It’s no exaggeration to say my 27-year-old autistic son lives for holidays and birthdays. He’s already talking about turning 28 and he turned 27 less than a month ago.
When Diego began nagging me to help him make his Valentines in mid-January, I reassured him we had plenty of time and that he’d have to wait until February. He was OK with that, but it didn’t stop him from reminding me every other day that I’d help him in February.
“Yes I will, Diego. In February.” I have no choice but to help him, given that his independent writing is illegible. Neither the recipient would be able to read the message nor the mailman the address on the envelope.
Lucky for Diego, we happened to have a big snowfall in the Northeastern United States on February 1. There’s this thing about snow days that makes you feel as if you have free time. Which means you have a decision to make: What should I do with this gift of time?
The February snow day was the perfect day to tackle the making of this year’s Valentines and learning to use iMovie -both things I kinda wanna / kinda need to do.
I need to clear my schedule and find zen to help Diego with his yearly Valentine making ritual. It takes forever and, unlike Diego, I don’t have forever. Our perceptions of time don’t match up and I must move things along if I want to get to anything else at some point.
Each Valentine is a four-page booklet. On pages 1 and 2, I drew small boxes for Diego to form legible letters spelling H-a-p-p-y V-a-l-e-n-t-i-n-e-s d-a-y, like so:
Pages 3 and 4 contained Diego’s personalized message, which I took down for him. This is the most laborious and lengthy part of the process.
Take page 3 of Diego’s Valentine for cousin Eu:
As soon as Diego mentioned anything he wanted me to write, his associative thinking kicked in.
Diego: “Your friend in Miami looks like Jake Gyllenhaal” (Sorry, Jake, for misspelling your last name.)
The mention of Jake Gyllenhaal begot the recitation of movies the actor’s in: “Jake Gyllenhall’s in The Day After Tomorrow, Spiderman Far from Home, Stronger… Stronger‘s about the Boston Marathon bombing. Eu and Ivanha were safe…,” Diego went on.
“Ok, ok, Diego,” I said finally, feeling he’d said enough and it wouldn’t be disrespectful to redirect.
“I wrote ‘Your friend in Miami looks like Jake Gyllenhaal’. What else do you want me to write Eu?”
Diego: “Your friend in Mexico looks like Gail Gadot.” (Sorry to you too Gail.) “Gail Gadot’s from Israel. She’s Wonder Woman. Gail Gadot looks like Andreina, your friend we saw in Maine. Tia Monica likes Wonder Woman…”
Page 3 done. On to the fourth and last page. Here’s what Diego had me write:
Every chance he gets, Diego tells people to come for a visit and what he’d like to do with them. He always mentions things he knows the other person enjoys.
Eu, for instance, loves sushi and was really into the sitcom Friends. Diego doesn’t care about Friends but he’ll be game for anything that’ll ensure he’ll get to spend time with you.
Though Diego may test in the “very low” IQ range, he knows that, as Nobel laureate Daniel Kahneman notes in Thinking: Fast and Slow:
It’s only a slight exaggeration to say that happiness is the experience of spending time with people you love and who love you.”
Of course, each page-4 sentence spawned a whole string of associated ideas Diego dove into. Don’t let the brief content fool you. Time and output are not closely correlated in this endeavor.
This year’s lucky Valentine recipients will be his same-age cousins Eu and Ivanha, caretaker and friend Pati, and former teachers/ babysitters (now friends) Caro, Davina and Jessica. So far at least. I suspect over the next couple of days Diego will come up with more people he needs to make Valentines for.
I’m kinda hoping he has enlisted someone’s help to make a Valentine for ME!