I loved this type of full-family mayhem and I was in heaven. But always, as always, forever conscious of what Chezky was doing, where he was, was everything safe
Purim again, more than a decade after that Purim that led us to Chezky’s ASD diagnosis. It’s incredible to compare the Chezky of then to the Chezky of now.
Like he does for all Yamim Tovim, vacations, and off-Shabbosos, Chezky came home for Purim. He was dressed in his real karate outfit, his costume of choice for the past few Purims — replete with knee guards, elbow guards, gloves, and his precious orange belt. He’s tremendously proud of that achievement, as he should be; he worked very hard to gain that mastery.
“Ma, you wanna see me take down Dovid?” He gestured to his younger brother, who was all eager to defend himself.
I looked up from the couch where I was playing with my grandson (dressed as a honeybee). The house was full of people, kids, grandkids, sons-in-law, and bochurim. I loved this type of full-family mayhem and I was in heaven. But always, as always, forever conscious of what Chezky was doing, where he was, was everything safe. Now I reminded him, “No practicing karate at home, Chezk! That’s the rule!” All I needed now would be to drag one of his brothers to the ER because of Chezky’s expertise.
But where in the past he would have argued or just proceeded to demonstrate on Dovid, now he laughed and poked his brother in the arm. “Mommy knows how strong I am,” he said with pride. “She doesn’t want to risk you getting hurt.
“Maybe I should start a karate course for all of you so you could learn to keep up with me,” he said, jumping into a new idea without preamble, as he often does. “I could even teach my nieces and nephews! We’d start a whole family company! We’ll get rich!”
I had to laugh at his grandiose schemes. Chezky was forever coming up with huge plans for his future, and he rarely got discouraged when those plans failed to pan out. Despite his large dreams, he’s worked out a very practical schedule for himself, learning in yeshivah in the mornings and working at a local clothing store in the afternoons. His boss was very pleased with him, and Chezky often pointed out a suit or hat he’d see “walking” down the street, saying proudly, “That’s our suit we sold.”
We’re hoping he’ll soon start a course in computer graphics, as he has tremendous talent there. Every week I proudly make the brachah of hafrashas challah from a beautiful large laminated sign he designed for me. And as I say the words of yehi ratzon, Chezky is never far from my tefillos.
Now he abandoned his impromptu karate lesson and turned to me. “Ma, when are we going out to deliver mishloach manos?” The question was the same as it had been for years, but the tone, the lack of pressure behind it, spoke of all the differences.
“We’ll go at 11, and don’t worry, we’ll have time to get to all the people you want to see,” I assured him.
He nodded and sat down at the table to make a list of all the addresses he wanted to cover. Calmly, happily. I was so proud of him.
But while Chezky was having a great Purim, Ari was not. The last year had been really rough on him. Ari was way more in tune with and conscious of the “mainstream” social world than Chezky, and he was so angry about his own inability to succeed in that world.
Ari spent tremendous amount of time and money on his clothes, his hair, convinced that if he looked the part he could act the part, but the older he got, the gap between him and his peers became more and more glaring.
The traditional tumultuous teenage years were so much more difficult for him as he struggled to verbalize his search to find himself and be comfortable with his life. Often he’d ask me, frustration punctuating every word, “What should I do? Why does everyone know what to say, how to act, and I don’t? What’s wrong with me? With my brain! Why don’t I get it?”
Explanations, therapy, long DMCs, failed to ease his pain, and his pain was my pain. I wished I could help him accept himself for the tremendous strengths and attributes he had.
As Purim day progressed, Ari was getting more and more agitated. And when the whole family came back home after making our rounds of deliveries, he took note of how many mishloach manos he’d received compared to the many more his younger siblings had. And he flew into a rage that had been building all day.
“I have no friends!” he screamed. “I HATE having no friends! I HATE having ASD!” He threw one of his packages across the dining table. Smash went a soda can, its contents exploding across the floor.
“Ari.” I moved in, ready to contain him, to grab him in a bear hug that often helps him calm down. I’ve developed a lot of drop-and-stop methods that often are helpful to diffuse meltdowns. But before I could reach him, Chezky stepped over and, braving Ari’s wrath, wrapped his arm around Ari’s shoulders.
Surprised at the gesture, Ari was shocked into silence.
“I know,” Chezky said to Ari, his voice so soft and gentle. “I know how it feels. I also hate having ASD.
“But you know what?” He sat down on the couch, a silent Ari next to him. “I’m doing okay even if I have ASD. And I know that people like me even if I have ASD. And I know Hashem loves me.”
The tears burned in my throat as I stared at this scene. Chezky, all earnest despite the comical costume. Ari, glaring but silent; he’d refused to even dress up on Purim. Was there anything more poignant than this big brother relating and trying to comfort the other?
Hashem, my heart sent up silent words. Hashem, look at Your children! Look at how they are serving You, despite their struggles and handicaps.
Hashem, please let this moment fly straight up to the Kisei Hakavod and be a zechus for all Yidden everywhere.
My journey with my sons has been so raw, yet so real. Full of landmines, but also mining the good. And my emotions at this time were as raw and as real, full of gratitude in my pride in my children.
I’ve heard that a neshamah chooses its tafkid in This World before it comes down. As a human, I don’t know if I would have the courage to choose this journey. But I am honored that Hashem chose me.
(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 853)
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