My Son is Special

bennettmonalisaI had originally planned to call this post, “Shameless Boasts of a Superdad: My Kids Are Freaking Geniuses,” because any parent knows that their #1 responsibility in raising their children is to brag about them, even when privately the kids are driving them close to a nervous breakdown. Not my kids, of course. Other people’s. So I’ve heard.

My kids really are geniuses, and I was going to lay out all the evidence in this post so you could decide for yourself if I had a couple of Stephen Hawkings on my hands or merely Einsteins. I was going to lead the whole thing off with this picture:

solarbennett

That’s Bennett completing a puzzle of the solar system, for the first time, by himself, without looking at the box. Um, yeah. And he was 3 years, 4 months old when this was taken. Did I mention he had no idea what the solar system even was? (He does now. He’s learned a lot in the last 4 months.)

As I started composing the post in my head, though, I had an “Uh-oh” moment. “Uh-oh,” I thought. “Some people might see this a little differently.”

See, a few months ago, I put up a post that showed Bennett doing one of his favorite activities, lining up whatever objects he has handy and imagining them as trains. I thought it showed a pretty creative mind, or at the very least, a snapshot of a little boy who really liked trains.

Most people did see it that way, but there was a minority that wrote with concern. It turns out a nagging attention to detail and repetitive behavior can be red flags in kids this age.

It wasn’t the first time I’d had those fears myself. Who doesn’t? We all know there’s an epidemic, and early intervention is key, so any half-aware parent is going to take note of their kid’s unusual behavior.

The problem is, everything about my kid is unusual.

eyerollWhen Bennett was a baby, he started doing this thing where he would roll his eyes back in his head. It could’ve been a neurological tic, but I swear it seemed more like a sarcastic eye-roll. His timing with deploying it was impeccable. It really seemed like he was mocking me, which I loved. But he was way too young for that… wasn’t he?

Bennett also has a very mechanical mind. He loves toys that turn when you move a crank. He loves to check out all their moving parts. One day, Drew was running on the treadmill, and Bennett got down on the floor to inspect it. “It goes around!” he said, in a eureka moment. “You’re not moving!” At 3, he understands that a constantly rotating belt is what makes a treadmill work. Personally, if you’d asked me, my first guess would’ve been “magic”.

Bennett also likes to wear his sister’s dresses. He was planning to be Thomas the Train for Halloween, but at the last minute, he changed his mind and went as Sleeping Beauty. He’s told me that when he grows up, he plans to marry a boy. Other times, he says he’s going to marry his sister or one of his daddies. (And yes, it stings when he picks the other daddy over me. “Why, Bennett? Don’t you think I can provide for you?”) On a side note, it’s nice living at a time and in a state where my son can tell me he wants to marry a boy someday, and I can respond with a simple, “Okay!”

Again, some people want to put labels on these behaviors, but he’s 3 years old. Do I think he’s confused about his gender? Probably not. He’s always been very clear in labeling himself a boy. I just think in a family with two dads, you have to work extra hard to be subversive. Maybe he senses our family is different than most, and he wears it as a badge of honor. Plus, dresses are fun to twirl around in.

notcornholioBennett’s laugh is the single greatest sound in the world, a high-pitched titter that conveys nothing but pure joy. There’s a smile that goes with it that I won’t even try to describe. You just have to see it, and if you spend five seconds with him, you will. His favorite meal is a grilled cheese sandwich, followed closely by two peanut butter half-sandwiches. His third favorite meal is walking away from the table to play with his trains.

He has a couple of catch phrases. One is, “That can’t be right!” He says it whenever something unexpected happens. While watching Beauty & the Beast, he might say, “A talking candlestick? That can’t be right!” He also says it when he thinks you’re trying to fool him, even if you aren’t. “You mix yellow and blue to make green? That can’t be right!”

His other catch phrase is, “I gotta tell you something.” He says this every single time he begins a conversation, even if he’s not sure what he wants to talk about yet.

“Daddy?”

“Yeah, pal?”

“I gotta tell you something.”

“OK. What?”

(pause) “Hi.”

Speaking of trains, he knows every single friend Thomas the Tank Engine has. All their smushy faces look exactly the same to me, but one quick glance is all he needs to say, “That’s Gordon” or “That’s Skarloey”. He can play trains quietly by himself for half an hour. That may not sound like long, but at this age, it’s an ETERNITY. He can get 7 different engines going at once on the same track. He spaces them out perfectly so they won’t crash into each other. When we got him a kiddie mp3 player, he wanted us to load it up with nothing but Thomas the Tank Engine songs. (There are more than you’d imagine, and some of them aren’t half bad.)

He’s a better athlete than I ever was. A better dancer, too. He loves to invent games with names like “Run With a Balloon” or “Run Around the Trampoline,” or my favorite, which is simply called “Run!”

bennettclimbsHe’s off-the-charts skinny, literally below the first percentile in weight. He’s the only kid I’ve ever known who’ll stop eating dessert when he feels he’s had enough. Seriously, the kid can take two nibbles of an Oreo, shrug and say, “I’m done” and then just walk away. (That’s when his sister and I rush in and fight over the part he left behind.)

