It took me a month to say it out loud. My son is thirteen years old. Thirteen. The teen part gave me a lump in my throat. And then I taught him to say it. I made up a sing-song way of saying it. That’s how my Jack learns and/or memorizes. “How old are you?” I would say. “Thur-teeeen” he responded. We said it over and over for days and eventually it stuck. Just like a one year old, he had a new party trick for his parents to show off to their friends and relatives. “How old are you Jack?” we say. “Thur-teeeen” he sings and we beam with pride. When I was thirteen I had a boyfriend. I teased and hair sprayed
my bangs as high as they would go. I wore designer, button fly jeans.
I was a cheerleader. I was reading Shakespeare in my 8th grade
literature class. I was embarrassed of my mom’s station wagon
with the fake wood panels. I listened to heavy metal rock bands and
had posters of them covering the walls of my room.
But things are different for Jack. Jack has autism. He has developmental
delay. He has cerebral palsy. Jack does not have a crush. He does not have friends his age at all. If I say “who is your best friend?” he will say “mama is” just like I taught him. My heart explodes every time. Jack does not have a typical boy haircut. His hair is usually cut in the shape of a bowl. The same bowl cut he’s had since he was 3. We call it his signature look. His dad says he looks like a member of the 70's rock band The Ramones. We don’t have a special liking for bowl cuts. It’s simple and quick. Cutting his hair is like going to war. You’ve got to get in there, do your thing as fast as possible and get out. I sing, lie on the floor, make his favorite sounds, cry, sweat, cheer, clap and sneak in a snip when I can. It usually takes several attempts over a few days. The sensation of the cut is brutal for
him. If we get a decent haircut we celebrate big and hope it
grows slow. Jack does not care what his clothes look like. I don’t think he notices the appearance of clothes at all. For him it’s how they feel. He wears the same thing every day and every night. No tags, no seams, no buttons, no zippers, no long sleeves and knit only. A solid color t-shirt and knit shorts every single day and night. If it’s freezing we attempt knit pants but they are frowned upon. He makes clothes shopping easy and cheap. Jack does not play football, baseball or soccer. His favorite activities are bouncing on his knees on the bed, watching someone vacuum, playing with a metal slinky, riding in the car, opening and closing doors, eating anything he can get his hands on and singing the Oscar the Grouch “I Love Trash” song until it can’t be sung anymore. All simple and free. All bring him unimaginable joy. Jack is not reading Shakespeare because he can’t read but Jack loves books. He loves for me to read to him. He has memorized his
favorites. I read the first part of the sentence and he finishes it.
His favorites are Llama llama Red Pajama, Cat in the Hat and
Elmo Loves You. He gets excited over certain pages. It’s how the
words sound together that thrill him, not the story. He prefers
books with word patterns and rhyming words. We read those pages
over and over while he laughs hysterically. Jack is never embarrassed by me. He loves riding in “mama’s van”. He doesn’t care that it’s old, dirty and in no way cool. He rides in a car seat. It makes him feel secure and grounded. He loves the vibration of the motor and the window down with the wind
blowing on his face. He is the only person in our town who
appreciates the endless potholes. The sudden jolt of hitting one
provides joyous sensory input for him. Jack loves music. He doesn’t know current hits or popular bands. His favorite songs are "Sunny Days" (the Sesame Street theme song),
"The Wheels on the Bus", "Little Drummer Boy", "I Love You.
You Love Me" by Barney and of course "I Love Trash" by Oscar
the Grouch. He sings his songs in a soprano voice with an exaggerated
southern drawl that sounds like the voice of an angel to this mama. This is Jack’s thirteen. It is definitely not mine. It is not his dad’s. It is nobody else’s. Nothing about it is anyone else’s thirteen. It was hard for me to accept. It made me sad at first.
It scared me to death until I stepped back and allowed myself to
see the joy of his unique thirteen. Now I am able to say it happily and
proudly just like he does. My son is Thur-teeeen.