Susan's Blog

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Where My Wild Thing Is

When Nat was a little guy, starting at around age two, he used to memorize books. He did not know how to read; he would just listen to the story and memorize it, with our inflections. This talent was the thing that threw his pediatrician off the autism scent. He would stand there in her office, reciting whole paragraphs of The Velveteen Rabbit, and when I would say, “I think something’s a little off in Nat,” thinking about how he could not answer a “yes” or “no” question, or ask for much of anything except to say, “want juice,” she would respond, “Oh, he’s a little genius,” with such love in her voice that I never could muster up any anger at her for missing the crucial fact that Nat was autistic. To this day, I forgive her, because I love people who love Nat, and because he was, indeed, a little genius. I still think there are hidden, deep reservoirs of knowledge running through Nat, but he keeps it to himself. But he knows. You can see it in his Disney eyes, wide-open and Elizabeth Taylor lavender blue.

Nat was six when he did his kindergarten year in a pre-K class in our town. That was the first and only time Nat was included in a “regular” classroom where he lived. (It took me years to get over the fact that there was no classroom for autistic kids, while there were whole programs, magnet schools, that provided specialized curriculae for LD and cognitively delayed/Down Syndrome kids. This fact ultimately led to my running for School Committee, five years later, where I was resentfully given a seat at the table of folks who created policies for the entire school system. I say “resentfully” because I was considered a “one-issue candidate,” a grave sin in politics. Anyway, I soon proved them wrong, but I certainly did keep special education front and center during my reign — er, terms. By the time I left there were several different autism programs — I’m not saying it was something I did, but I’m certainly glad that the administration saw the light. They saw the autism wave coming, but like the crew in the Poseidon Adventure, and school systems all over the country, it was only when it was upon them.)

There were three aides in Nat’s kindergarten classroom, not assigned to anyone, but by Christmas time I was yelling and screaming that one of those aides had better be for Nat and only Nat, or else he was going to lose all the progress he had made in the last two years in the private behavioral school he’d gone to. I called an IEP meeting at that point and wrote up a curriculum for Nat based on the town’s kindergarten curriculum. I showed the team, point-by-point, what they needed to be teaching Nat and I suggested ways that the aide could facilitate that.

The teacher in that classroom was very good, especially at including Nat. Because of his prowess with books, particularly of the Maurice Sendak variety, she designated him the “Expert in Where the Wild Things Are.” Nat was obsessed with the book, like many children are, and reading it over and over was a frequent way we spent time together, his high voice giddily shouting the words, filling in my blanks.

This afternoon we all went to see Where the Wild Things Are. I didn’t know what to expect; how could they make a full-length feature out of a short children’s book? But they did. There was so much material in the book, explicit or imagined, that the movie really worked. I could see that the Wild Things were archetypes of some sort; maybe Carol was supposed to be Max’s alter-ego, a way that Max could work out all of his sadness, anger, and disappointment with how his life back home was going. The other creatures were friends, imperfect and yet each filling a place in his world. Max back home was pretty lonely.

Nat was riveted during the entire movie. I think that it may have been the stunning, true-to-the book characters and scenery. It also could have been the lovely, haunting score sung by Karen Orzolek; Nat loves music, especially in movies. But my heart tells me that it was the way, throughout the film, the script was true to the book. Especially that in the end, Max sailed back over a year, in and out of weeks, and through a day, and found his supper waiting for him.

And it was still hot.


"And it was still hot" is the only phrase my son Christopher ever said. We read that book thousands of times and he just loved it. He lost all of his words via regression when he was about two. Mostly just single words, although lots of them, and that one phrase. He is now non-verbal and seven yrs old. I took him last week to see the movie (sensory-friendly showing). He too sat through the whole thing (first time ever) and seemed very interested in it and loved the music. I couldn't help but wonder if he remembers those days from long ago and that wonderful book.

— added by Mary Woodward on Sunday, October 25, 2009 at 9:54 am

Thank you for the review, we've been holding back, and I'm glad to hear that everyone enjoyed. Lisa

— added by Anonymous on Monday, October 26, 2009 at 9:42 am

Jarrett has always found movies riveting esp. if based on books he loves or tv shows he adores. If we ever get well around here, family day out to see Where The Wild Things Are!

— added by cameramom on Tuesday, October 27, 2009 at 2:15 pm

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