I’m trying to rebuild the habit of writing on a regular basis – every day is still a ways off, but I’m hoping at the very least to post on this blog every 1-2 weeks. The ideas aren’t flowing freely out of the tap yet either, so I have to flex the muscle to keep it flexing. But I’m in my chair, the headphones are on, and the soundtrack to Braveheart just started rolling. That’s always been good chill-out writing music for me, ever since college when I first bought the CD. Still works. So here we go.
I thought I’d follow up last week’s post with a little more about Duncan, since coping with his autism is a big part of what this blog is now about. Specifically, I want to go back to Calvin & Hobbes and dig into his love for that again. My therapist asked me last week why I thought Duncan was so drawn to Calvin, and, being the deep thinker that I am, I already had an answer ready to go. I saw similarities in Duncan’s personality and Calvin, and that sent me down a path to an interesting revelation: I think it’s entirely possible that Calvin is autistic.
The parallels are strong: wicked high intellect, trouble staying focused in school. A powerful imagination, a focus on one’s inner life to the exclusion of the world. Difficulty communicating, especially on subjects outside of one’s own interests. I mean, Calvin’s best friend is his stuffed tiger, and the life they live inside his little, expansive head is the stuff of legends. I don’t think for a second that Bill Watterson intended Calvin to be autistic – the strip was written for adults to reminisce in their own childhoods with the knowledge they have as adults. It ain’t really for kids. Plus, Watterson is notoriously private (there’s a documentary about just how reclusive he is), so if that was his intent, we’ll probably never know. But the parallels are fascinating, and these days you can see just about anything in hindsight, thanks to the miracle of post-modernism.
I gave my therapist this answer, and he agreed with me that a case could be made, for sure. I felt like I’d somehow Made A Contribution To The World. I was, for a moment, proud of myself and my own obviously prodigious intellect. And then, right after our session, the therapist sent me a link to a reddit thread about the subject, just to keep me in my place.
So yeah, someone else has noticed it, too. I followed the thread he sent me for a few lines, and the poster had some support, and then someone dropped this comment:
“Or maybe he’s a fucking kid.”
This wasn’t the first comment to disagree and to posit that, most likely, Calvin is just a six-year-old, prone to wildly imaginative play, love of his stuffies, and trouble controlling himself. Absolutely. I even said this about Duncan in my last post: he’s five, but amplified. It’s been an ongoing challenge for us to try to suss out exactly where Duncan’s autism blends in with his age and level of maturity, and it’s damn hard to do. Neurotypical children are often short-tempered, have trouble communicating, especially when upset, and can display a lack of empathy for others. All absolutely true.
But the sneer I read into this comment really lit me up. Again, I don’t pretend that I know what Watterson intended when he created Calvin, I just know I see a reflection of my son in him, and that makes me love both Calvin and Duncan that much more. but there is an implied negativity to this particular comment that I can’t overlook. And you can say that all parents love their children, and of course this is also absolutely true. And (hopefully) no one will deny that raising a child on the spectrum can be extremely challenging – just wait til I tell you about dinner Friday night, or Duncan’s first day back in school – and it is this love, this overwhelming, almost frightening, powerful love, that gives you the strength to get up every morning and keep trying to raise that child, and it gives you a perspective on kids that parents of neurotypical children just don’t have.
And this isn’t a slam on those parents – fuck me, raising ANY decent child these days is a goddamn marathon – but this asshole made it pretty clear in his reddit comment that there was something wrong with assuming Calvin could be autistic. And that pissed me off. And it’s the implied use of the word “normal”. More accurately, Normal. Capital N. Granted, the commenter didn’t say that, and he even qualifies later by saying he’s not trying to be aggressive, but it’s there. Normal.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m still new at this, I’m learning to cope with my son’s outbursts and intractability, I’m learning when to hold boundaries firm and when to let some things slide. I’m still learning to love him because of what his condition could give him, and I’m still hoping that he can have a happy, productive life. And I know it’s gonna take a lot more work to get him to some of those places that it would for a neurotypical kid – a kid like his older brother, for instance – and it’s up to me to help him with that. I’m learning to let go of anger when he does something that I don’t want him to do, how to cope with my own fears and disappointments, and how to appreciate his uniqueness, and how to revel in whatever gifts his condition eventually bestow on him.
I DO know that I won’t be ashamed of him, nor will I hide it or treat it like a disease. I know that I don’t ever expect him to be Normal. Fuck that. Looking at the state of the world, Normal was only working for a few people, so then it really wasn’t that normal, then, was it? I’ve always been drawn to misfits, outcasts, weirdos, iconoclasts – these were the kids I was friends with in school, because I didn’t feel exactly Normal myself, either. I questioned things when a lot of my peers didn’t. I called out absurdities when I saw them, I could see when people were in pain. I was just drawn to people who saw the world differently. Normal has never been a thing for me.
As a parent, some of that changes. There are things that have to happen – toilet training, learning to read, tie your shoes, go to school, cooperate – valid, useful, important skills that everyone in the world needs, and a large number of us don’t seem to have, I might add. So maybe Normal doesn’t mean anything at all, and in fact, what we consider Normal might be the exact opposite of what truly IS normal. So I won’t use that word. And most parents of spectrum kids don’t use that word when referring to neurotypical kids, and I totally get it. I slip up every now and then, but, like so many other labels these days, I’m trying to use better ones. I’ll just call him Duncan, because that’s what he says is his name, and I will protect and defend him from anything or anyone who tries to hurt him.
Is Calvin autistic? Actually, like another guy says in another thread, he’s ink on paper. 100% true. Plenty of people have also said he could be a poster child for any number of disorders. Throw open the DSM-IV manual, close your eyes, and point to a word on the page, and he can probably satisfy some of the criteria for whatever you land on. ADHD, sociopathy, you name it. Armchair psychologize the shit out of that and make yourself happy.
But, Calvin gives me a window of understanding and empathy into my son’s condition, and that, for me, is also absolutely true. I loved Calvin a lot when I read the strips in the paper every day, and I loved him when I bought all the collected strips from the bookstore. I loved him when I gave them to my older son, Ryder, to read and to cackle over. And now I love Calvin even more, because he reminds me of Duncan. And Calvin is most definitely NOT Normal. Thank Christ.
POSTSCRIPT: I have to say that we recently hid the C&H books from Duncan for a while, because among Calvin’s vast and impressive vocabulary are a ton of creative insults, and Duncan became very good very fast at using them on us when he gets upset. Not his fault, it’s mine for not thinking about that when I let him have the books, so it’s on me if he ever calls me or anyone else stupid. I’ll own that, and I’ll try to fix that mistake. But I hope he can read them again someday soon. Because I was enjoying reading them again, too.
POST-POSTSCRIPT: I should also add that for the last three days he has insisted that his new name is “Zombie”. it hasn’t stuck yet, but you never can tell…. Thanks, Parry Gripp.
POST-POST-POSTSCRIPT: My older son, Ryder, the main reason I started this blog almost a decade ago, turns eleven tomorrow. I’ll try to write about him next time. Some of the people that follow this blog must be curious about how he’s doing.