Thursday, August 30, 2012

Overheard in The Peanut Gallery...

...Or rather, in my van (where I'm sure many a peanut lurks in unexplored crevices).

Herr Benjamin is smart. I know I've mentioned this in the past. Tonight, he and I were driving home from dinner at my brother and sister-in-law's house. It was not a perfect evening; Benjy did all right for a while and then melted down. With ten of us in the house, including his rather loud cousin, he was quickly overwhelmed.

But riding alone, in the dark, with only me for company, set him straight. He likes the peace of silence and darkness.

Still, we talked. And I learned. About the military conflict in Somalia way back when, before he was born. And in Yugoslavia. I learned about military expenditures around the world ("Picture a bar graph. This bar's American military spending. This one's China's. Here's Germany [I know, not that much. that's a GOOD thing, mom]."

"Cool," I said. And meant it, more or less.

Benjy continued, "I think we spend too much on war. I also think we should pay more at the gas pump. Can Obama do something about that?"

Oy vey, let's keep him away from the Obama camp, shall we? Talk about spoiling an election!

But all that is nothing. Just Benjy being the savant in backwards clothing that he is.

What was truly amazing was this exchange:

"Mom, I CANNOT go to school with this new tic. [New tic involves snorting and blowing through nostrils. I am intimately acquainted with that one.] Everyone will notice! I can't bear that!"

I told Ben that the Joy School is the best possible place for a boy with tics. He considered this. Then he said, "I have Asperger's. I also have tics. Saskia is always getting sick and has those muscle cramps (read: joint pain). I guess we're about even."

"That's true," I told him. "And most people have challenges they have to face. I certainly do, and so does Dad."

"Asperger's," he told me, "is actually a benefit. I mean, it makes you smart, and when you have all these obsessions you learn all about stuff and really retain it. That's pretty cool."

"Absolutely," I agreed. "But, as with most things, there are upsides and downsides to it. Some of the things that are tough for you are that way because you're an Aspie."

"True," he said. And then, this: "You know what I always say? I say, 'Shit happens.'"

"Yep, it does."

"You know," he said. "I'm PROUD I have Tourette's."

Reader, this was a new one. It may have been the first time in history someone with TS uttered those words. I am glad I was there to hear it.

He continued, "I'm proud because I know I can handle it. I'm strong."

If I could have taken my hands off the wheel and my eyes off the road I'd have thrown my arms around him and never let him go.

"You ARE strong, Ben! And you know what? I admire you so much. I'm so damn proud of you. I never hear you say, why me?? I never see anger or bitterness over all you've had to bear. I just see you soldier on. And that is the best thing you can do. The best thing any of us can do. We accept the cards we've been dealt, we fight if it makes sense, and if it doesn't, we embrace our lives and find a way to live with grace and gratitude, even if we make funny noises or grotesque faces, or are socially awkward. That is all we can do."

"Mom?" he said thoughtfully. "Do you think I will be successful? Because I really want to be."

"I think you will be, Ben. Because I have faith you will overcome your stress around work and expectations. And once you are really able to work hard, the sky's the limit for you. You're a smart, charming, and good guy."

Thanks, Mom," he said, squeezing my elbow.

You know, when I was twelve, having Tourette's was a catastrophe for me. It truly was. Taking Haldol and getting chubby and zombified from it and being lonely -- these things were a terrible affliction. That my boy has reservoirs of strength whicheluded me, makes me so grateful. To him, to Lars and myself, to my parents, to all of his teachers and doctors and therapists -- the people who have formed him into the person he is.

Of course, kids like Benjy are always in flux. Next week, next month, he may not feel worthy even of living. And that is my constant fear -- that the pull of death will reassert itself. That Ben will remove the wax from his ears before I've had the chance to lash him to the mast. You can't survive the sirens' song if you're not tied to the ship's mast.

But tonight? He. Blew. Me. Away.


  1. That kid rocks. What an amazing conversation. I'm glad you wrote about it; read this when he is having his struggles. I'm proud of him!

  2. Thanks, Andrew's Mom! I only just noticed this comment -- thank you for dropping by. I wish Ben always talked like that, but I'll take it when I can get it! xo