One of his favorite pastimes is to walk around with his eyes closed. At first we warned him he was going to get hurt, but then we realized stumbling into things was part of the fun for him. Maybe he just likes experimenting, seeing the world in a different way. He has gotten hurt, of course, but right after that, he’ll close his eyes and stumble into something else.

There are a million things about this kid that some people might see as odd, but whenever that voice in my head says, “Something’s wrong,” it gets shouted down by an even louder voice that tells me, “He’s perfect.” Not one of those million unique things about my kid is bad. So he’s good at math? Great. He has a silly sense of humor? Awesome. He likes machines? Swell.

What matters more to me than anything is that Bennett is the happiest kid I’ve ever known. One of the things he says the most is, “This is the best ____ ever!” You can insert virtually any word into that blank. “day,” “episode of ‘Dora’,” “peanut butter sandwich.” I’ve heard them all.

Quirkiness is a gift. So many people struggle to develop it in their teens and 20s, and my kid was lucky enough to born with it, in spades. Maybe it was growing up gay that made me realize not every idiosyncrasy is a problem to be solved. As a teenager, I always felt the need to hide from who I was. It took me half a lifetime to accept that there was nothing wrong with me. When it comes to my kids, I want to teach them that from the very start.

Sometimes, things Bennett does stand out to me, or to other people. But I’m not concerned. If there’s a technical term for whatever’s made him the way it is, it still won’t bother me, because what he is, is perfect.

My son is special, and I wouldn’t change a thing about him.

50 comments on “My Son is Special

  1. Love the catchphrases. My son’s are “I got idea” as he’s about to do something and “that’s crazy!” In place of your son’s “that can’t be right”. He also tends to say hello to people by introducing himself in the third person, “this is AJ”. But he’s just turning 3, so clearly, this means there’s something wrong with him, right? :)

  2. I love this post Jerry, we are quick to label as a society aren’t we? I am very happy that you have chosen “special” for Bennett…. Now that’s genius!

  3. Our 3 year old son’s catchphrases: “You can see everything from up here!” and “I know something! Sealions eat fish.” and “Oh my goodness!” Plus he can spot a garden slug from about a mile away, and fully believes in Godzilla. More power to the wacky little dudes and gals we love.

  4. Sounds like you like him just a tad –
    What I want to know is will you be bored to tears when your kids start school? Continue to love them as you do – they may not express it to you but they will always know they are loved. I always loved when my children were around me – and could never understand those parents that were so glad school was starting in September. I also remember feeling sorry for them and sorrier for their kids. Keep qvelling, keep observing and enjoying.

  5. You just described my 5 1/2 year old daughter. And every once in awhile I will look at what she is doing and think, is that right? But then I quickly think, yes it is. Everyone is different. And being unique and marching to the beat of a different drum is wonderful.

    • Ha! Every once in a while, one of my kids will say something totally brilliant… and then I’ll find out later that they’re repeating something they heard on a cartoon or something. Maybe “I’ve gotta tell you something” is from some show or other. You never know! :)

  6. What a beautiful post. Now I want to embrace my quirky side even though I’m firmly implanted in middle age. In that vein, I just applied for a position as a conductor on a commuter rail system ’cause I like trains, too.

  7. I don’t believe I’ve ever heard something put more beautifully. Your children are blessed to have you as daddies!

  8. I work in education and here’s what I know….labels are overused and everybody’s got one to hand out. What I don’t know is why we need them. Every single kid has strengths, weaknesses and quirks. Cause every kid is an individual. And every single one of them is awesome. I hope every child has one or more person who loves them like you do your two amazing munchkins.

    • Absolutely. And the more our kids hear that message from their parents the more they’ll apply it to each other. So many parents are so intent on stifling their kids’ quirks in order to “protect” them from mean kids. I mean, I may be changing my tune if my kids get bullied in a few years, but I always want them to know I love them for who they are.

      • Even if your kid gets bullied, it will be your constant message of love, acceptance and celebration of his individuality that will keep him strong. And then when he is a young adult, and living his own life, the one he defined, the one that makes him happy, you will KNOW you did the right thing.

  9. What a great post about loving kids for who they are, and not jumping to conclusions just because chidren are unique. I work with kids who have autism, and lining up everything in sight is one of the symptoms we see, but having a trait common to kids with autism doesn’t mean a kid has autism. We all have “stims” (repetitive self-stimulators behaviors), but so what? We all have some characteristics of autism, but unless there is impairment in functioning, then there is no disorder. It sounds like your son is brilliant, and contrary to what is becoming popular belief, brilliance does not equal autism. (I actually had a supervisor suggest I diagnose a client with an autistic disorder because he was extremely intelligent and shy. Ugh, even mental health clinicians forget to look at the diagnostic criteria sometimes).
    Of course, this doesn’t mean that I recommend parents ignore genuine problems, such as lacking basic skills common to same age peers. If there were reason for concern, I’d see if the doctor recommends a referral, but if you just have a smart kid who likes lining up toys, help the kid make a train!

