The day starts off as such a beautiful, clear day – sunny and almost warm. I decide to ask Nigel to accompany me to the grocery store to pick out a different cereal in addition to what he usually has every morning. He agrees. We walk in the store, side by side, and head over to the organic produce section. “Where are the coconuts?” he asks. I tell him that they are probably in the regular fruit section and point him in the general direction.
He walks over by himself, and I watch. Not because I think I need to, but because, once again, I marvel at his ability to filter all the sensory input that used to be agonizing for him. The luxury of this – to me – never wears off. The sheer joy of it. It is comforting to see that he is happy, not distressed in the least. His gait is confident, purposeful. I look down and pick out some broccoli. In a moment I look up and see Nigel, fifty feet away from me, across produce stands and people and carts, and he is standing there looking at me, a big smile on his face – eye contact, even. He has found the coconuts. I smile at him, too, for so many reasons. He comes back over to me and asks if he can have a coconut so that he can make a replacement for one of his shell-cloppers from Monty Python and the Holy Grail. He likes to clip-clop his way through the house, acting out scenes from the movie. He made a pair of cloppers about a year ago, and one broke. Of course I will let him get a new coconut, but I ask how much they cost because I want him to be aware of things like that. He briskly walks back over to check. “Two dollars,” he says. “Is that okay?” Sometimes he is so cute. I assure him that it’s fine, then suggest he go pick out his cereal. He returns a moment later with his completely appropriate, healthy choice (no, I’m not being sarcastic – he has learned not to bother asking for anything with refined sugar, after years of being turned down). He then asks if he can look at toys – not to buy, he assures me, just look. I tell him okay, but be back in five minutes.
He returns as I am unloading my cart at the check stand, exactly five minutes later, brandishing a small Lego kit that he has somehow not yet acquired. He tries to bargain. “I’ll have this instead of the coconut,” he says as he picks up the coconut to return it. I gently remind him that he promised he was only going to look at the toys and not buy any. A blank look crosses his face as he remembers. “But it has a crystal wand,” he says in a small voice. “Maybe some other time,” I say. “We’re not getting toys today.” He reluctantly says okay and goes to put the Lego back. And as I finish unloading my groceries, I marvel yet again at this child who has come so far, who, as a teen, is doing little things on his own. “Look, Ma – no hands” for us translates to “Look, Ma – no sensory issues.” Or, “Look, Ma – no meltdown.” Of course, he doesn’t say that, but I’m thinking it. And his sensory issues are far from gone; he has just learned to filter them and cope with them. He still needs earplugs in movie theaters and often covers his ears, is a very picky eater, and exhibits some sensitivity to light and touch, but overall he does quite well now. He also knows when he needs to diplomatically settle for a coconut over Lego, and maybe, deep down he appreciates the subtle reminder that that was what he wanted in the first place.
We walk out to the car and the weather has drastically changed in the half hour that we had been in the store. The sky is dark gray and the snow is blowing at us horizontally. “It’s snowing!” Nigel exclaims with perfect inflection. We hurry out to the car and he stands by his door, waiting to be let in. I ask him to help me load the groceries and he complies. As I put in the last bag, I hope for a second that he has thought to put the empty cart in the stall without me asking him to, but he is back waiting to get in his door, and the cart is still next to me. There will be other teachable moments, when the sun is shining.
I put the cart away and run back to the car. We get in and Nigel pulls the coconut out from underneath his jacket. “At least I protected the coconut from this climate,” he says. I tell him that it looks like a perfect one for his project. I look at the windshield wipers flicking away the snowflakes as I drive home. I breathe in sharply and feel overwhelmed with gratitude for so many things. That smile, for one thing, when he found the coconuts – it was just for me, and I will treasure it always.