When a father is told he’s going to have a son he realizes this is more than just a responsibility to raise a child–it’s the promise of a companion with whom he will share all his experiences. It’s a chance to go back to his own childhood and relive the things that brought him joy growing up.
How many baseball gloves are bought for children before they can even walk? How many “Lil’ Fishing Buddy” onsies do you see on newborns? I know a man who bought Legos by the barrel in anticipation of the things he would get to build with his son.
It’s part of our bonding experience, I guess. We want the best memories of our childhood–the things we did that made us men and the things we still long to do–we want those to be a part of our son’s world as well.
I wasn’t much for sports growing up, so I never even considered investing in a ball glove. My childhood was filled with monster movies and creatures that both frightened and amazed me. I had monster posters hanging over my bed to scare away nightmares. I drew pictures of Dracula with long fangs and red eyes. And I had dinosaurs.
It started out with the usual bag of multi-colored plastic injection mold dinosaurs. I knew their names and exactly which ones were capable of eating the others. I had dinosaur books that I was certain were probably on the shelves of every paleontologist worth his salt (never mind that they were coloring books). And I had models–Aurora plastic snap-together dinosaur models that stood in terrifying poses. My room was like a miniature museum filled with tyrannosaurus rex, pterodactyls and sabertooth tigers (I know, I know…they’re not dinosaurs but they still counted for something).
Those were the things I imagined sharing with my son. Watching his eyes light up at the sight of a new dinosaur toy. Sitting close together at our fifteenth showing of Jurassic Park. Watching in amazement as he showed me how a velociraptor would stalk his prey and listening to how loud he could roar.
Connor’s autism took all that away.
One afternoon we stopped at the local library on the way home from school. My oldest was picking up some book–probably the latest teen-angst filled tale of sparkly vampires and brooding shirtless wearwolves. I took Gracie back to the children’s stacks to see what interested her. We looked through Dr. Seuss and the latest Blues Clues books. The whole time Connor simply sat in silence on my lap.
That’s when I heard him. I’ve learned that at times, when an autistic child breaks into our world it happens in shouts and big movement. It’s loud and active and very apparent that something has reached them. Other times, though it seems that the child is so amazed by a new discovery in our world that all they can do is whisper.
Connor whispered. I barely heard it.
I looked down at the shelf in front of us and there was a dinosaur book. It was one of those cardboard page books for small children with tiny fingers. Connor had seen the spine with the title that simply read, “Dinosaurs” and a picture of a T-Rex’s head.
I still wonder if it was the picture or the word he noticed. He’s an amazing reader.
That was the only time he said it, but it was enough for me. Since that day his life has been filled with dinosaur books and toys. He has dinosaur pajamas (I never even had those!) and we have made trips to the museum to see the remains of the creatures and feel their huge teeth.
And the iPad he uses for communication is filled with dinosaur apps that have pictures and animations of every terrible creature you can imagine. One of the apps has dinosaur flashcards. Connor flips through the pictures and the iPad reads the names of the various beasts to him. Another button bellows their fearsome roars.
Connor pushes the button. The dinosaurs roar and I roar back.
It’s a bonding thing.