Keeping My Non-Verbal Son Clean And Handsome

I remember the first outfit I bought for my daughter. Olivia was less than two and just starting to walk when I found a set that I really thought was adorable.

As a man who doesn’t peruse fashion magazines, I felt out of my element, but so proud when it all worked out. She wasn’t old enough to reject outfits and I knew in my heart that she wouldn’t have if she could have. It was perfect. When it came to making my kids look good, I hit the ground running right off the bat.

As time went on, I learned how to pretty her up. I made sure she had great clothes and kept clean. I was soon competent in the art of ponytails and even became her go-to person for curling up her curls. We’d stand in front of the mirror as I’d spray detangler and rub in crème. Then, with a handful of mousse, I’d scrunch her hair up until she was satisfied. It was a whole process and one that, as she started going to school, became more important to her. Not to toot my own horn, but beep, beep. I was killing it.

Of course, time waits for no dad Olivia doesn’t let me go near her hair today. She listens to my ideas about clothes, but she mostly picks her own stuff. Once in a great while, I buy her a surprise Harry Potter hoodie or pass down a shirt for bed, but the days of spur-of-the-moment pants-suit purchases are packed away with the pack-and-play. She’s twelve.


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That’s where Lucas comes into play. My little boy went through the same route as his sister. He was the recipient of many fashionable choices while toddling including tiny ties and gelled hair. I always took pride in getting him all glittered up for Easter, as they say. For me, a boy who never got to really doll up dollies, these were my true Cabbage Patch Kids. They were both adorable.

Lucas has autism and is non-verbal, which made things a bit different for him than it did for his sister. He never really grew out of the need for me to get him ready for his day. At nine-years-old, he still relies on me to pick out his clothes, get him dressed, and make him look fan-freakin-tastic. I love it, but it requires attention to be paid. If I forget to do my part, he won’t notice.

My son will never demand to be bathed or dressed. He would walk around naked, if I let him. Sometimes he walks around naked anyway. Olivia and I will be watching TV and he’ll come streaking into the room with his iPad, asking me to fix an app that won’t open. It’s like he doesn’t even realize his bits and pieces are flapping in the wind. She’ll laugh, scream, and cover her eyes. Meanwhile, he’ll look at me with an expression that says, “What’s her problem?”

In the morning, I have to call him over to brush his teeth and he slowly inches into the bathroom as if he’s on a spy-mission.  Hand-over-hand, I help him maneuver the toothbrush into his mouth and scrub each tooth in as circular of a motion as I can muster. He always makes this pained face that never fails to evoke laughter from deep within my soul. It’s like Crest torture, but he ultimately does it without a fight.

Bath time, luckily, is much more to his liking. I could leave him in there for months until he becomes a little California Raisin congo-lining his way through the house. We listen to music while he rubs his hands underneath the flowing water. I even do one of his favorite jokes that I have done for years. I hold my nose and say, “Ah…ah…ah…” Then, cupping my hand under the spout, direct the stream right at him and scream, “…choo!” He gets a burst of water shot at his torso and giggles. I giggle back. Ah. We’re terrific.

Surprisingly, hair care has become pretty simple too. After years of haircut battles, suddenly my boy decided he was fine with them. No rhyme. No reason. Just one day, it was bloody murder and the next day, it was business as usual. From buzz to cut to style, I’m his hair guy, like his sister years earlier. I always pat him on the back and tell him how great he looks, because he always does.

lucas sit

The thing about monitoring the hygiene and grooming of a child like my son is that, while easy, it requires diligence to remember. It’s all on me to keep track of his haircuts, dirty fingernails, and bath time. I am the one who needs to make sure the marker that he got all over his arm at school yesterday is washed off his arm by today. There’s nothing more embarrassing than sending him on the bus and seeing a big blue line across his hand that was there the day before.

It’s those hidden issues that you completely miss which can cause the most anxiety. For some reason, Lucas’s hands get ridiculously cracked and dry. As a kid who is always cranked up to ten in terms of speed, rarely does he let you examine his palms. Sometimes, they are downright shocking and can go for long stretches before I remember to take a look. No matter how bad they get, he’ll never complain, so you’d never know. Once I do, though, I handle it through cremes and moisturizers. But like they always say, knowing is half the battle.

Mismatched socks, untreated scratches, dry skin patches, and other wayward issues need to be dealt with and, as a parent to a non-verbal boy who can’t point out these hidden checklist items, it is all my parental duty to take care of it. Honestly, I realize that it might always be that way for him. If so, I’m good with that. He’s my guy.

I’ve worked really hard to keep him as tidy as any other child his age. I even make sure to spray him with body spray before he gets on the bus, so he can mack it to all the ladies at school. I’m not letting him sludge his way through life. My boy looks good. I make sure of it.

He’s a part of me and, if I’m able to devote time to keeping myself in order, I can definitely do it for him. He deserves it, maybe even more so. He might not be a baby anymore, but that’s fine. He’s my responsibility and I love getting him dolled up. I’m there to do it now and, if he needs me, even when he grows into my Cabbage Patch Man.


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