Lucas gets dragged around a lot. Whether it’s to bring his sister to a social engagement or just out for groceries, my son often gets tossed in the car and taken for a ride. Since he’s non-verbal, he doesn’t complain and it can cause him to be taken for granted.
I try to fill his leisure time with outside things he might enjoy. We’ve done bowling and swimming and all sorts of social outings which, on occasion, elicit a smile or two. There haven’t been many that can stand up to his yearning to lay around the house and tap a screen.
Except for, as I’ve discovered this past year or so, going to his friend Christian’s house.
Lucas has known Christian since he was two years old. They went to preschool together and are so alike… yet so different…in similar ways. Christian has some words, but his autism leads to infatuations that, while like Lucas in their unique nature, aren’t the same. He enjoys balloons, going outside, and light-up musical motion toys while my boy is into small toy remotes, Raffi, and Scout from Leapfrog. To watch them interact during the day is like watching the same movie directed by different people. There’s a stunning beauty to it that is hard to describe.
One of the highlights during my rebuilding years has been having Christian and his mom Lauren in my life. Lauren gets me in ways that no one else ever has. We share past experiences and current experiences. We both have a yearning for life and a desire to create future experiences together. My life is better with Lauren in it. I love her and I love her son as if he was my own.
Do you know who else loves them both? Lucas. Big time.
A few months back, out of nowhere, he started giving Lauren Eskimo kisses. He’d walk up to her with his gaze firmly fixed upon her and start to rub his nose back and forth against hers. I’ve seen him stop during a meltdown and calmly go up to her to do this. Once, at pick-up, he even stepped in between her and Christian’s teacher, mid-conversation, to give the ol’ nose rub. It melts my heart every time.
He loves going to their house so much that I can’t even drive past it unless we plan on going inside. I made the mistake of bringing him with me to drop something off once. As we pulled back out of the driveway, he unleashed an anguished cry. His sister, summoning her best Nelson Muntz impression, let out a hardy, “Ha ha.”
Watching my son love his environment is one of the true highlights of my life that I never anticipated. I didn’t realize how sorely it had been missing until we found it.
On Memorial Day, I picked up Lucas from his mother to head over to Christian’s house for a day outside. The second he saw me at the front door, he gave me a big squeezing hug. It was a stark contrast to how things used to be even a year ago and I can’t tell if it’s because he misses me or if he knows there’s a chance he is about to go see his friend. I hope for the former but accept that it’s probably the latter.
What followed was an unforgettable afternoon that saw my favorite little man have his favorite little day ever. I have never seen Lucas so happy. In many ways, it was like watching a whole new kid.
He used his device to ask for his Chromebook in the opening minutes of our arrival. The Chromebook is like crack to him, so it’s expected. When I told him that we didn’t have it with us, I prepared for a whining spree and barrage of incessant follow-up requests, as he sometimes does. This time, he didn’t. No behaviors or pestering. He accepted it and smiled. Whole new kid.
There were snacks to be eaten and things to be done. He went back and forth between the table and the pool, gingerly stepping in before walking around in the waist-deep water. He was on his best behavior the whole time we were there. In the course of his eleven-year life, we’ve spent a small fortune on amusement park admissions and this bbq may have been his most joyous day ever.
At one point, while standing next to him, Lucas put his hand on my chin and gave me a kiss on the cheek. I didn’t prompt him to do it or expect it. It was the most genuine show of happiness you could imagine as if to say, “Thank you for finding this place for me.” I’ve never felt like a better dad than I did at that moment.
Later on, Christian went up to his room and Lucas followed. When Lauren and I went in to check on them a short while later, they were sitting next to each other on the bed and playing on their iPads. Norman Rockwell couldn’t have painted it better.
When you find your people, you don’t let them go. We have definitely found our people. Days like this used to be things I hoped for and wished I could make happen for my kids…and for me. Now they’re here. My life has changed in ways I never imagined and I’m grateful every day that the choices I have made have led me here to this path. I’d rather be nowhere else than right here and right now.