We are now days away from the start of second grade for Natalie. Like other parents, our thoughts are consumed with the question: is our daughter ready for second grade?
Our thought, however, are focused on other issues than most parents. We are focused on a little imp that sits on her shoulder and whispers in her ear, distracting her from life. Most parents don't worry about that kind of thing.
Most parents wonder if they have bought enough back to school clothes. We wonder that, too. To be more precise, my wife wonders that, too. I, on the other hand, could see her wander off to school in a potato sack; I would be so oblivious that my only thought would be whether or not we had found a new place to keep the potatoes. I barely worry about how I dress myself; I don't worry much about clothes for the kids. That's why I got married. My wife completes me. Or so she reminds me. Constantly.
"For crying out loud, do up your zipper," she will say, exasperated, and my four year old son and I will exchange confused glances because we're not sure who she was talking to this time.
Most parents wonder if their child has the required level of reading skill to survive the second grade. Not me. One of the nice things about having an autistic child is that God sometimes gives you small surprises, and, at six years old, Natalie is comfortably reading Harry Potter.
"Never trust anything that can think for itself if you can't see where it keeps its brain," read Natalie, closing the book and looking up me with a great amount of pride.
"Very good," I say warmly and give her a hug. "And now do you think you're ready to figure out how to wipe your own ass?"
(editor's note - didn't actually say that. Thought it in my head an hour later)
Most parents wonder if they should buy their child a protractor for second grade. We wonder if she is going to be The Kid That Never Flushes The Toilet. We have taught her to dress herself, to button her own clothes. We have even taken her several steps forward to lacing her own shoes and tying them up herself. She knows how to hang up her coat and backpack in the morning, how to sit quietly during circle time -- I think they have circle time in grade two, if they don't we're going to have a confused daughter -- how to raise her hand when she has a question, how to sit quietly and attempt to look interested in what the teacher is saying without actually listening (this is a great skill that I mastered in my years at university).
But she doesn't know how to wipe her own butt. To be more precise, she knows how to do it, she just can't be bothered. Instead, she prefers to sit on the toilet, reading books, until her legs turn purple and fall asleep, and she can no longer stand up. And the imp on her shoulder cackles.
This thing. This one single thing. It is the marker in our life. It is the peg on which we hang our angst. We watch her make progress in every other aspect. She tries, she fails, and we push her to try again, and eventually she figures things out, at least to some extent. Perhaps she hasn't mastered the art of pouring milk into her cereal, but at least she has mastered the art of wiping up spills.
But this one tiny thing, this inability to master basic hygiene, is the constant reminder that there is always another beast in the room with us, a subtle demon imp, tickling our daughter's mind. It looks at us and says, 'you think you are doing all that you can, but you aren't, because she can't even wipe.'
I know there is nothing that will keep the beast quiet, because if she learns how to clean herself, there will be something else. There will always be the set of things that everyone else can do with ease, but with which she struggles. Every time, the demon will look at us and smirk, and we will believe it's because we haven't found a way to teach her how.
For today, I won't worry about her clothes, and I won't worry about her school supplies. I will only worry that she keeps moving forward, and maybe one day I can look the demon back in the eye and say, 'you are only slowing her down. Nothing more.'