she likes being able to say I did her hair. This makes me smile; I like knowing God makes me patient. Heaven knows I could never manage it by myself, I’m thinking, standing behind Riley’s shoulders, reaching for the brush.
I touch Riley’s head, smoothing the sun-gold strands with my fingers. I hear the back door swing open–the creak of hinges, and I feel the breeze rush in, brisk, crisp like the brittle leaves tumbling across the street. I can’t let go of the braid, can’t look away from the glossy loop I’m tugging into an elegant curve, but the staccato sound of Adam’s feet against the stairs confirms my suspicion that the lesson has been a short one. If I touched his arm again, it would feel as cool as that breeze.
I snap an elastic over the ends of Riley’s braid just as Adam returns, Batman jacket zipped up to his chin. He smiles at me, a proud grin, a grin that talks, a grin that says, Yea, okay Mom, you were right. Two seconds south of a good education and he’s a superhero. But I see the boy in that growing body, and I wonder how long the lesson will stick. We kids do take our time coming around. Our souls stretch like taffy and then shrink right back. God’s fingers pull gently, like my fingers drawing out loops like petals in Riley’s braids. It takes more than one good tug. But God doesn’t wonder about His children like me; He knows. He knows exactly how many bad choices–how much gnawing hunger, how much biting cold, how many dripping tears and do-overs–it’ll take me to believe what He said the first time. I can only imagine how much aching restraint it takes for Him to let us choose.