autism,  milestones,  teen years

Wolf Boy to Mr. Rogers

As we head into the last week of October I think of how our life looks so much different now than the other Octobers of our past. Holidays are one of the few times of the year where I can really “see” J’s growth. Maybe it’s because holidays are well documented with pictures. Maybe it’s because holidays bring activities and rituals that are so different from the regular routine of life. I’m not sure. But as J dressed up as Mr. Rogers to go to a church dance this weekend and I look through all the old pictures of Halloween costumes, I realize life has truly gotten a lot easier.

2 year old J, Curtis Orchard, Champaign, Illinois 2004

J has grown so much and can enjoy the out-of-routine activities when they used to bring him so much terror. Here is an old essay I wrote back in grad school about J and his wolf costume. Back in the day, finding a costume that would be meaningful for J was SO difficult. At that time in my life, I felt I was this locked up little boy and I was constantly struggling to understand and connect with him.

Wolf Boy

We pull into the potholed parking lot of Safari 7, Fargo-Moorhead’s only discount movie theatre.  Steve navigates around the loose asphalt until he finds a spot not too far from the front door.  As soon as the car is parked, Joshua opens the door and dangles his snow boots for moment over a salty snow puddle.  Before I can stop him he splashes into the wet mess, brown wolf tail dragging behind.

Halloween 2009

He is Max, ready to see Max on the big screen, and it’s safe to say that Joshua will be the only kid in a white wolf suit.  It’s also possible that Whitney and Joshua will be the only kids in the movie theatre.  Where the Wild Things Are has been out for months, weeks shy from its DVD release and I’m sure we’re probably one of the last families to see it.  We planned it this way—waiting months after the original release to bring our kids to see this movie.  The crowds and wait times would be nonexistent, and the cost a fraction of the original.  That way if we encounter any problems, we won’t disturb the crowd, and if we have to leave, we won’t have to regret dropping 30 bucks after a half hour of movie.

Joshua is waiting patiently, running his fingers through the soft brown curly fabric of his tail.  The man at the ticket desk compliments Joshua on his costume, but Joshua doesn’t say anything back.  He’s watching the college student pop popcorn behind the counter. 

Whitney insists on giving the tickets to the usher, as I lead Joshua by the hand to the right theatre.  We form a single file down the narrow aisle to find our seats.  We debate for a minute who should sit by whom.  Steve decides that I’m the one who should sit by Joshua, since I’m the one who’s got the candy stashed in the purse. 

I sit down in the red plush seat which squeaks every time adjust.  I decide not to tuck my purse below me because my boots stick to the bottom of the theatre floor.  I grab Joshua’s soft brown tail and tuck it between him and the arm rest of his seat, trying to keep it off the ground too.  The fabric I chose for the tail was perfect, dark brown, soft curls of fur.  I smile as I prop up one of his horns that droops down over his forehead.  It turned out okay after all—it’s not perfect, but it makes him happy.

A few weeks before Halloween, Whitney informed me she wanted to be a princess for Halloween. Most girls at her age want to be a princess of some sort. There’s always a million options to choose from. She was going to be easy. 

It was Joshua who was going to be the problem. Even though Where the Wild Things Are was just released, there were no Max or Wild Thing costumes to be found anywhere.  Classic Joshua. Just like in everything else in life, Joshua isn’t on the same page as everyone else. He didn’t walk at the same time as everyone else. He didn’t talk at the same time as everyone else. He plays with saucers and pencils instead of trucks and dinosaurs. He’s never interested in any of the costumes/characters as anyone else his age. This meant I would have to improvise, so I pulled out my sewing machine and my junior high sewing skills and somehow managed to pull something together.  I used Velcro—lots of Velcro.  I stuffed and sewed horns to the hood piece, but they ended up looking more like floppy bunny ears than horns.  But Joshua knew he was Max, and that was all that mattered.

The kids are squirmy and we’re only a half hour into the movie.  I pull some hard gummy Dots out of my purse (yes, Joshua is the only kid on the planet who actually likes Dots) and place a few in his hand to keep him busy.  Whitney hops out of her seat and slides into my lap.  In Whitney’s mind, this movie should be over.  The book takes four minutes to read, and I know she’s wondering why is it taking an hour already and we’re not even close to being done.  The Fraggle Rock-like monsters hold no interest for her, and she’s slides out of my lap after a few minutes only to hop into Steve’s.

But Joshua’s finally settled down and is quiet, content on watching the movie and chewing the hard, sticky candy I hand him periodically. 

We get to the end of the movie—the final scene where Max finds himself in his room with still-hot supper waiting for him.  But this scene is different from the book.  When this Max comes home, he finds his mother waiting for him in the kitchen.  There’s no dialogue.  Max gives his mom a hug, and she watches him eat—almost as if she still can’t quite find that connection with him, but she’s okay with that, because he’s there with her. He had his meltdown, retreated into his own world, but he finally did come back.

We go home and I put the costume through the wash and again.  I’m amazed, because it’s gone through a few washes already—after smears of orange icing after his classroom Halloween party.  Dirt along the cuff of his pants and leaves embedded in his furry tail after trick or treating.  I’m amazed because I made the costume and it’s still in one piece. It might just make it to next Halloween.

Halloween 2010

It’s crazy to look back at these pictures, and this essay and see how much has changed.

Halloween 2019
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