moon school
18 November 2001
The Background:

We had a meeting last week at Damian’s school, the first of a series of monthly meetings about his floor time therapy regimen, how we all see his progress and his needs. Getting in sync, serving the child. A great idea.

It was a useful meeting. They say he’s extremely smart, no question about it, and he’s got a lot going for him, but that he’s still not working up to his potential. They think it’s because of a kind of generalized anxiety. We and they -- mostly they -- pepper him with questions, trying to get an interaction going. But they’re not allowing for his own spontaneous language when they do that. We (and they) play games with him, spinning all sorts of pretend play scenarios and hoping he’ll join in and further the play. But we’re not giving him breathing room there either. We want him to join us.

The two school directors suggested that we all step back and see what ideas he’s got, and then follow his lead, support him and elaborate on what he does but gently, not overpowering his idea-making.

So. Well and good. How does the theory play out in real life?

The Setting:

Our cozy living room on a Saturday night. White frilly curtains left over from the previous owners. Warm brick fireplace. Dark wood built in cabinets. Mahogany crown molding lines the break between wall and ceiling. The nicest room in the house. A haven in the cool autumn quiet, now that the noise of summer has stilled.

Dan sits at ease in the oversized armchair, his legs stretched out on the ottoman. Dante is curled into a tan striped ball at his feet. I lean back into the couch. We talk through the day, the week, our thoughts and ideas for the future.

The Scene Unfolds:

Damian comes barreling into the room at full tilt. He launches himself at me. Wanting to cuddle? Not exactly. He clambers up and stands, precariously balancing on my thighs. Thirty-odd pounds of child in two stabbing circles of pain on my legs.

"I’m climbing the Mommy ladder," he announces, using my hip, my side, my elbow, anything for leverage. He achieves the back lip of the couch and sways there.

"Are you climbing to the moon?" I ask.

"I’m going to get the moon," he decides. He pulls the imaginary moon from the air and holds it between his fingers as he climbs down.

"I got the moon!"

As he falls into my lap, his hand unfurls. "I dropped the moon." He doesn’t sound perturbed in the least.

"Oh, how sad. I want to get the moon back." I fish for it in the river lapping the bottom of the couch. No luck. "I can’t reach it! I can’t find the moon! I lost it!"

He stands up again, a boy with a mission. "I’m climbing the Mommy ladder to get another moon." He reaches up, touching the top of the thermostat with his fingers. "I got another moon! I’m climbing down the ladder!"

He hands me the imaginary moon, transferring it fingertip to fingertip. I hold it carefully, not wanting to shatter this magical luminescence. "Oh, it’s so bright! It’s glowing and sparkly." I cup it in my hand. Damian, proud of his accomplishment, climbs back up the couch. "I’m climbing up the ladder. I’m going to get another moon."

And soon enough: "I have another moon."

"That’s a lot of moons," I say. "What are you going to do with all those moons? You could make moon soup or moon pies."

Dan, watching and smiling, chimes in. "Oh, I love moon pies. Yum. Can I have a moon pie?"

Damian is willing. "I’m climbing the ladder to get a moon for Daddy."

He jumps down, crosses the two feet to Dan’s chair. Scrambles up into the big blue armchair, snuggling next to Dan for a fleeting moment. Touches the palm of Dan’s hand ever so gently. "I’m giving the moon to Daddy."

He slides down off the armchair, still somehow holding the moon he gave to his father. If I squint, I can almost see the moontrail like a comet tail flowing across the room in a shimmery stream behind his quicksilver feet.

"The moon is getting smaller and smaller, the moon disappeared!"

[We now pause for A Short Intermission, in which our boy flies across the moon, I mean room.]

Act Two:

The setting remains the same, the players haven’t changed, but the scenario? Ah, that’s altogether different.

Damian races back into the room, announcing, "I’m coming to Mommy and Daddy’s house," and soon enough, of course: "I’m at Mommy and Daddy’s house."

