look what I got
It’s hard to explain what it’s like, watching a child slowly connect, as though another sidelined piece of the puzzle has suddenly locked into place; it’s hard to describe the shape of that grin, the one that knows the sweet taste of grace, but here it is, for us:
He sits cross-legged in the center of us all, those long, thin legs just no longer willing to flatten down, jutting out and up in awkward, plaid-clad angles, and he smiles. You understand now, I’m unwrapping a gift right in front of you?
I’ve seen that smile before—when one of his grandparents opens the door upon arrival and he has expected them, expected them so long and so fully he’s made the effort to speak to me of it himself and multiple times; when he’s intended to make someone laugh and they do; whenever anyone gives him music, especially for no reason at all. It’s a joyous, satisfied, cup-running over smile; the smile of contentment bubbling over to abundance; the smile that recognizes grace. This is the smile he wears as he sits down in the center of us with his Christmas stocking, dragging the overflow box in which it sits like a sweet he can already taste, has tasted a thousand times in anticipation. There’s nothing smug about that smile, nothing entitled, nothing earned; no, this is the smile that says, this is too good to be.
Let me hold it up now, for you to see:
Adam pulls out “the extras” first, the boxy, bulky things that just wouldn’t fit inside the boundaries of the stocking I sewed when he was just a seed, when he was the gift planted expectantly in the depths of me, that stocking with it’s gold foil stars and midnight sea, like a sky full of uncountable blessing. He holds them up one by one, narrating like we all do, only for him it’s the very first time. He’s fourteen years old.
“Uh, looks like it’s a soccer ball,” he says. “Looks like it’s markers and a white board!”
“I can’t believe he’s doing this,” I softly whisper, leaning closer to my mom. When you love a child with autism, the most usual things become extraordinary—that he uses sentences instead of just one word, that he chooses to make any commentary at all about his gifts. I watch, gathering up every word, as he shows us every single gift, as he mentions each one sentence-long. For many years, I was still astonished that Adam had learned to enjoy just being with us on Christmas morning, that he had found the peace to sit and enjoy the giving and receiving of gifts, and then in most recent years, that he sometimes punctuated his gleeful—but mostly silent—inspection of gifts with sounds of ecstatic joy. But this level of expression, this reciprocal sharing, is this year’s new grace. He waits between comments for our notice, holding his gifts aloft as we all do, sloppy-grinning, and our acknowledgement sweeps bright through his eyes.
Wasn’t it just the night before that Kevin’s dad, sitting just cozy next to me, said something about all these words Adam’s saying now? The observation itself came as a sweet gift, a notice I turned over on my tongue, a thankful ponderance. Sometimes the accumulation of speech builds like any other sort of growth, so stealthy and slow we hardly grasp the changes up close. But with the comment I remember others–Adam’s teacher, my friend, mentioning how very well Adam’s doing lately, how engaged he’s been; a dear friend who still cherishes the day my son broke his silence and answered her well about his day; another friend offering a wow over noticed progress. I hold my gifts aloft, wearing my this is to good to be smile, and it’s the spoken notice offered by our family, our friends, that gives grace it’s solid edges, that makes hope heavy in my hands.
Do you see this now? This is my gift. This is grace. These beautiful things—this increase of his words, this strengthened connection with all of us—these have been specific requests of mine, earnest mama prayers, but it’s still crazy-wide abundance to see the blessing overflow in front of me, too big even for the boundaries I’ve carefully constructed. I’ve got more here than an overflow box; I’ve got an overflow life. And this year, I want to take the gifts out one by one and hold them aloft and show you, so we can share them.