My son Witten is an amazing boy. He cracks jokes. He is constantly making me smile. He is such a happy kid. I love to sneak up on him in the middle of him pretending and... just listen. I hide behind the wall and listen to the amazing imagination of his. The way he talks to his toys and how his room is this secret place where magic happens. He reminds me so much of myself when I was a kid.
Imagination is a piece of childhood I miss, and I ache for it. As a writer, I often wish I could rewind 25 years and remember all those big ideas I had as a kid and write them all down.
One day this past year, Witt had a friend over from school. And he was so eager to show his friend his room; his magical place where he plays with his trains and dinosaurs. The place where his army men and hot wheels cars set up camp behind the stuffed animals that are temporarily used for mountains. He couldn’t wait for his friend to see it all.
So you could imagine the hurt I felt when, not long into their playing, I heard the little friend tell Witt, “You play with baby toys.” I held my breath as I sat at the kitchen table cutting up watermelon. I waited to hear what Witt would say.
“I don’t play with baby toys. Trains aren’t baby toys.”
“Yes they are.”
The conversation passed. And the boys got to playing something else as boys do. And I wasn’t going to bring it up. No big deal.
Until later that afternoon when the friend had gone home. Race was in the living room laughing his head off at an episode of Diego and I was folding laundry. Witt brought me a shoebox filled with his Thomas Trains. He had a look on his face that was trying to be real grown up. He was fighting back the tears when he said, “I don’t need these anymore. I’m going to give them to Lane.”
“Well,” I said as I put the laundry down. “That’s very nice of you, Cowboy. But I’m confused. You love your trains.”
It took him a second to say, “They’re baby toys.”
I wanted to scoop my little Cowboy up and hug him. But I could tell he was all business. “Who thinks they’re baby toys. You? Or somebody else?”
He didn’t answer, but started to cry instead.
“You know what I think?” I asked him as I scooped him in for a big mommy hug.
“I think you love your trains and who cares what anybody thinks about it.”
He just cried and hugged me back.
“You love your trains, Witt.”
“Yes, I don’t want to give them to Lane,” he cried.
The conversation went on for a bit before Witten eventually climbed off my lap and went back to his magical bedroom to set up his train tracks. I sat at the table filled with mixed emotions. I stared across the room at Race who was once again busting up laughing because of something one of the animals on Diego did. And as I watched Race, I listened to Witt escape again into his imagination and start talking to his trains.
At first I thought, how dare some kid come into my home, and just like that, have such an influence on my Cowboy. Enough influence to make him lose a bit of his childhood. Just like that.
And how easily influenced my little man is! I mean, he’s only five!
I sat and watched Race laugh some more. My eight year old boy sat in front of the TV and laughed his heart away at a silly cartoon. He could care less about what anybody thought of that. He loved Diego. So what if it was a baby show.
And I thought to myself... if only we could all be like that. Not care about what people think. And in that moment, for just a moment, because it might change in the future... but in that moment, for some things, it might be easier to be autistic.
Race has never cared what people think. He likes what he likes. It’s that simple.
But Witt... as I mentioned earlier, we’re a lot alike. Because as a kid, I cared way too much about what others thought. And it sucked. It’s wrong that my five year old boy feels like he has to change something about himself because somebody else said something stupid to him. And it breaks my heart that a few words said by a friend has to make my kid lose a little bit of his childhood.