February 16, 2009

Loving Joseph

I have a crush, again.

He is 11, I’m sure he is completely unaware of my crush and I’m not concerned about any sort of Mrs. Robinson inappropriate behavior. The object of my crush is an autistic boy that I get to spend an hour a week with. His idiosyncrasies charm me.

He is in my Sunday school class, and usually, with the exception of my own brilliant and talented Mini, the only student. But he’s reliable. Every week, he is there early and waiting when I arrive. I am positive that his father relishes the break, which is part of the reason Joseph has perfect attendance. Every week he has a story for me about either Super Mario or Indiana Jones, the only two things that seem to matter in his life. He arrives with a crooked smile, his dark brown impenetrable eyes, and another hour of quirkiness.

I rarely manage to finish a lesson plan as I continue to be interrupted with enthusiastic tales of Mario or Indy. My daughter told me last year, their teacher was very impatient and mean to him and that he is probably why nobody comes to class anymore. Everyone blamed Joseph for the teacher’s outbursts.

My heart broke. Joseph has an older brother the same age as my oldest Mini. His brother and my daughter are on the academic excellence circuit and frequently see each other at various competitions. His brother is as poised and mature as Joseph is awkward and goofy. They worship each other. When Joseph doesn’t talk about Mario or Indy, he mentions his big brother. When his big brother picks him up, he ruffles the Little Wild Man’s hair.

Over Christmas, Joseph informed me weekly that if he had to sing at the pageant, he surely would die. Of course he coupled his announcement with video game sound effects that simulate Game Over. I told him I was sure he wouldn’t die, but that I would sit up near the front, just in case. He told me that he would consider being a shepherd if he could carry a sheep stuffed animal. I promised he could. The morning of the pageant, we draped him in sheets and wrapped a cord around his waist and handed him a stuffed animal. He was the shepherd. His brother was the narrator. Joseph stood out of place and sang loud and off key. The contrast between the two brothers couldn’t be starker. I wonder about a universe that gave everything to the older brother, and left the younger one grasping for simple connections.

Except Joseph isn’t grasping, we are. He is one of the happiest children I know. He always has a smile and a story. It rarely has anything to do with anything we’re discussing, but I look over and see his smile and his ministrations, and I smile back.

Yesterday, Joseph was exceptionally wild. His father and I talked for a few minutes before class and he explained that during the week, Joseph has to take medication for ADD. That he gives him a break on the weekends from the constant zone of chemical numbing. I respect that choice. I cannot imagine how difficult it would be to not see that spark of mischief in Joseph’s eyes. But he was a handful yesterday. I gently corrected him and said, “Joseph, do we need to talk to your father about this when class is over?” He stopped for a moment and said, “What should we tell him?” I said, “What do you think I will tell him?” He looked at me very earnestly and said, “The truth.”

It was the only thing in my entire lesson he absorbed. Or maybe I was the one getting the lesson, not him. He gave me a big hug when I was done and said, “I’m going to go tell my father what a wild baboon I was today, I’ll see you next week.”


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