In the crisp of morning, we wait for school, snatching glimpses toward the door. Adam reaches for me, flicking my ear with his fingers, saying I love you in a way all his own. He tilts his head away, his expression lost, crinkled and preoccupied. I wonder if he contemplates the angle of the new light beaming through the window on his side, the light outlining his chiseled cheeks, his broadening shoulders. He misses nothing, but who’s to say? He could just as easily be lost in a memory or considering the pile of clutter in his lap, wondering maybe if he forgot some necessary treasure. Those of us who love Adam often wish we could throw open the door of his mind and see the thoughts he finds most difficult to express.
“Oh, the door’s open,” Riley says from the back seat, and I can hear the sound of her gathering whatever she had used to occupy the time, unzipping her book bag, shifting in the seat. A friend of hers lingers in the doorway, turning back to wait for her, reluctant. In the rearview mirror, I can see only fingers impatiently flicking the steering wheel in the car behind us.
Adam throws his backpack on his shoulder, scooping up an armful of paper and calculators—I count three—and CDs—an unzipped and floppy carrying case that must hold hundreds of finger-sticky discs. I have moments to wonder why–after all these years and so much repetition—he still grabs more treasures than he could possibly carry on his way out the door, even though he hardly needs these things at school. In fact, all his most precious things—numbers woven and recorded and composed into sound; numbers he can manipulate with his fingers and build into towers in his mind—will sit in his bookbag on a peg in the hall labeled with his own slapdash, handwritten nameplate.
Riley turns to wave at me, to offer an easy grin as she walks through the doorway and out of sight. And I look to Adam, waiting, as he twists one arm awkwardly in the air and a calculator resting in the crook of his elbow slides out of the pile he has gathered and back onto the seat. He opens an already cluttered hand—just lifts two fingers, really—to clench the errant tool, and then he kicks the already opened door a little further away to make room for the length of his legs as he gets out. But when he stands, the CD case escapes his grip and falls to the ground.
I sigh, opening my door, considering the best use of such a precarious opportunity. I haven’t the time to grab paper and pen and translate the situation into order–Time for school. Music and calculators at home; nor the occasion to say the words enough times. I’m not even sure it hurts for him to have his favorite things nearby if they don’t create any distraction for him. For now, it seems most prudent to try—again—to show him the value of the backpack resting on his shoulder. For a child who lives for order and structure, he shows surprising resistance to organization.
I walk around to his side of the car and retrieve the CD case, quickly, before he bends down and the rest of his things tumble out of his arms. “Hey Adam? Put your things inside,” I say, unzipping the pack and demonstrating inside with my hand as another calculator clacks on the ground at my feet. He gives me a look that says, No, thank you, and I can hear the lilt of his voice on the ank, even though he remains silent. Still, he relinquishes his arm load, dropping things into the backpack on top of his lunch box—the one thing I specifically told him to put in before we left.
I’m not sure why, but Adam has always carried everything in his arms, in much the way that I do, actually, when I forget to pray. Everything just piles up on me in heaps that topple over and crash at my feet, and still sometimes I just bend over and try to pick them up again, hard clutched in the only two fingers I can spare.
Once a vendor at one of Kevin’s races noticed us weaving through crowds of people, things spilling over Adam’s elbows, and chased us down the street with a logo-printed tote. That day, Adam carried everything in the bag just long enough for us to find a place to stand, and then he took it all out again, holding his treasures and the new carryall in his arms. I wish he could tell me what it is about holding everything. Is it that seeing the things he values most is worth the awkward grip? Or is it a matter of control, that somehow keeping things out in front of him where he can feel them offers him some illusion of safety? I tend to think both are true, that maybe he hesitates to put away the things weighing heavily for fear of losing his jurisdiction over them, that despite all the dropping and regathering, he thinks somehow he really can carry everything at once. But maybe sometimes, he just forgets that he can let go, that he doesn’t have to keep track, that he can set them aside and trust them safe.
I know for me, when I lapse into silent seasons, it’s really all of those things that keep me from relinquishing my not-so-solid grip to give things over to the trustworthy arms of the One always ready to carry everything for me.
This bookbag using exercise is one we have repeated with Adam for years and nearly still repeat every day, and I’ve come to see the armload as some kind of anxiety-managing compulsion, one of those uniquely Autistic tendancies that mysteriously simmers somewhere beyond his ability to communicate. But of course, Love means requiring that he learn to loosen his grip, to carry things in a tote bag, to trust that things will wait for him at home while he’s at school. In our world, this will mean a written guide, something carefully laminated and posted by the door. Put your things in your bookbag. Leave these things at home.
It will not be the first posted Word in our home, and what is posted clearly once will be lost and must be posted again and again. To make this work, we must practice repetitive and intentional remembering, for Adam and also for me, to place our treasures where the need to be, in the most secure places.
Adam looks at me carefully, checking my expression, and then finding there whatever he needed, he zips his backpack, lifts it to his shoulder, and turns to walk away. “See you later, Adam,” I call after him. He lifts one hand but doesn’t stop, and on the wind I hear his deep, clear voice, “See you later, Mommy.” He still calls me Mommy–the only one of my three still holding on to that sweet, early name I once heard in baby voices, and for that I’m grateful. I hope he never feels too big to see himself as my little boy.