Friday, June 13, 2008

WayJay's Goodbye

We had family here over the weekend. Lots of family. It used to be no big deal, when we had a big old farmhouse with lots of bedrooms, three sitting rooms, and a barn. That was before The Big Downsize when we sold the farm and moved to town.

However, we managed to find a place for everyone to be more or less horizontal at night, and I cooked for everyone in my postage stamp kitchen. I had forgotten what it was like to be mother to that big a brood: how many dishes get dirtied, how much food has to be prepared, how many dirty clothes there are to wash, how messy the house gets.

Among others, my son and his wife were here from Reno. Their oldest child is autistic, and they have his baby brother enrolled in a sibling study at the University of Washington, so this was their chance to do interviews and get a MRI of six-month-old Jack.

It’s been a journey of discovery for all of us as they have worked to get a diagnosis for four-year-old WayJay. Had we been better schooled in symptoms, we would have recognized the autism earlier. When he was two, I worried because WayJay wouldn’t respond when I called his name. I feared for his safety and fretted to my husband, “What if he was in danger and his life depended on his responding to me?” I didn’t know that that is a classic, early symptom. Another is not making eye contact.

WayJay was diagnosed as autistic a little over a year ago. It was early spring, and the school district had space for him in a developmental preschool where they worked with him on speech and occupational therapy. He’s an intelligent little boy, but communication has been a real barrier. The family worked with him at home, and his mom, a nurse, read everything she could get her hands on and began to educate the rest of us.

When the family found they were moving to Reno, the first thing she did was investigate programs available there for WayJay, and he was enrolled in a preschool class for autistic children before the moving van rolled out of their driveway.

What a blessing to live in a society where local governments reach out in concrete ways to help people who have more on their plates than they can deal with right then. There are some things that are too big for individuals to cope with, too big for families, even. That’s when the fabric of society can form a safety net or a shelter for the family until they can work through the problem.

It was great to have this little family return and stay with us so I could see first-hand the strides WayJay has made in the last three months. As I would grab him and squeeze him and nuzzle my face into his neck, he would smile and make eye contact. When I would call his name, he would pause and turn his head to me. When he was frustrated, he would try to vocalize it, though he doesn’t yet have the vocabulary. But he can sing the words to “I Am a Child of God.” And when they were driving away, he spontaneously said, “Bye-bye, Gramma.” My daughter-in-law let me know via text message.

When I read it, gone was the memory of the dirty dishes. Gone the weariness of cooking for a small army. Instead, I could see in my mind’s eye that sweet little face and dimpled cheek, and I smiled all day about the report of those two little words I have yet to hear: “Bye-bye, Gramma.”

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