A few years ago, just as the school year was ending, my son’s teacher told me something that was invaluable, even if I didn’t realize it at the time.
Every morning, when we start the day, we play the song “Good Morning” by Mandisa. He absolutely loves it.
It was surprising because, especially then, Lucas’s likes were firmly planted in kids shows. His favorite songs were from Raffi and Elmo. To hear that an actual singer with an actual song got my non-verbal preschooler moving was a big deal.
A week or so later, I found the video on Youtube while getting him ready for bed. He knew the thumbnail right away and, with a double tap of Mandisa’s face, we started the inspirational song of thanks for a new morning.
Lucas’s reaction was unlike any I had ever seen. He made a shocked look with his face as soon as the opening bars began and darted from the room. It was a frantic sprint. At first, I feared that I had broken him.
After a few seconds, he peered around the doorway and slowly walked back into the room. He sat, laughed, and covered his head with the blanket. It was fantastic. I laughed and he did too. The whole scene was three minutes of pure chaotic euphoria. I have never seen him so happy.
Today, Lucas is eight. He is still non-verbal and still doesn’t adhere to many mainstream musicians. He also still loves the Good Morning video. Every time I play it, it’s a house party. He runs, smiles, hides under blankets, and laughs with me the entire time.
It’s one of my favorite things to do because it’s like we’re sharing a private joke that I don’t fully get. He will look at me with this sly expression that says, “Yeah. You get me.” Then he’ll let out a small chuckle, I’ll start to laugh, and, soon enough, he’ll be rolling around in hysterics. I don’t know what it is, but that tune has a hold on him unlike anything else.
My son’s tastes are unique. It makes decorating his room a difficult prospect sometimes. You can’t walk into Target and say, “Excuse me. Do you know where I could find the posters featuring Raffi’s 1984 Canadian concert? Preferably something with a picture of him from the show since my son recognizes that? Not the one from Broadway. Definitely not that one. The Canada one. Thanks.”
They don’t make merch for overly specific things that he gravitates to. Sure, he enjoys Elmo, but he only enjoys specific Elmo appearances. Give him the wrong episode of Sesame Street and you might as well have put on the evening news. Before you know it, he’s bringing you remote controls and asking for his iPad. Lucas likes what Lucas likes.
So, about a two years ago, I turned to Shutterfly. That’s where I transformed a picture of Raffi’s Young People’s concert into a wall-sized poster for framing. When it arrived, he loved it. I remember that day. It was a Dad victory that meant so much to me at a time when I really needed it most.
As Lucas’s dad, I long to make that connection as much as possible. Everyone loves to guess correctly at what their child likes. With my son, it’s poses a bit more of a challenge. So when I make a hit, it’s a big deal. When his face lights up, it lifts my spirits in ways I never thought possible.
Upon sitting down to make him a “Good Morning” poster, I knew two things. First, I wanted to write out the lyrics to the song. Second, I had to use the YouTube thumbnail image.
Sure, it would have been great with a beach scene or the sun, but Lucas doesn’t read. So, to him, it would just be a picture of the sun with letters all over it. It needed to be familiar, otherwise it wouldn’t be for him. I had to use the picture he recognized, which meant I was going to order a 30 inch picture of Mandisa’s face.
So that’s what I did.
When it arrived, I placed it in a frame and showed it to Lucas. I hoped he would react in a way that showed me he was happy with his new personalized wall décor. He did.
He kissed it.
Touchdown. For all the remote control cars and electronic drums that he has turned his nose up at through the years, it’s presents like this that make it all worth it.
Even with all I’ve shared here, it’s still difficult to properly explain the emotions that this brings out. My daughter’s face beaming over her latest gift brings me similar joy, but she usually tells us what those gifts should be. So, while I love rewarding her, I can usually telegraph my victories. It’s the same for my wife. It’s the same for me. Lucas, though, is a completely different challenge.
If the world of gift giving was a video game, he would be an endboss. The amount of work that goes into finding the right present can be insane. It takes close observation and an attempt to understand his angles. It’s not just about what he likes but why he likes it. You have to earn that joyous sense of gift-giving. When you do, it’s awesome.
He might not be able to say “thank you” but that smooch on Mandisa’s Shutterflied cheek was worth a million. It turned a good morning into the best morning.