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"Don't Take Your Shoes Off, Jonathan!"
“Don’t take your shoes off, Jonathan!” The little boy in front of me was squatting
by the stairs, tugging at his sneaker. “If you want to go outside, you have to keep them on!”
I went through this warning every day. He never seemed to grasp that when he came home, he had to leave his shoes on.
We traipsed through the cool house to the glass doors in the dining room, where Jonathan’s brother, Justin, was sliding his head through the vertical blinds, letting each panel flap noisily against him.
I held his hand, getting him to stand still for a moment, and slid open the door. Stepping out, the contrast of the warm air that enveloped me from outside was stifling for a moment. I sighed, hating the thought of running after four-year-old twins in the oppressive heat, but I knew that the temperature was irrelevant. The schedule still had to be followed.
I had to be persistent to get the boys back inside. Jonathan wanted to stay, despite the sweat running down his neck and face. He pretended for awhile that he didn’t understand what I was saying, but when he saw his brother and me disappearing into the house, he quickly followed.
The boys climbed into their chairs at the kitchen table, knowing that it was time for a snack. Pulling out their favorites, I sank into a chair in between them, within easy reach of each, and rested my chin on my hands, staring at the big calendar on the wall by the phone.
The square block days were filled to their edges with notes about behavior and eating habits, but I wasn’t interested in the blue-ink scribbles. It was the big black numbers in each right corner that captured my attention. There were thirty-one of them, and I counted how many of them represented days I spent at this table, staring up at the calendar. Twenty-two days. A deep exhale escaped from my lips as I contemplated the next page on the calendar, the next twenty-two days I would spend with these two little boys.
It was usually around three o’ clock when it happened, and today was no different. Justin, outraged for some unexplained reason, ran towards his brother, hands turned into little claws. He grabbed his brother’s arm and attempted to dig his teeth into the flesh that was already bruised from his nails.
It was one swift movement by now. Stooping, I collected Justin in my arms and deposited him in the “behavior chair.” Jonathan wailed, the skin on his arm broken through and now bleeding. Anger welled up inside of me at the four-year-old terror with such a ferocious jaw, but I blew it out as best I could, reminding myself, “It’s the autism – he can’t help it.”
Comforting Jonathan, I kept a firm eye on his brother, making sure he stayed in the chair. “Patience,” I thought to myself, “patience.” It had become my mantra.
Within ten minutes the pair of boys had forgotten the episode, but it was still fresh in my mind, churning up feelings of sickness and sorrow for the twins and their parents, who had no idea four years ago that they would now be struggling to raise not one, but two autistic children.
Unexpectedly, Justin crawled towards me, landing in my lap and holding out a small piece of string – evidently, a present. I accepted, smiling despite the thoughts that had just been running through my mind. He giggled, resting his head against me, and I wrapped my arms around him, only a few traces of regret lingering.