Monday, September 29, 2014

The Most Amazing Sound... Maria Maria Maaaareeeeeaaaahh....Or, In This Case, Tony

This one actually starts months ago, last spring, when we went down to Santa Cruz to hang with Simon's Dunkle (donor Uncle) Mike and family.  Emily, Simon's half-sister was performing in her high school's performance of West Side Story and after a lovely brunch together we decided to see if Simon could hang through the performance. We told him there were battles so he was all excited.

To our surprise he was enraptured and sat stock still through the entire performance, talking about for days afterwards and picking up immediately on the one verse of "when you're a Jet" that I could remember (albeit incorrectly). 

TV programming was on our side and not long after the performance there was a showing of West Side Story that we recorded and have kept on our DVR since then.  Simon has his favorite parts and they've changed over the last few months. We've gone from watching the opening dance sequence over and over again, to the Jet song, the dance, America, and finally to Officer Krupke. I do admit to enjoying an especially bad parenting moment as Simon sings "My daddy beats my mommy, my mommy clobbers me, my grandpa is a commie, my grandma pushes tea, my sister wears a mustache, my brother wears a dress, goodness gracious, that's why I'm a mess."

We finally downloaded the full soundtrack so that he could learn more of the lyrics ("I like to be in America" has some very important lessons in deconstructing institutionalized racism and understanding the immigrant experience) but mostly because he just kept asking for them.  This also provided renewed interest in watching it and it became this fascinating cycle of Simon asking for a new song to listen to from the soundtrack and then wanting to go back and watch the part of the movie that corresponded.

It had been weeks and while Simon had not seen the whole movie all the way through (there's not much singing or dancing at the end) he had listened to the entire soundtrack many times and I had started to narrate the story to him. So, he knows at the end that Bernardo stabs Riff. He knows that Tony then stabs Bernardo. He knows that Chino then kills Tony. He has repeated the story back to me the same way that he has told me the story of Aladar the Iguanadon from the movie Dinosaur, or Nemo, or Mike & Sully.

Last night however, something different happened.

We were watching West Side Story, finishing the part where the Jets are telling Officer Krupke "Krup You!" and Simon asks to watch the rumble.  He's never asked this before and since we are still 20 minutes from bedtime I allow it.  Jaime has left for her evening class and Simon and I are finished with last snack, reading done for the day, and I figure why not.  I remind him that this is the part where Riff and Bernardo get killed (we are really working to understand this language as it comes out of Simon out of context sometimes) and he says 'yes'.

Like every other time we have seen scary parts of movies Simon seems mostly unfazed. Just like when Nemo's mother gets eaten by the barracuda, or the snow monster chases Anna and Kristoff down the mountain, or Toothless the dragon is in mortal danger, Simon is mostly unfazed. Sometimes he will need to move his body during those times or ask to see them over and over again, in some way telling us that these parts affect him differently than other parts of movies.
We chalked it up to the spectrum, to language processing, to the relativity of other traumatic events in his life being much scarier. Whatever it was, it was different. Simon was different when it came to what most other kids reacted and emoted about.

But last night, when we got to the scene in West Side Story when Tony is running to Maria, makes it into her arms, and is then shot in the back by Chino, Simon responded.

We were maybe 5 or 10 seconds into the scene, Tony is dying in Maria's arms and she is talking to him about there being "a place for us" as he closes his eyes and is gone.

 I look over at Simon. He is staring down into lap and no longer watching the movie.
"Simon are you ok?"
He looks up at me with tear-filled red eyes about to spill over and just about the saddest look on his face that I have ever seen.
"Oh Simon."
 I move over to sit next to him and he buries his face in my shoulder, arms snaking up around my neck tightly.
"Oh Simon honey, is this about Tony?"

It's at this point that Simon lets loose with a loud sorrow-filled sound and cries body-wracking sobs for maybe two or three minutes, letting loose again every time I ask him if he's sad about Tony or commenting on how sad it is that Maria doesn't get to be with Tony.

This boy is so sad crying in my arms and then it hits me. This is the first time that I have seen Simon react like this.  To anything.

This is Simon's first moment of authentic empathy.

He has asked the questions before "Does she feel sad? Is he happy? Is he excited?"
He will even sometimes make statements like "She looks scared." or "He looks in love".

We have attached those statements to emotional growth in Simon that comes from where most of his developmental growth seems to come from...repetition and modeling.

If he can see Dr Gru (of the Despicable Me movies) fall in love with Lucy and then feel heartbroken when she's transferred to Australia, he can transfer those images to other people if enough of the new images are similar.  They are still attached to that movie but at least he can transfer them.  It's not unlike the new book that came out Life Animated by Ron Suskind that tells the story of how a father learned to communicate with his son (and vice versa) who has autism using Disney Movies.

We have seen this with Simon for years. He will use his love for repetition, music, tv shows, and movies to learn language and meaning. The language will often come long before the meaning but he has shown us it will come if we are patient.

But last night was different.

Simon was watching something for the first time (even though he had been told the story) and was having an empathetic reaction to it. He was feeling some very strong emotion, relating to it, and then expressing his own reaction allowing himself to feel AND be comforted by another person as he rode the wave.

After several minutes he quieted down and we started getting ready for bed. I asked him what music he wanted to listen to, maybe something happy I suggested?

Foolish Mommy. He wanted more West Side Story. He wanted to keep feeling what he was feeling. He specifically asked for "Tonight", the most romantic song detailing how much Tony and Maria were in love and couldn't wait to be together.  He did this in the midst of feeling so sad for how it all goes down. It was like he was in love with this new connection even if it was based in the sorrow of knowing how it was all going to end. I (foolishly) kept asking if he wanted to listen to more typical lullaby type songs like All About That Bass that we usually listened to while going to sleep and was promptly schooled. Nope, it's all about West Side Story right now. And even in that, it's all about the sad ones.

Almost asleep, Simon rolls over to face me. He throws his leg and arm over me, pulls me to nose to nose and says "I got you Mommy. I got you."  He holds me close for 30 seconds (which is the best 30 seconds ever) and then rolls back over.

Three minutes later I think he's asleep when he does it again.  He rolls over, the leg and the arm pinning me to him, nose to nose with a "Don't worry Mommy. I got you. I'll protect you."

I can't make this shit up.

I also can't quite believe what's happening. I don't know what it all means except that I think we've ruled out the spectrum at this point.  Some processing and a receptive language delay ok. But last night kind of rocked my world when it comes to thinking I know what to expect with my son.
It's been quite the start to the Jewish New Year.

 Mitzvah Mondays (Jaime was holding the Cupcakes we gave out)

Tooting his own Horn

Reading with Mamaw

Mitzvah Thursdays!

Celebrating a Gtube free torso!!

I know it's blurry but just look at his face!  

Look what's not there?!!

Working on his Barber Training

Jack Frost with Mama

...and some bear claws

Practicing his plowing and sowing at Obsidian Farms with Wanda!

Seriously loving his new sweater from MM and PopPop

Working out the finer details of "America" from West Side Story

West Side Story


And one from Puss in Boots


Jeri said...

Unbelievable. These are the times in parenting that make it all worth it for me--watching them grow and stretch--even if it's painful.
This is a beautiful post. Thanks.

Melanie Jones said...

Reading your blog is ALWAYS the highlight of my day. What amazing parents. I am so proud to know you!!!!

Laura Meister said...