Once upon a time, I was lacking both inspiration and time to write. Which is why this is only my second post for January. Just under the wire before February 1st. Huzzah!
I do, however, have something inspiring to share from last weekend.
I drove out to my parents’ house for a short visit on Saturday so that I could watch the Maryland v. Duke game with Dude, and so I could pick up some random things I had left there. While there, I got the sudden inspiration to start a project that our family has been putting off for many years… Converting old home movies on VHS tapes to DVD. I dragged the never-opened dubbing equipment out of the pantry (which is naturally the only place to keep such things), ran out to the store to buy a stack of blank DVDs, and set to my task.
I was so confident that I was going to get the thing to work without a hitch. Wrong. Oh so wrong. Only parts of the VHS tape I had selected dubbed to the DVD, and then the DVD failed to play on any other DVD player in the house EXCEPT for the player included as part of the dubbing equipment.
But I digress.
The first tape I chose to convert for this project? The “Puppy Tape.”
The year was 1997. I had been after our parents to get a dog for at least two years. The Puppy Tape begins on Dude’s 7th birthday.
I watched as our parents try to get Dude to come into the living room to open his gifts. He sits for a second, abruptly stands up, and then flees the room. There are too many people in the room. It’s our immediate family and both sets of grandparents. His senses are overwhelmed. Thirty seconds later, our grandmom appears in the frame, holding Dude by the shoulders, and gently pushing him back towards the living room. Both of his hands are fiercely covering his ears. He’s grinning and humming. The constant hum I had almost forgotten about.
He manages to sit long enough for Dad to open one of his gifts and hold it up in front of Dude’s face. Dude doesn’t care. He isn’t remotely interested. He hops up again, flaps his hands wildly, lets out a shriek, and gallops from the room.
Meanwhile in the video, my parents have given me some gifts to open, even though my birthday was a month before. There is a theme. First I receive a miniature figurine of a Labrador Retriever. Then I open a box and discover a t-shirt with Labrador Retriever puppies on it. I grimace as I watch my nine-year-old self putting on an elaborate show. “Pupppppppppy!” I dramatically cry as I open each new gift. “If only it was a real one!!!!!”
Dude has reappeared in the room. He is more interested in his next gift. It’s a little toy dog that barks in the same pattern every time you squeeze it. It’s his ideal toy. Sameness. Routine. Sound.
“Say, ‘puppy!'” Mom prompts Dude, over and over. Dude won’t look at her. He’s looking at the dog. She softly pulls his chin towards her face, trying to coax him to look at her, to see her mouth and mimic her word production. His face his square with hers, but his eyes are looking everywhere except at her face. “Say, ‘puppy!'” she tries again.
Dude is pulling away. He gets out a soft and breathy, “Pup–,” before he resumes his humming. He cocks his head sideways and jams one ear into his shoulder while pressing his hand to cover the other exposed ear.
Meanwhile, I am yelling with joy because I just opened up an elaborate card complete with photos saying that we will be the proud owners of a Labrador Retriever puppy in a few short weeks.
Dude is not impressed. As the puppy tape progresses, I see the first time we go to meet our little dog. Dude doesn’t even remotely notice or care about the puppy. He’s rarely in the frame, but you hear his constant humming off camera.
I’m surprised by how surprised I am when I turn off the tape. Seven-year-old Dude is one classic case of autism. I had forgotten how long the humming lasted, how quickly he used to gallop to flee rooms that were too much for him, how hard it was for him to make eye contact, how long it took him to use single words.
The kid I saw this past Christmas is LIGHT YEARS ahead of the kid I saw in the Puppy Tape. Dude was obsessed with the idea of Christmas this year. He hovered over Mom while she was wrapping presents, nosily looking to see what our relatives were getting. He kept requesting, “Christmas gifts. No Christmas gifts,” over and over and over. On Christmas morning, he happily dove into his pile of presents and needed next to no help opening them. He sat with us and got through every single present before he headed to the kitchen for breakfast. He looked us full in our faces, he giggled, he easily strung together short phrases. Granted, they were primarily his obsessive, “stimmy” phrases that don’t always serve functional purposes, but compared to the kid who could barely say single words, who cares?!
Mom wasn’t sure if she wanted to watch the old tapes. She thought they would make her sad to see just how developmentally delayed Dude was. I look at the tapes, and I see how far Dude has come. I’m the opposite of sad. I’m elated. Dude, our family, Dude’s therapists, and his service providers have put in a lot of hard work over the years. It’s really rewarding to see how much it has paid off.