Three Highlights Bringing Joy

When things are not going well—and I have admitted that they’re not, at this time—I tend to overlook everyday successes that I otherwise might highlight. Martin has brought joy to me and Adrian in these recent incidents:

Hangin’ with the pastor’s son. My church pastor has an 11-year-old son named Joey. Martin clearly admires the older boy (which is a little victory in itself). When we spend time with their family socially, Martin tags after Joey, in a Martin sort of way: like a cat, acknowledging the subject only occasionally, yet appearing constantly in his vicinity. And Joey returns the affection, mussing Martin’s hair to say hi, paying at least middle-school-level attention to not clocking Martin with a soccer ball.

Last Sunday in church Joey sat three seats away from us, in the same row, separated from Martin by only a young woman, a school teacher with a pleasingly high tolerance for boyishness. Throughout the service I noticed Martin sneaking glances at Joey. During the passing of the peace Joey hugged Martin, then high-fived him, which involved grasping Martin’s wrist and physically bringing the younger boy’s hand to his own. Joey must have considered it a teaching moment, since Martin failed to catch the cue when Joey merely raised his own hand in the air.

The closing hymn, to Martin’s disappointment, was not “This Little Light of Mine.” (Earlier in the service, he had insisted, “We’re going to sing, ‘I’m gonna let it shine’!”) I wanted to give him some treat in its stead, so I asked, “Would you like to go stand with Joey?” Although I had phrased my permission as a question, Martin understood. He pushed past the schoolteacher and planted himself next to Joey, who was signing. As soon as he noticed Martin, Joey rested his hand on the shoulder of his admirer. Martin wrapped his toddler arm around Joey’s waist, and together they swayed to the music. Despite the age difference and Martin’s limitations (which Joey hardly seems to notice), they looked like any couple of boyhood friends.

When the pastoral procession retreated and the congregation turned to face the door, I saw that Adrian, who does not attend church, had slipped into the back row to wait for us. He, too, was observing Martin and Joey. After another moment Adrian caught my eye with a look that said, “This is good.”

Expressing a preference. Martin’s expresses opinions, of course: “want” and “don’t want,” “yes” and “no,” “more” and “done.” He doesn’t do much choosing among non-binary options, however, unless a questioner enumerates a list. That is, he can answer, “Shall we go to the park, the carousel, or the wine bar?”, but walking out the front door, destination unknown, he won’t say, “I’d like to go to the carousel.”

Tuesday morning Adrian was dressing Martin for school. When he pulled Martin’s Bert-and-Ernie t-shirt from its hanger, he and Martin had a conversation along these lines:

Martin: “No!”

Adrian: “You don’t want to wear Bert and Ernie?”

Martin: “I want guitars.”

Martin’s t-shirt with guitars was not visible. Adrian sorted the hangers and pulled it out.

“Was this the one you wanted?”

“Yes.”

We had not even known Martin realizes he has choices when getting dressed. Moreover, (1) Adrian did not present Martin with options; (2) the guitar shirt was hidden, meaning that Martin remembered and decided he wanted to wear it; and (3) Martin instigated the conversation and made a meaningful selection beyond I don’t like what you’re doing.

Martin has not yet repeated this feat. Wednesday he wore Bert and Ernie without complaint. Still, it’s another first.

The wrong idea, well expressed. We have four cats. Only one, George, will give Martin the time of day; the other three scatter like he’s lobbing grenades. (I don’t blame them. By the end of this anecdote, you won’t either.) George craves attention so much that he seeks even Martin’s rough touch.

One afternoon this week Martin and George were playing on the living room floor. The interaction went well, at first: Martin dragged his fist neck-to-tail along George’s arching back. George tipped to the side, purring, and let Martin manhandle his ribs. Then Martin switched from petting to hitting—George, God love him, refrained from scratching or nipping—and I reminded him, “Martin, be gentle with George. Remember: Gentle.” I covered Martin’s hand with mine and stroked George’s soft fur.

Martin perked up, the way he does when he has a new idea. He tugged his hand from mind, sprang to his feet, and said, “I want to sit on George!

Before I could catch him, Martin plopped atop George, who promptly wriggled free and fled.

“Martin, sweetie, we do not sit on George.” I held Martin’s chin and guided his face toward mine, as I do when his attention is vital. “No sit on George. No.

I paused and awaited a response while Martin processed.

“No sit on George,” he replied at last. I let him go.

I was concerned for George. Not that concerned. He’s sturdy, and swift, and has claws.

More than that, I was pleased. “I want to sit on George.” Such a properly articulated notion, and appropriate—well, appropriate to the situation, if not for the well-being of our household companion animals.

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