A 22 year-old named J

He is up early, and -very independently- decided to forgo stopping at our bedroom to let his presence, and alertness, be known.  He grabbed his stuff and headed to the kitchen.  I realized this and went to see how he was.  My enthusiastic “good morning…HAPPY BIRTHDAY!” was met with the “oh, that’s TODAY?” of a much more jaded human being.  He totally pretended to not care, to be annoyed, and irritated by his poor middle-aged mother’s attention…

And then I made him eggs with ham served over warm home-made tortillas and a light sprinkling of cheese melting on top.  He went from “what is this birthday enthusiasm you’re displaying so openly, woman?” to “for me???????  Oh, (blushing) you didn’t have to!  You’re so SWEET!!!”

Putty in mother’s hands he is.  And, also, he’s not very good at keeping up the James Dean cool act…he goes all aw-gorsh Cowardly Lion rather quickly.  After breakfast he picked up the kitchen, helped with making beds, gathered laundry and headed to the TV room with a big smile on his face.

The same kid who was (apparently) totally over his own birthday earlier this morning has now repeated it’s his birthday no less than a dozen times, always with a big smile on his face.  I reminded him of his birthday dinner treat at Five Guys, and his cake.

Yesterday afternoon we moved his bed, bedside table and area rug in his bedroom.  He was very happy.  J is an aficionado of furniture rearrangement.  When he receives his new quilt and shams on Friday, and we switch to brighter curtains to match he will think he’s hit the jackpot.  Oh, he’s getting other stuff…no worries.  Tomorrow we go to the doctor, and from there we’ll walk to Target to get Pinocchio on blu-ray, and there’s an iTunes card in the pipeline for later.  (I swear, if I had let Dada buy him a new iPad with more memory it would have been a done deal, but I put the kibosh on that one rather quickly.)

Do we overcompensate?  Maybe it seems that way.  We are pretty good about not going overboard so it doesn’t become a keeping-up-with-ourselves thing.  The truth is that J leads a rather simple life, and we try to focus on the practical on an everyday basis.  Yes, we will try to do very nice things for him, but we don’t spoil him as much as people think.  We are the only ones he has, but we don’t let that go to our heads too much.

J doesn’t know it’s going to be his birthday until we tell him it’s coming up.  The concept of birthday was a bigger deal when he was in school.  We made sure there was cake, and teachers -as usual- made sure to make a deal out of it.  But that’s the whole thing right there…J’s never had a birthday party outside of that environment.  Not with real friends anyway.  We once invited a former co-worker to come sing happy birthday to him with her kids.  Most awkward thing ever.

People, for the most part, don’t know how to react to J.  Some people speak slowly and/or loud.  Some people use words like “buddy” or touch his arm.  Some people try to force eye contact.  Some people start talking and then trail off when they realize the smile, the bright face are not in reaction to them…he’s just somewhere else, probably very deep inside, using something in his database to calm himself, to refocus in the middle of an awkward interaction.  We know this is inevitable.  To us this all old hat, but others feel like they are entering a social situation that is pretty thankless.

We talk to J all the time.  It’s not in any particular tone, and it’s not necessarily significant.  We know it sinks in, though.  I narrate to him the things we’re going to do and why, and -little by little- he has absorbed all this vocabulary that he cannot use in return, but that allows him to understand us.  We don’t talk about him in the third person, and sometimes people look at us funny when we turn to him and say “remember that?  Yeah…it was funny/weird/annoying/scary/dull.”  Yesterday we were running with the Wii while using that DVD of beaches in the Caribbean.  I was “jogging” next to J while telling him “these were the kinds of beaches we used to go to when you were little.  I don’t know if you remember, but it’s not like the beaches in California…they don’t have palm trees near the waterline, or big rocks that you can walk to when the tide is low…well, they do…but not like these…see that?  If you wait for low tide, you can probably climb there and look for little crabs…”  And he looks at me intently as I tell him these things, and he smiles…and I make sounds like the waves ebbing and flowing and he giggles.  I don’t say “water pretty,” “big trees,” “sun bright.”  I give him full sentences and I know it’s getting in there somehow.

J understands.  The abstract stuff is difficult, of course, but if you tell him concrete things that he can attach to an image, a sound, a smell, a texture, J understands.  I can’t tell him “your birthday is in January…it’s six months from now” because his attention span for the calendar is not THAT good.  I can put timers, mark days that he can count down to, and I can remind him with pictures and symbols.  SO he KNOWS today is his birthday and he’s excited, and he’s (albeit playing it cooly to start with) basking in the glow and the possibilities.

Maybe there’ll be a card from his grandparents in the mail?  Maybe his father will remember?  Maybe someone will call?  Who knows?  It mostly goes unnoticed.  That’s why we make a big deal.  That’s why we show him pictures of himself for every year he’s been alive: “you were a baby!,” “you were one!,” and so one and so forth until today…when we take a picture with his cake and candles and tell him “look, it’s your birthday!  You are twenty-two!!!!!”

That’s not going overboard.  The iPad with more memory would have been…but the cake, the furniture we move, the hot dog from Five Guys, the iTunes card (for MORE music…which will eventually require the bigger iPad,) are not going overboard.  We are it.  We are what there is.  We are where it’s at.

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