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  • I sit at the desk in the spare bedroom where I sleep when my girlfriend's away. I try to figure out my lower back pain this morning. A little stiffness or something more serious? I calmly try to reorganize the tasks I didn't have time for yesterday.

    In the next room my son replays the same YouTube clips over and over. A particular section of "When You Wish Upon in Star" in French. The Section of Bambi when he gets his name. "You are a real boy" from Pinocchio. "A Smile and a Song" in what sounds like Italian.

    When I am annoyed and I let the pressure of too-long to-do lists get to me, I think, "I can endure this". I think "Resist the urge to tell him to stop, he will just start up again unless there is a consequence, and you are too tired to police whether there will be a consequence every time." I think "Just tell him to try a different clip to help him get unstuck, like Michele, my late wife, used to do, so naturally, knowing it was right, or maybe because that's all there was to do." I think, just tell him you are closing his door for a few minutes, and then close your door, so you can have enough quiet to think.

    But today I think, "what's he trying to do in there?" I think "what's he trying to figure out?" I think, "he's up to something, I wonder what it is". I think, "he proceeds with a certainty I wish I had sometimes". I think, "isn't this interesting?" I hear his soft voice trying out a few of the phrases. Sometimes he bounces his body on the bed during sections he finds particularly exciting. He's 22. I'm 56.

    We have our weekend routines, our daily routines, a complex web of specific tasks that we do in particular ways, day after day, mostly meaningless in the abstract, completely meaningful to us. We make our own meaning, and some mornings like this when there is an effective level of indifference in the air, the inner voices of doubt fall silent, and we go on our merry way. Lately I have been successful at changing existing routines with a calmer voicer and a plainer manner that has seemed to make resistance to change less painful for him.

    Resistance to change. Having to navigate life when you don't know what's coming next and don' t have the words to ask. Being reduced to a fraction of what you are in everyone's perception of you, in your own father's perception of you when he rushes too much, just because you can't communicate what you feel and think precisely enough, as if you didn't think and feel at all. Having to somehow shoehorn complex emotions and situations and questions and feelings you recognize but cannot describe into the few phrases and constructs you do have to try to make yourself understood. Learning endless, boundless, limitless, buddha-testing patience, because you have no choice. Not me. Him.

    Instead of confused looks from strangers in restaurants who have never imagined ways as different as his of experiencing and interacting with the world--I cannot remember that far back but have to believe I was among them before he became my son--he deserves standing ovations, recognition, the applause veterans receive in airports, every day fighting the good fight, with the grace and poise not even to let on that it is a fight. But is it any less a fight? Can there be courage without fear?

    Now he is laughing. Barney is singing "Who took the cookies from the coo-kie jar?" We've turned this into a game we play at home. With my back barking this morning, I don't get up and walk in and engage him over this like I usually do. Sometimes he comes in to get me to play this with him. Sometimes he doesn't, usually when I've blown him off once or twice, when I'm too tired, or my back is barking, or my to-do list from yesterday is too long and now it's today already. He feels that, even if he doesn't say it. I try to come to terms with not getting up every time, every time to make sure he wiped properly and brushed properly and washed properly, trying somehow to recapture the hidden art of fading prompts and fostering independence that always seems a half step ahead of us.

    "Mmmmm smores, they're so good to eat, mmmmm smores a real candy treat". Aaron's singing responsively now, his calloused hands manipulating the touchpad, volume, windows of multiple clips and half a dozen other things he manipulates so quickly that no one who stays or lives with him can figure out when he is actually doing or how he does it, or maybe we just haven't tried hard enough.
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