last week our twins went into Barnes & Noble together to buy Father’s
Day gifts after having a rare lunch together. Just the fact that Max and Sarah shared a meal alone together was in and
of itself a gift. Despite being twins,
they are opposites in so many ways.
Everything that comes easily to Max— reading, getting As in school, and
making friends—has always been a herculean struggle for Sarah, who is on the
In the early years,
Max was embarrassed by Sarah’s meltdowns and envied the extra attention she
demanded from us. He was always kind to
his sister and protected her from bullies, but steered clear of her as much as
possible. And who could blame him? More competitive than Max, Sarah
envied her brother for being better at almost everything—especially his superior conversational
skills and sense of humor—which earned him many friends and the lion’s share of
our attention at family dinners. Even
when Max tried to include his sister and ask for her opinion—something as simple her
favorite song in a Broadway show—Sarah would become nasty and defensive,
worried that she couldn’t come up with the right answer. As the years passed, our twins
increasingly led separate but parallel lives, only intersecting briefly over
occasional dinners, holidays and vacations.
as I’ve tried to bring my twins together, I’ve realized that it’s not possible
unless they are BOTH willing participants.
So imagine my joy when Sarah suggested to me that she’d like to be closer to her brother. To my great surprise, she quoted a friend of
mine: “Jealousy is a wasted emotion,” she informed me. “How can our
relationship get better?”
This was music to my ears. “Maybe start by
asking him to lunch?” This would be easy for both of them because they had
done it from time to time in the past. Sarah is very
comfortable talking about food and restaurants.
Max would let her take the lead.
sharing grilled calamari and salads, Max suggested going into Barnes &
Noble together to buy Father’s Day gifts.
It was Max’s idea to buy Henry a book (his first store-bought gift
ever). Sadly, Sarah has never read a book
that wasn’t assigned for school, nor would she set foot in Barnes & Noble
unless absolutely necessary. However, if
Max was going to buy a book for their Dad, our ever-competitive Sarah was
determined to buy one too, notwithstanding the fact that she had NO IDEA how to
pick a book for my finicky husband. But
Max was savvy enough to guide her through Barnes & Noble to non-fiction in
the History Section.
to Max, Sarah had tagged along yanking out books at random:
about this one?” She’d pulled out a book about Bill Clinton.
even know who Bill Clinton is? Max had asked, certain his father would not be
interested in a book on any of the presidents who’d served during his lifetime.
married to Hillary Clinton,” Sarah answered. “And he was also president.”
Max and I found this response very funny, as was Sarah’s next gift selection: a
giant book about Hitler.
that one either,” Max had advised.
was a meanie,” Sarah agreed. “He killed a lot of people, and was a real Mr.
daughter had never studied the Holocaust.
Special Education schools have their hands full just trying to teach the
Civil War to kids with learning disabilities, let alone tackle genocide. Like many neurotypical people, Sarah was
unable to wrap her mind around the enormity of Hitler’s atrocities. Instead she compared him to the clay villain,
Mr. Sluggo, in the “Mr. Bill” cartoon series she had enjoyed watching with Henry when she was younger.
continued searching the stacks and eventually found a book for Henry, but he was unable to buy it and make
it to his next appointment because the check-out line at Barnes & Noble was
too long. My twins left the store
that day, Sarah wandered into a different Barnes & Noble by herself and
bought her father a book. Proudly, she
texted me that she’d paid for the book using a gift card she’d received for
graduation. She’d even managed to get the book gift-wrapped. Scrolling through the rest of her rambling
text, I learned that she had chosen “A Theatregoers Guide to Shakespeare”
because she believed it was “a mix and match” of her interest in theater and her
dad’s “interest in theater and history when he was in college.”
Hell would freeze over twice before
Henry would ever read this book, but my eyes welled with tears anyway. Just two years ago Sarah had gone to Barnes
& Noble with her Social Literacy class (one of the autism support offerings
at Pace) and had a major meltdown. The
plan had been for each student to ask for help with locating a book.
“BUT I’M NOT SUPPOSED TO TALK TO STRANGERS!”
Sarah had protested loudly. Over and over she repeated that mantra to the
teacher.” Being rigid and overly literal
is a common symptom of autism.
Although the teacher patiently explained
that it was the salesperson’s job to help customers find books, it took a long
time to convince Sarah to ask for help. Even under the best of circumstances,
Sarah hates asking for help. In petulant tones, she insists that “she’s
not a baby, and would prefer to be treated as an independent adult…”
Later I would explain the
difference between random strangers on the street and people with service
jobs—waiters, cab drivers, salespeople—who are paid to “help” all “independent”
adults. “What’s the difference between going to a restaurant and asking for
soda with no ice and asking for a history book at Barnes & Noble?” I had asked Sarah after her 2012 Barnes &
Noble meltdown. At the time, she did not have answer.
Fast forward two years to Father’s Day 2014. Sarah went into Barnes & Noble
independently, asked for help finding a Father’s Day gift, paid for the book,
and even asked another “stranger” for gift wrapping services. It wouldn’t have mattered if she bought the
Farmer’s Almanac, Space Travel for Dummies or a New York Times bestseller. Our special girl gave her dad a very special gift.
Labels: autism, Barnes & Noble, Bill Clinton, bullies, Father's Day, gifts, Hillary Clinton, Hitler, Mr. Bill, presidents, salespeople, Shakespeare, strangers, the Holocaust, theater, twins