It was just an ordinary conversation.
My son, Howie, and I were in the car. It was just the two of us, on our way home from working at the sensory gym. As is our usual routine, my husband, Tim, picked up the other two boys and took them home for dinner, and Howie stayed with me to finish his homework and play.
While driving, I started talking about the new skating rink that opened up in our town and asked him if he thought he’d like to take lessons.
“Oh yes!” he said excitedly.
“They have special lesson times set aside for kids with sensory issues. Do you think you’d like that?”
We haven’t had the whole “autism” talk yet. Or the partial talk. Or whatever it will end up being. For now, we’re at “sensory issues.” Because for Howie, that’s the most tangible and easiest for him to understand, both at school and home.
“Yes. That sounds good.”
There was a pause.
“Hey, Mom. Are there some kids who don’t have sensory needs?”
I took a minute to gather my thoughts.
“Well, I think everyone has some things that bother their senses. Some people have learned to work through it so it doesn’t bother them as much as others. I’m sure there are kids in your class who have sensory issues that really bother them and some who do not.”
I looked in the rearview mirror, and I could see him trying to process that.
“Do grownups have sensory issues?”
“Yes, absolutely. I do.”
“You do?” You could hear the surprise in his voice.
“Yup. I am not a fan of socks, for example. And I really hate any clothing touching my neck. Like scarves. Or turtlenecks. But a lot of times, grownups learn what makes their senses unhappy so they don’t get into the situations that make them uncomfortable.”
“What’s a turtleneck?”
I explained what it was, realizing that no one in our family wears anything like that.
“Hmmm. I think I would like a turtleneck. My neck gets very cold all the time. Do you think you could buy me one?”
It took me a minute to figure out that I had projected many of my own sensory issues on my kids. No turtlenecks or scarves. No wool or chenille. When I cook, it’s bland. I never really stopped to think if my kids needed scarves or liked spicy food or could touch a cotton ball.
“Well sure, you can have a turtleneck. I’ll get you one and you can see if you like it.”
“Can I have earmuffs too? My ears get really cold.”
I cringed at the thought of anything on my ears. “Of course. Earmuffs too.”
“Mom. Do you have any other sensory issues?”
One glance in the mirror and I knew he was completely engaged in this conversation. More so than any other conversation this week. He had been so… off these days. A lot of stimming. Difficulty focusing. Engine running at full speed.
I knew I had this one time now, in the car, to connect.
“I do,” I said. “I really hate big stores. Like Wal-Mart. I get very uncomfortable in them. feel like my skin is moving and I get very fidgety. So as a grownup, I have learned not to go into stores like Wal-Mart.”
Another pause. And then…
“I think I figured it out, Mom. I think you’re afraid that you’ll get lost in there.”
I breathed in a bit. I had never thought about it like that. Big store, short person. My claustrophobia and fear of not being able to get out. It’s why I avoid haunted houses, corn mazes, and apparently, big box stores.
“You know, Howie, I think you’re right. I think I am worried that I won’t find my way out.”
It got very quiet in the back of the car.
I figured I had lost him. Another glance in the mirror and I could see he was staring out the window into the dark.
“Mom, can we go to Wal-Mart some time? Just you and me?”
I gulped, wondering where this was going. “Why?”
“Can we go there and not buy anything? Is that legal?”
I laughed. “Yes, of course it’s legal. It’s window shopping, remember?”
I took a moment. “But why do you want to go to Wal-Mart?”
“I want to go with you. It’s time to face your fears.”
Face Your Fears. Said with emphasis. Like a coach.
Or a superhero.
My eyes welled up. “You would do that with me?”
“I would. I would say, ‘It’s just a huge store.’”
I had stopped at a light. I turned around to face him.
His grin lit up the car.
“Thank you, sweetie. I would really like that. You’d do that for me?”
We pulled into our driveway. I helped him out of the car and gathered up all of our stuff.
“I really appreciate that you would help me face my fears,” I said. “Do you have any fears that I could help you with?
Without skipping a beat he said “Nope. I am not afraid of anything.”
And he went into the house.
An ordinary conversation turned extraordinary.
This post originally appeared on Try Defying Gravity.