OK, as someone who is, in fact, professionally large and ugly, it’s not every day that I just sit down and gush about what a nice weekend I’ve had. This one, however, was quietly brilliant enough that it deserves some mention.
First, an old friend (we’ll call him Johann, to protect the guilty) came for dinner on Saturday. Not only did he bring flowers, he brought wine. Not only did he bring wine, he brought stories – and not only stories, but with the stories he brought knowledge, charm, and humor. I hadn’t seen him in more than 3 years, and SOBUMD had never met him. As he walked in, 3 years fell away like the opening curtain on a favorite play – one to which you could understudy because you know all the words – and SOBUMD and the kids took to him as though he’d been by a dozen times before. We spoke of opera, computers, poets who are dead, singers who aren’t, and government bureaucrats and contract staff who perhaps should be. With a heart condition that includes showing off the chin-to-nethers scar from his quintuple bypass, he is allowed beef only twice per year. Needless to say, as a professional bad influence, we served a terrific flank steak. It was great to see him.
All three of the kids loved him; the Human Tape Recorder for his great stories, Number One Son for his insight into the world of Temple Grandin and those like her, into which category Number One Son has the distinction to fall, and the Reigning Queen of Pink for his ability and willingness to outtalk her – a trait she has never before experienced in an adult. I was still giggling an hour after he left.
On Sunday, the Very Clever Grandparents invited us to visit the House in the Hood and accompany them to the National Building Museum in downtown DC. While this might not ordinarily sound like the single most exciting thing you can do east of 14th St, the draw at the moment was the Lego exhibit – the worlds’ great architectural masterworks rendered en min at something like 180:1 scale in Lego. Chicago was well represented, and I was personally proud of the Lego company to see that there was no mention of any Willis Tower. The Sears Tower, however, stood proud, 14 feet and countless thousands of Legos high. Fallingwater was there, albeit sans water, as was one of the Twin Towers (sans plane, which would have been a shark too far), and the Burj Khalifa – it’s the tallest building in the world, and at 18 feet high in Legos it was the tallest structure in the room. For the Lego enthusiasts (namely Number One Son and myself), it was a hell of walkthrough. The National Building Museum folks being no fools, the second section was there for you and your small kids to grab a double fistful of bricks and start building. The Lego folks being no fools either, the third section was there for your small kids to grab a box of Lego kits and insist that you buy it on the way out. Luckily we had the foresight to feed the kids on the way to the National Building Museum, and we got out with our dignity and wallets, and without a single brick following us home.
My close personal friend Bruce Springsteen sang to us at improbable volumes as we drove home in time to catch the Emmy awards, which were not hosted by the incomparable Temple Grandin and those like her, but which might as well have been for all the awards the recent movie about her – and she herself, by proxy, a distinction she very clearly understood – won. As a parent of Number One Son, I watch Temple Grandin with some degree of awe; she’s not just interacting with society, and she’s not just interacting with society very successfully – she’s helping to reshape society to better interact with her, on her own terms.
This is the goal, although Number One Son doesn’t know it yet, and at 10 years old doesn’t need to yet. This is the goal, although Number One Son doesn’t present with nearly as many issues as Temple Grandin did at his age. But make no mistake – this is the goal: to arm him with the social wherewithal to change his world to meet his needs on his terms, and to recognize those areas where that change is not feasible without letting that kind of defeat crush him.
In the larger sense, this is the goal of all parenting, the goal all parents and teachers have for their children and students. However, I can tell you as a parent that when you see the four-lane superhighway stretching to the horizon for your “neurotypical” child, the one that says “No Posted Speed Limit” and “Where We’re Going, We Don’t Need Roads”, and then you look at the overgrown brambles on the Ho Chi Minh Trail of Life, with the hidden tripwires and mines that haven’t been cleared since Saigon fell, you too will want to make sure that before your “different” thinker sets out, they’re armed to the teeth and they know how to use the tools you’ve given them.
And set out they well, and set out they must, and Temple Grandin has done a wonderful job of clearing some of the social minefields just by being who she is. Kudos to HBO for running the show, and to the Emmy folks for recognizing it.
I go to bed thinking of a better future, away from these Badlands, Glen Beck notwithstanding.