"Hi, Damian. Good to see you. Have a seat." Damian joins Daddy in the huge armchair, settling in the crook of his father’s arm. "Stay a while," Dan says. "How are you doing? Are you happy?"


"How’s school? Do you like school?"


"How old are you?" But Dan’s talking to air. Damian’s halfway to the dining room already. He shouts, "I’m zooming off to school!" He ducks into the kitchen. "I’m going to the kitchen school!"

He races back, charged up. "I’m at Mommy and Daddy’s house! I’m home!"

We greet him with pleasure. "Hi Damian! Good to see you! We missed you. Did you have a good day at school?"

"Yes. I’m running off to school!" He follows word with deed, tearing across the polished wood floor. He darts into the kitchen. "I’m at school! I’m closing the door to school!"

Dan isn’t so sure about this. The door is too heavy for a three year old's arm muscles. "Uh, Damian? Maybe you should keep the school door open."

I add, "Yeah, the other kids will need the door open so they can come to school too."

Damian likes this notion. "I’m at the kitchen school. Kids are at school. The teachers are at school."

There’s not a lot to do at this particular school, I’m afraid. The kitchen school is a boring, even lonely, place. Soon enough, Damian’s charging back across the dining room. With a new twist: "I’m racing home from school in my race car!"

Vigilant Daddy warns, "You better be careful you don’t crash into something." Mommy adds, "Those race cars go awfully fast."

Cool idea! "I’m going fast in my race car!" He plants his face -- er, fender -- in the back of a dining chair. "I’m crashing my race car!" He heads for me, dive bombing into my lap. "I’m crashing into Mommy!"

I suggest, "You could crash into Daddy, too, you know." I’m generous that way. Wouldn’t want to hog all the crashing boy action.

Damian car zips away, only to bound back like a boomerang to his armchair target. "I’m crashing into Daddy!"

But the human boomerang can’t sit still, and before you can say "zoom," he’s off. "I’m racing FAST in my race car, I’m racing sloooow in my race car. Faster and faster and slower in my race car." With, of course, fast and slow steps to match the words. But as he revs up fast and still faster, he trips and falls. Miraculously unhurt. Even more miraculously, without tears.

He wants to go again. He even links ideas: "I’m racing to school fast!"

"Wait, before you go to school, let’s get you dressed." I roll up his treacherous pant cuffs.

"I’m ready for school," he tells me. He snags the blue booster seat from his dining chair. "I’m going to school in my blue car."

He holds it in front of him, a blue rubber steering wheel. He sets it down on the floor and sits on it, a blue seat cushion. He scoots forward on his butt. Too slow. He picks it up again, transforming it back into a steering wheel.

Dan stands up. "Let’s get some gummy bears for the car. Is your seat belt fastened? Let’s go to school."

And off they head into the kitchen to get ready for an imaginary day at school. I don’t follow. The play is done, as far as I’m concerned. I’ve already seen enough to make my smile wide enough to crack my face.

~ Finis ~

Are you wondering why such a smile? Am I just an overfond sentimental mother? A three year old’s imagination is a delight, you say, sure, but really, what’s the big deal? It’s just a game.

Yes, but ten months ago he couldn’t have played this game. He couldn’t have even said the words. And the thoughts, the level of imagination he showed yesterday? Impossible.

Two months ago, the words were certainly (and miraculously) there, but this level of imagination? Improbable.

Even two weeks ago, I would have told you it was highly unlikely he’d be bursting out with this much this soon.

Damian has come so far so fast, I keep having to pinch myself to make sure I’m awake.

Does it feel like I’m spilling over with sap like a maple tree in spring? I am, and I’m not even a tiny bit embarrassed to admit it. Damian got a diagnosis in the early spring. It said: This child is on the autistic spectrum. There is no cure. Work your ass off, but don’t expect miracles. We can’t predict his development.

It said: prepare yourself for the worst. Steel yourself. He will probably never be like other kids.

It was wrong.

And so I smile and smile and cry and smile some more. I know you would too, if you were me.

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copyright 2001 Tamar