A Lesson in Subtlety

University students
University students

On a gorgeous winter Saturday, we were driving through the university to drop one child off for a concert performance.  With time to wait, we continued dawdling through the campus streets.  Students were out in droves, and as is typical of Tucson, they were dressed in scant summer clothing. My eldest was seated in front, I, directly behind him, when I noticed his head whipping around and staring at the beautiful young women.  Eyes wide and obviously gawking, I asked, “Are you looking at those girls?” The bashful smile on his face affirmed my suspicion and lowering his head, he replied, “yes.” It was the entirely appropriate response of a 15 year old who had just been caught by his loving mother filling himself with eye candy. Although caught, it didn’t stop him from continuing to whip his head around at every opportunity, and I thought that a chiropractor may be required after this drive!

It was one of those moments in the journey that brought enormous smiles to our parental faces. My husband continued his ear-to-ear grin, enjoying the normalcy of the moment.  I remembered what it felt like to be stared at, and then recalled the vulnerability of the teen years.  I realized that it was a teachable moment. The route through autism recovery necessitates teaching every little nuance, every small social cue that would otherwise be obtained by normal peer interactions or by sheer embarrassment from error. Since “subtle” happened to be one of my son’s spelling words for the prior week, I mentioned that he might try to be more subtle in the future.  It worked for a few minutes, and I realized that my next purchase in his recovery phase might be a sharp pair of Ray Bans.

When he was five years old, it felt like my dreams for him might never come to pass. All I prayed for was that someday, I would know what he was thinking about behind those lost, dark eyes. On this day, ten years later, I’m grateful for how far we’ve come. He is present, engaged, vibrant, alive and part of a world that once seemed so elusive and frightening. We had spent hundreds of hours encouraging him to look at people, and in this moment is was delightful to watch him do it, with interest.

We still have many lessons to learn and teachable moments to teach. But, if Saturday was any indicator of the future, I think at least one of my daughters-in-law will be blonde!