9. The Plague of Darkness: 8:20pm
I am in the basement sitting at the computer when Jen gets home. Martin is in our bedroom standing the smallest Lincoln Logs on their ends shoulder to shoulder along the baseboard. Or at least that’s where he had been when when I had gone downstairs. I am actively indifferent to his location.
Jen calls a greeting down the stairs and asks me how things were going. I stay at the computer and call up, “not good.” She asks if she can help. I say I am not doing anything that requires assistance at the moment.
She says, “So, ‘not good’ means ‘pretty bad,’ huh?”
I say, “Yes.”
She says, “Can I take over, then?”
I say (bitterly instead of gratefully), “Yes.”
She says, “I brought you some food from the Seder. Should I bring it down?”
Martin hollers from our room, “Why did you not want me at the Seder?”
Jen to me, “Has it been like that the whole time?”
I call up, “Yes, and worse.” I tell her a bit about hitting and the crying and the peeing.
When she’s heard enough, she leaves the stairwell to attend to him.
I try to concentrate on the screen before me, but I end up listening to more of their conversation than I want.
Despite her efforts to mollify, distract and re-route him, he is inconsolable when it comes to the Seder Plate.
Him: “Mama, let’s go to the Seder.”
Her: “But, Martin, the Seder is over.”
Him: “Why do you not want me to go to the Seder.”
Her: “It’s not like that….”
Him: “But, I did not have the lamb bone, the bitter herb, the vegetable, the maror, the haroset and the egg.”
Him: “But I have to have the lamb bone, the bitter herb, the vegetable, the maror, the haroset and the egg.”
As I listen, I am rooting for Jen to figure out a way to get him to go to bed without either the Seder plate or fabulous temper tantrum. Actually, I don’t care much about the temper tantrum. I just want him to not get what he wants. I want him to be disappointed. I want him to suffer.
Her: “… Well, we can make a Seder plate.”
Him: “Let’s get the lamb bone, the bitter herb, the vegetable, the maror, the haroset and the egg.”
She takes him to the refrigerator and in short order they gather the “vegetable” (celery stalk), a fresh egg, the maror (horseradish sauce), and haroset (from the plate of food they’d brought me). Jen suggests they use some dried basil from the cupboard for the “bitter vegetable,” but Martin doesn’t understand this literal interpretation of the phrase (partly because he would never eat dried basil). He drifts closer to tizzy.
She says, “How about we draw some?” (This had worked the time he wanted to gather all of the animals from the book African Animals ABC.) He starts to say, “Yes” but changes his mind. “Paper is not the bitter vegetable.” Things are getting pretty tense when Jen finds some wilted celery greens in the back of the fridge that look enough like the parsley that is pictured in his book to pass muster.
The lamb bone is another matter altogether. We simply have nothing that resembles a bone.
By now, Jen’s enthusiasm and success have drawn me in and I am actively supporting the project. I offer to paint an empty roll of toilet paper or check my pile of wood scraps for an oddly shaped dowel rod or something. However, Martin’s standards are rising as the evening progresses. Jen suggests that we call a neighbor and see if they have a bone around from a recent meaty meal. I point out that it’s almost 10pm. We shouldn’t call anyone at his hour. I can’t figure out if Jen looks determined or just crazy when she says, “They’ll understand.”
The first person she calls has not gone to bed yet, nor do they offer an opinion on the determined/crazy question, nor have they had a meaty meal. The second person hasn’t either, but they do have dog and, hence, some dog bones. Jen runs over to their house to fetch one.
When the complete plate is presented to Martin he is quite satisfied. He recites the text of the children’s Seder book he has been reading, fondling each of the sacred objects as he quotes the description of it from the book. On the second run through he begins to sample the food from the plate: eating a bites of haroset, nibbling at the celery, pressing the dog bone and maror to his lips, and finally cracking open the raw egg and spilling its contents on the table.
10. The Plague of the First-Born: 10:30pm
When we first considered the possibility that Martin might be autistic four years ago it mostly seemed like good news. I mean we already knew that his speech was delayed. We already knew that he seemed largely oblivious to other humans much of the time. We already knew he was beautiful and charming and that we loved him. So, at first blush, the diagnosis was good news because it seemed to promise answers to the questions that were bothering us most: why and what should we do.
However, as we read more and more about autism, a dreadful prospect I had not previously considered emerged: it began to seem possible that Martin’s present indifference to us might never change. I mean, it also seemed possible that none of it might ever change, but the part of him never changing that really bothered me was the possibility that Martin might never learn to love me.
I felt that the burden of raising a child who spoke only in quotations of Muppet movies, who was perpetually socially awkward and who never learned to live independently could be borne. But I was not sure at all that I could bear to raise someone who was perpetually aloof.
So, I am sitting at the computer, listening to my wife placate the little villain who struck me in the face, purposefully peed on a chair, shamed me in front of my neighbors and perpetually defied my every attempt to reign him in and I am thinking about Seder. The notion of writing a blog entry about this evening has already occurred to me as has the idea of arranging it into a series of plagues. I start pairing up sections of the evening with the plagues on the Egyptians. Martin’s autism stands in for the Wrath of God. Some plagues go in easily, others require a little shoehorning, but the glaring problem is, of course, what to do with the final impossibly brutal plague.
Martin is my first born child, my first born son, and four years ago I thought he might never come alive to me as a son. He could not carry a conversation beyond the answering of a few simple questions. He almost never asked his own questions.
Now, he and his mother walk down the stairs behind me, Jen is coaxing him toward his room.
Her: Let’s go down to bed, buddy.
Him: It *is not* time for me to go to bed.
Her: Well, it *is* snuggle time. Let’s go snuggle in your bed.
Him (wordless compliance):
Me: Good night, Martin. I love you, buddy.
Him: I love you, too.