Friday, December 21, 2012

A Matter of Time

Times, dates, numbers...they've always been big things around our house. I don't mean "our house" as in "life with a child on the spectrum." I'm talking way back, to when I was a kid.

Sometimes Ethan reminds me a lot of my brother Nate at his age. Nate was the kind of kid who always needed to count what he needed on the dice to get Broadway in Monopoly. Or what he needed to spin to avoid the big slide in Chutes & Ladders.

Nate (and our entire family, really) loved to have little time guessing games, often on family trips. And so we'd be driving to Maine and looking anxiously at the clock because we'd all predicted a different moment that we'd cross the big green bridge...or biting our fingernails wondering if we'd arrive at my grandmother's house at 11:37 or 11:39...or meticulously timing shortcuts to see if they were really worth the extra effort and were indeed shortcuts.

I was the calendar person. Tell me a person's birthday and I remember it forever. I still remember birthdays of my classmates in fourth grade; of McDonalds managers I worked with as a teenager.

I was all about time, too. One of my favorite books in junior high was a Lois Duncan thriller called "Locked in Time," about a family who didn't age who eventually gave themselves away to story's protagonist because she had "an uncanny awareness of time."

An uncanny awareness of time. That was me. I could always look at the sky or "feel" and just know approximately what time it was. I never wore a watch. As a commuter student in college, for a few years I took the bus (looong story) and rarely missed one, even without clocks. I just knew. Dan and I still play the game in restaurants...he asks me to guess the check and the time, and while my math skills would never impress anyone, I'm always eerily close on both.

Ironically, Dan is a math genius yet doesn't share these abilities. Anna could care less. Ethan, on the other hand, is picking up where my family left off.

I rounded up a Big Y calendar to hang in his room and he makes sure to remind me to flip it over.

He remembers everyone's birthday, or more importantly, their age, and will take to making comments like, "I like Grampy very much because he is 54 and is older than Grammy. She is 53." It makes him very happy when the men in his life are older than the women, because Anna is older than him and I am older than Dan. He sees this as incredibly unfair.

He has followed in Nate's footsteps with the board games to the point that much of the game involves him counting. Really, right now it's just Chutes & Ladders (Candy Land and Hi-Ho Cheerio don't work that way) but it's a mixture of cute and infuriating. There's only so many times you can hear, "If you get a 6 you will go down the slide" before you just want to play the darned game, already. He'll be getting Sorry and Trouble for Christmas, so this should be fun.

While Ethan doesn't engage in too much typical independent pretend play, his own creative version usually involves numbers. One of his favorite games right now is a game in which his two hands (Tico and Petey) hit his toy cash register over and over. Somehow he's figured out a way to hit some button and watch the numbers magically multiply. Then he will keep wanting to show me: "Mom! Look how many points Tico has!"

He also discovered a timer on the CD player/radio that's mounted under our microwave in the kitchen. The other day I heard him playing a Christmas song from the CD over and over while he kept fiddling with some other buttons. Finally, I asked him what he was doing. I thought he just really liked the song (I too am one of those types who will play a song 25 times consecutively if I really like it).

"I want the timer to win!" he announced. I looked closely. Apparently, he was using the built-in timer on the clock radio and setting it at different times when the song started to see which finished first. "Yea!" he cheered when he finally found a setting on the timer that lasted longer than the length of the song.

In the summer, Dan brought Ethan to a wonderful place -- a watch museum in Waterbury. At the time, I didn't hear much about it from Ethan. I think he was impressed most of all with the museum's elevator. But Dan bought him a watch that day, and, apart from a month-long stint when the watch was lost behind his bed, Ethan and the watch have been inseparable. He even wants to sleep with it.

For whatever reason, this watch is about 45 seconds fast. He knows this, but doesn't want us to change it. When Anna tells him his watch is too fast and not quite right, he says, "Don't say that. You're hurting my watch's feelings."

At school, we gather in the hall until the secretary dismisses all of the afternoon pre-K kids and parents to walk down to their classrooms together at 12:30. The secretary has taken to checking with Ethan before she sends us all down. "What time is it, buddy?" she'll ask, and he'll happily glance down and report.

Numbers, dates, times. This is a lot of our world right now. I know that in time, obsessions like these are the type of thing that could set Ethan apart from his peers. Right now, though, I'm glad he can enjoy them unabashedly. This is who he is. The more I watch the way his little mind works, the more I'm convinced that it IS different...but that I continue to see shades of similarity in myself, in others around me. I want to always remember and hold on to both of those truths. I have the feeling they will be of equal importance, as the years go by.

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