Probably one of the biggest joys I’ve found in being a mother is my children’s ability to surprise me. I experienced this while talking to my middle son Max the other day about the movie Her. Max and I were dissecting the film, because he is a film major at NYU’s Tisch School, and I always want to hear his take on the director and cinematographer. At one point in the conversation I told Max that his brother Ben, who is 15, had come along and had a real appreciation for the technology depicted in the film.
Max was not at all surprised by how Ben liked Her. He and Ben are four years apart but they have always shared a love for video games, animation, and graphic design. I have always felt so proud of their relationship, the way Ben looks up to Max, and the way Max, savvy ultra cool older brother that he is, still rarely looks down on Ben. Maybe all parents are tickled by seeing their babies taking shape as real people and finding they like each other for who they are — and not just as a sibling who shares your family space.
Which is why it often pains me to witness Max and Ben’s relationship with their older brother Nat. Nat has fairly severe autism and Max and Ben do not, so communication has been a struggle. Nat can talk, but his processing is so slow and convoluted that it is extremely difficult for him to focus and then get any words out. Even though many of us who know Nat feel that he understands far more than he appears to, it is hard to keep that in mind at all times. And when you are a younger brother living a very fast-paced, high tech life, it is beyond difficult to stop everything and wait and rephrase and wait for a brother to answer. And when he does answer, his language sounds much younger, childlike; it is unfortunately easy for people to underestimate Nat and dismiss him. Even though Nat’s brothers do love him in their own unexpressed way, their relationship with him is somewhat of a leap of faith. Their whisper-thin bond with Nat is something I have to listen carefully for, and strain to see. It is there, but it is so often intangible, and I am so very hungry for more.
So when I told Max in an Instant Messaging conversation that we had also taken Nat to see Her, I was surprised by his reaction. He wanted to know what Nat thought of the movie. I was ashamed to admit that I had not even asked him. We are all creatures of habit, and I am no exception. Sometimes I forget that Nat is experiencing life in as deeply and layered a way that I am; I just don’t know what that looks like and he does not offer to tell me. In asking me what Nat thought of the movie, Max reminded me that Nat has a full psyche and that Nat is a part of Max’s:
Me: I don’t know what Nat thought, but I know he must have loved the orange! [Her has a lot of the color orange in it, something Max and I both loved about the film.]
Max: you brought Nat? interesting. did you ask him what happened?
Me: the four of us went. Nat paid attention the entire time, never looked around.
No I did not…
Max: that would be an interesting perspective
Me: yes, good point.
Max: it could make an interesting blog, actually
Me: for you or for me?
Me: what’s the angle?
Max: watch movies with nat, and then ask him what happened in it and record his responses
some guy runs a blog where he asks his Italian father, who doesn’t speak much english, to review movies
and those are always funny, which these might not necessarily be but it could still be interesting
Susan Senator: sure. but if you were to write a particular post about it, do you have a theme, an angle?
Max: oh, no. it would be a blog, not a post. just the title of the movie and his response or the dialogue, if there’s a conversation around it. could probably even work as a twitter account, he’s pretty succinct
Me: Well, I enjoyed taking him because he was so into it, and he’s a good person to eat candy and popcorn with.
He is indeed
Max: doesn’t waste words
Me: He boils it all down
[At this point I think we were both remembering how Nat often answers, "You fall down," when asked what a movie was about. This goes way back, to when Nat watched his first live-action movie, The Matrix, and was very impressed with how Neo falls off skyscrapers and survives each time. "You fall down" has become a family meme.]
Max: the majority of hollywood films, billions of dollars annually, cut down to “you fall down”
Me: LOL. actualy, Joaquin Phoenix did fall down. in the subway or was it on the street. You can get Nat past that if you ask again, slowly and seriously. like when he said, “Tiger,” about Life of Pi.
Max: hahaha. well, that kind of does sum it up
Max: it’s like the most minimalist movie review possible.
Just bare bones AOL Instant Messaging, terse typed dialog, smileys and LOLs, but the whole time we were talking/messaging, I had tears in my eyes. Those boys — both of them — say so little, and yet, so much.