    • Very well said. I definitely think an official diagnosis is necessary sometimes and can be very helpful to a kid. I’d just hate to see parents (like me) stifle their kids’ personality because of their paranoia that something’s wrong with their kids. It’s a fine line and not always easy to know the difference, but that’s a parent’s job.

  10. Great post! After a real tough go-down with my own quirky kid (who prefers her other mother to me much of the time, sob!) this really made me smile. And with pink eye (the kids) and strep throat (me) and my wife’s severe pain right now (she just had out-patient surgery and is HURTING something awful right now) I really needed a smile right now. Thanks for that. Your love and appreciation for Bennett is so heartwarming.

    • Kids prefer one parent over the other for so many reasons, I wouldn’t sweat it. So many times my kids seem to prefer their other dad (“our funny daddy”), then there will be times they’ll come to me out of nowhere for a hug or to comfort them when they get hurt. I’m sure your daughter appreciates everything you do for her, even if she doesn’t always show it. :)

    • Sometimes, he’ll work so hard to “earn” dessert, because I make the kids eat their healthy food first before they can have dessert. He’ll struggle to eat 2 chicken nuggets and a couple of strawberries (that’s what passes for healthy food in our house) to earn his Oreo, and then he’ll only take a bite or two of it.

  11. My son is a little younger (3 in august). I can definitely relate to the little quirks that are specific only to your own child. :) We also found a game online that it sounds like your Bennett would LOVE. Here’s the link;

    http://www.fisher-price.com/en_US/GamesAndActivities/onlinegames/thomasfriendsenginewash.html

    Basically you get to guess which of Thomas’ friends is under the sudsy bubbles as they are being washed. My son liked it, but he hasn’t seen the show as much so he didn’t really catch on.

    As usual, love your post.

    -T

  12. What a brilliant post! My little monster is rather “difficult” sometimes because he insists on crossing the road in exactly the same spot or using the ramp instead of the stairs. And I better not step onto the ramp from the side, all hell will break loose. He will also repeat the same sentence to you and expect the same answer that you better not alter. However, I have stopped worrying about a possible disorder because other than that he is a totally happy little boy who sings aloud (made-up nonsense songs for the most part) while he is playing with his Thomas trains (that’s right!) and who has now, after only 4 months in this country, started counting to 10 in Portuguese (I am so proud!).

    As so often, I have to support your way of thinking: Every child is special, and some are more quirky than others. I think that’s quite alright, who doesn’t love a *gay* child? In the original meaning ;-)

    • Your son sounds amazing. I’m not child psychologist, but it seems perfectly natural to me that a kid trying to understand the world would be so rigid in his expectations of it. I think you’re doing great!

  13. Most little kids are weird in their own ways. Parents are always focusing on whether their kid is developing typically, and they want their kids to be “normal,” but if everyone was honest, little kids are cuckoo. That’s what I like about them… they just do their own thing, and don’t worry at all about what others will think of it! When they get older we tend to start squashing the weirdness out of them. Your little guy is lucky to have parents who love him just the way he is!

    • Yeah, I know some of this quirkiness will fade as he gets older and bows to peer pressure, and it makes me so sad to think that. I’m going to enjoy it while it lasts.

  14. I think you summed it up when you said:

    “If there’s a technical term for whatever’s made him the way it is, it still won’t bother me, because what he is, is perfect.

    My son is special, and I wouldn’t change a thing about him.”

    He’s happy, he’s quirky and unique. He’s obviously very intelligent and funny. How can anyone say those are concerning/worrying/bad qualities?

    I feel the same about my little boy. If he had problems that made him frustrated, upset, unable to integrate into society or changed how he viewed himself then I would look for answers and intervene as early as possible, but he is happy, bright, hilarious and so not anybody else’s kid :)

    I love this kind of blogging. Always so honest and brave in a world where everything is judged and diagnosed.

  15. I think your son sound absolutely awesomesauce!!!!

    We like to describe our son as not a square peg in a world full of round holes, but a rhomboid. He has his share of quirks (and to be fair, so does his sister and both my husband and I. Heck if I”m being honest, so do the dog and fish).

    I would not change a thing. He makes me laugh every day (to make up for the white hairs). He is obsessed with all things Lego, Ninjago and Iron Man. And I have a feeling he would LOVE spending time with your son (he adores younger kids like my 3yo nephew). He may have a pinky toe dipped into the spectrum but as long as he’s happy, that’s fine by me.

    What a beautiful post. Thanks for sharing your amazing son with us :) xo

  16. Pingback: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the M-Word | Mommy Man

  17. I feel Like this is the best blog I have ever read! You have wonderful children and you are so blessed!! Bennett will grow up to be great! I just know it!

  18. That was beautiful. My daughter has epilepsy and I tell people all the time that she is perhaps the coolest kid ever. Her seizures and how she deals with them make her pretty awesome.

  19. From one proud Dad to another- so true, so true. I catch myself in these moments sometimes…like, I was playing Legos with my son the other day, and he was humming America the Beautiful while we were playing. in my head I said, ” that’s right! my kid is so awesome !! what? what? that’s right- his the best boy EVER to walk this Earth!!” When he was done he looked at me….we both just smiled at each other.;) love your blog – the love shines through on every post- thanks so much. take care!

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