“Go away, you big baby” she told him and then ran away quickly.
We were at a playground and I was only feet away, trying to stay close enough to Corrigan in case he needed me, but also out of the way as to allow him some space to explore this new friendship on his own, when I heard those words fly from her mouth. She was just a little thing, “I’m four years old!” she had proudly just told me just minutes before, and she had made the attempt to befriend him as soon as she saw him, but like most kids- once they realize that he can’t talk the way that they do, or understand their imaginative play- she gave up, though up until that day, none had been mean about it before.
I looked up at Corrigan, my heart pounding in my chest and tears in my eyes, to see if he understood the meaning behind the words she threw at him, and I do not think that he did. He simply paused, watched her run away, and then shrugged his shoulders and ran off to do his own thing. Corrigan doesn’t know yet that people use words as adjectives. He doesn’t know that being called a “baby” is a negative thing, because to Corrigan a baby is just that…a baby. He doesn’t know to be offended. We could all probably all learn something from that, our society is full of people waiting to be offended.
I was proud of him though, prior to her escape he had tried really hard to interact. He ran with her around the underside of the play set, up and over the climbing parts with ease, and laughing with happiness. He braved the slides that he usually avoids, in order to keep up with his friend. It has only been in the last year that he has moved from parallel play to more interactive play with other kids, and I have noticed that he now gets excited when he sees new children approaching the playground. He is newly eager to play with someone, which is great except he doesn’t really know how.
The word that I used to use to describe Corrigan was “oblivious” but like a caterpillar transformed into a butterfly, he has emerged from a cocoon of sorts, into a world that he doesn’t understand. If Mark and I are arguing, or even just talking in upset tones, my formerly oblivious boy now tries to put himself between us, coming right up into our faces and making us pay attention to him, and then telling us “hi!” and smiling, as if asking us to stop. Last evening, he found an old video on Mark’s phone that was of Connor and Corrigan, and in this video, younger Corrigan was mid-meltdown, one of the epic ones that he used to have whenever the wind blew the wrong way. While watching the video, his lower lip quivered and tears plopped down onto his cheeks. I stepped in, asking him if he was okay, and I talked to him about being sad (I was guessing that he was sad because the little boy in the video was sad) and he burst into sobs. He truly felt something for that sad boy, his empathy is developing, not realizing of course that the little boy was a younger version of himself, and once again I realized that this version of Corrigan- one newly emerged- is learning what emotions feel like, both the good ones and the bad ones, and I have to let him work through those. I can’t rescue him all of the time, but I sure want to.
In a way, it was easier when he was oblivious. I didn’t temper my own emotions about things around him because “oh, he doesn’t understand” but now he obviously is learning. When I laugh, he wants to make that happen again, so he does something sillier. When I am angry, he wants to distract me. He now gets sad when we leave a room, instead of continuing with his own thing, not noticing if we were there or not. His bus driver tells me that when the bus first passes our house, he is anxious until she comes back again to drop him off. He understands danger and anger and joy. He talks often about love, with simple exclamations that make us smile. Each and every day, he comes closer to the emotional level of his neurotypical classmates, and with understanding often comes heartache.
It won’t be long before he understands and feels the sting of rejection on a playground, or at the lake, no longer oblivious to the differences between himself and his peers. Those are going to be the hardest moments to navigate, and I don’t know how I will react when someone calls him a name and I see the pain of that verbal bullet showing in his eyes, but this is all necessary. This is what we wanted, what we have waited for…for Corrigan to emerge from the fog and confusion inside of his damaged brain and join the rest of us in the world.
Life is hard, people can be awful and sometimes words hurt. That is part of our world and I can’t shelter him from that. All I can do is be there to wipe the tears from his cheeks and tell him how much I love him.
I’ll be honest, it doesn’t feel like enough.