There’s a hobbit in my living room. He’s perched right in the center of the carpet and he scans whoever comes his way. Between quarantine and Summer Break, it feels like he’s been in there for eons.
He may only be nine years old, but my son’s claim to the room is so universally accepted in our home that his sister, three years his senior, refers to it as “Lucas’s room.” His toys are strewn about and his blankets lay all over. He is the master of his domain.
With his hair growing unruly, I can’t help but feel that if he was older, he would have a long beard, flowing robe, and a cane made of tree bark by now. He may be non-verbal with Autism, but if he had language, I’d imagine he’d make me answer his riddles three before allowing me to sit on the couch. That’s how firmly in control he is.
That’s the way he wants it and, well, he gets it. My little man loves the real estate he’s claimed and will fight to his death to remain there. He’s like a film about a farmer having his land commandeered by the government. With a shotgun in hand and a mighty bellow, he declares to all in his way to “get off my property!” That’s how my son sees it.
How do I see it? It’s cute and all, but after a few days behind locked doors, I see it as a problem.
This kid needs to get out of the house. He needs sun. He needs vitamin whatever-vitamin-the-sun-gives. The warm glow of the iPad light is the only thing that has illuminated his skin in days.
Actually, that’s a lie. The iPad will die after a few hours and, when it does, he lets out a baby-elephantesque whine and scurries to hand someone the TV remote. We go from Sesame Street videos on his little screen to Sesame Street videos on the big screen. Once the charge is complete, we start over again. It’s a vicious time-killing cycle.
It’s also a cycle he loves. This is his jam, so to speak. The longer it goes on and the more we do it, the more it permeates his soul. Soon, the Lord of the Living Room is unwilling to do anything except occupy his space while clapping for his programs.
That’s where I come in.
Yesterday, I changed him out of his pajamas for the first time in what feels like a long while and began repeating words that, deep down, I know he knows.
Want to go in the car? Take a ride? Come on.
He looks confused as I pry the tablet from his cold clenched hands. He pantomime a steering wheel and he lets go as the front door opens. Angels sing when the light comes beaming in. We step out into the sun and the unknown vitamins light up our skin. It’s like the dawn of a new day.
He climbs into the car and – guess what? – he’s cool. No whining. No crying. No meltdowns over the lost iPad. My little guy, who was content to stay inside is now content to be outside. All it took was me to bring him there.
His hair might still be unruly, but it behavior is impeccable as I drive him across Long Island before winding up in the green and white town I grew up in. I begin pointing out landmarks and telling him about all that Lindenhurst had to offer me as a kid. I’m not sure he’s listening, but if he is, he’s getting an education in Lindy Pride.
We roll up to my former Junior High and step out into a parking lot I haven’t been in since the first Bush administration. I take his hand and, after some initial resistance, bring him into the school yard.
We walk. We run. We snap pictures. We have fun. We live in the moment and, as the minutes tick by, I slowly watch as the keeper of my couch ventures into the world around him. He’s happy and so am I. This is what both of us needed. Neither one of us realized how much.
The visit doesn’t last hours upon hours, but it’s long enough to soak in the sights and return home more relaxed than we left. As we pull up to the garage, he knows his iPad is waiting inside and the sofa he guards every day is eagerly anticipating the return of his butt. We are on our way.
I prepare to release the hobbit back to his surroundings. The wild living room awaits. Before we do, I make a final judgment call and do one last desperate act of domestication.
I cut his hair.
With the final snip, I reunite him with his natural habitat. Run free, young hobbit. Enjoy your freedom now. School is right around the corner.