Parenting my youngest child has been quite an adventure. He is funny, kind, smart, creative, exuberant, and autistic. Every day, it seems, he teaches me something new. His unique perspective on the world is often surprising, and the way he fully engages with whatever experience life has to offer is a constant delight.
Something that happened during a recent trip to the zoo is a perfect example. We were watching a flock of flamingos when suddenly they all began to vocalize at once. It sounded like a bunch of noise to me, but I noticed that my son had begun to move. First he bounced, and then he was dancing; feet shifting, arms outstretched. He instinctively sensed the rhythm and the music in the flamingos’ calls to one another, and he couldn’t help but join in. His body demanded it, and he gave himself to it freely and joyfully. It was beautiful to see.
My son dances quite often, no matter where he is or who is watching. His big brother asked him once, as big brothers do, “Why are you dancing?”
My youngest simply replied, “I do what I want!”
He often operates on pure instinct and emotion. I try to walk the fine line between teaching him socially acceptable behavior and honoring and embracing his unique personality and neurology. He feels all the things, deeply, fully, and passionately. It is all-encompassing. His joy is also contagious, like the time he charmed a myriad of strangers with a video of his gleeful reaction to a sea lion who wanted to play. When good things happen they are the BEST THING OF HIS LIFE. He also delights in small things that others may take for granted, and is almost always appreciative.
He knows that he is autistic, and is proud of his unique brain. (We, like others who prefer identity-first language, use the word autistic and do not see it as pejorative.) He even wanted to explain autism to his classmates to help them be more educated, open-minded and accepting. Every day I am proud of his strong sense of self, and the way he is also his own best advocate.
He not only stands up for himself, but also other people. He has a strong sense of justice, and is confused and disturbed when he sees unfairness or unkindness. He will defend someone, even a stranger, without giving it a moment’s thought.
My son is also deeply empathetic, and was incredibly concerned last year when a classmate of his was injured. He made her a card complete with pop-up heart, and it said, “Water can’t fix it, but I’m sure love can.”
He then walked down the street to hand-deliver the card, while reciting lines from YouTube videos and wearing a Kristy Kreme hat. That was what made him happy~ being himself and being kind to others.
I love his free spirit and individuality.
Like that time he unironically wore a pirate costume to the Mexican restaurant. In April. Because pirate. And because Why Not?
Those pictures, and watching him dance at the zoo that day, remind me of a post I wrote earlier this year about how I want to be more like him. He is freely, unapologetically, and enthusiastically himself.
“They say, “Be yourself, ” and “Dance like no one is watching.” That is what is embodied in this picture. My 4th-grade son is awesome… The above picture was taken during his older brother’s 5th-grade music performance. Younger brother had seen the performance, complete with choreography, earlier in the day during a school assembly. By the time the PTA meeting rolled around that night he had somehow memorized most of the songs AND the corresponding movements. After seeing it only ONCE. The unique way his brain absorbs information astounds me! So he sat there in the audience and participated in the performance, singing and dancing right along with the 5th graders. It was AWESOME. He didn’t care what the people sitting around him thought. He didn’t care that he wasn’t supposed to. He just did, and loved every moment of it. And he ROCKED it. I need more of that in my life. I briefly thought about the possibility of asking him to stop in case he was disturbing those around him. I decided against it since he was doing the same as the children on stage, AND I felt it was important that he feel free to express himself. I didn’t want to squelch his indomitable, exuberant, creative spirit that bubbles out of him. It brings me, and others, great joy.”
I never want my son to think that he has to change who he is in order to fit in with the rest of the world. I want him to feel free to be himself, to be different. I love his unique, Not Boring personality.
I hope that life is never able to squelch or take away his enthusiasm and zeal. His fire. His spark.
I hope that he will always be able to find the music where others simply hear chaos and squawking.
I hope he never stops dancing with the flamingos. Even more so, when others see him dancing, I hope that he will inspire them to join in, too.
So today I celebrate my youngest son, and all that he is.
You do you, little man. And never stop dancing.
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