If you happen to be a seven-year-old autistic boy who has been obsessed with numbers since birth, this may seem like a great toy.
And for the most part, it is. There are 20 keys and 20 locks, with each key only able to open the corresponding lock. This makes for endless hours of amusement. Sometimes, however, the entertainment is taken too far.
Seeing as we live on the 18th floor of our building, Young Sir has deemed it necessary that the lock marked “18” always be affixed to the inside of our door. This is very important to him. Let’s all suppress our eye-rolls for now, as this ritual is a crucial happening in his little world.
Yet his custom can prove problematic.
This morning for example, when we all should have been out the door and on the way to school 10 minutes earlier, the key marked “18” was nowhere to be found. So of course our apartment had to be turned upside down looking for this key, because in Young Sir’s world, the door could not be opened without it. There were, of course, 19 identical grey keys scattered all over the house. But upon closer inspection, in what may be likened to a horror film of sorts for autism parents, none of them was marked “18.”
I tried to sit Young Sir down and explain that the door could, in fact, be opened, and the “18 key” was just a toy that we would find later. I promised to find it for him while he was at school, but it was all for naught. Reasoning is completely useless when he gets like this.
Then the hurricane hit the vestibule. Shoes and masks started to fly, and our metal basket of umbrellas came crashing to the ground. (Where did all those umbrellas come from anyway? We have way too many umbrellas, and half of them are probably broken.)
And then, as if our morning couldn’t get anymore tumultuous: enter Little Prince stage left. The thing to remember about Little Prince is that ever since he was a baby, whenever he raises his voice to cry, his sound-sensitive brother attempts to attack him, sometimes succeeding. (Yes, that only makes him cry louder, but again, reason is futile.) Therefore, in Little Prince’s mind, it is only natural to presume that when someone else is upset about something, the logical thing to do is whack them over the head with an open palm.
Which he did, several times in fact, making an already intense situation so chaotic it was almost comical. And when Young Sir began screaming orders at me to pick up the umbrellas he had scattered all over the floor, I had to duck out for a moment.
I locked myself in the bathroom and took a few deep breaths as the chaos outside worsened. I reminded myself that having the right toy at that precise moment is an imperative in Young Sir’s rigid world. The problem, though, is when His World collides with the Real World, a world where both my children have to get to school on time.
But then again, who am I to say that My world is the Real one? And the truth is that they don’t. Have to get to school on time, that is. In our home try very hard to prioritize peace over punctuality, as can be seen in Young Sir’s attendance report for the last school term.
Still, while I may make full use of all the #gentleparenting hashtags, in truth I am merely a peaceful-parent-in-training. Gentle parenting is not my default mode. Not in the least. In fact, if I were left only to my own devices in a society that condoned such things, I probably would have whacked Young Sir in the head with one of those umbrellas the moment they crashed onto the floor. It takes effort, lots and lots of effort, to react gently when all my instincts scream at me to attack. But maybe, just maybe, I did ok this morning.
I picked up my phone and texted the head teacher at Young Sir’s School.
“Young Sir will be late today,” I wrote. “Sorry.” As soon as I pressed send, a wave of relief swept over me.
Then, eventually, we found the key.
“I want to be happy” my son said through his tears as we all left the house 30 minutes late. “Is it time to be happy yet?”
“Soon.” I assured him. “You will be happy again soon.”
And I really believe that he will. This is due in part to “18 key’s” new, thoroughly pimped-out keychain.