Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Objects In This Mirror Aren't As Grouchy As They Appear

     So I was frying bacon last week.  It’s a little thing I do when the mood strikes, and this particular Saturday begged for bacon.  Buttercup was coloring a picture at the kitchen table and seemed to be in a world of her own.  My trusty iron skillet and I were frying away when *POP* … hot bacon grease spattered on my arm.  I yelped and took a giant step backwards, rubbing my wound the whole way.  Buttercup emerges from her imaginary world, “Are you OK, Mama?”  I looked up at her and said, “I’m fine.  The bacon popped and hurt my arm, but I’m OK.”  She turns back to her crayons and says, “You’ll live.” 

      I wonder where she’s heard that before. 

      Buttercup is autistic.  Part of her special thought process involves a phenomenon called echolalia.  It is a process by which autistic individuals repeat phrases they have heard before and insert them into general conversation.  These phrases are usually accompanied by a dead-on impression of the person who originated the phrase.  And “you’ll live” sounded just like me.  It’s not the first time I’ve heard myself in Buttercup.  I remember the time she picked up a pretend phone, hastily shoved her fingers through her hair, and yelled, “I don’t care if your supervisor is on the phone with the UN, go get him!”  I slowly closed my eyes and promised not to contact the morons at the mortgage company in front of her anymore.  Another time, she pretended to fold laundry and said, “Thank God I went to college.”  I was beginning to realize I sound far grouchier than I feel. 

     Echolalia can be fun, though.  I love being greeted with, “Hi Darlin’!” since she’s heard me say it before.  I could just burst when she likes dinner and says, “Oh, Mama, you’re my special girl”, exactly as I praise her.  I think it’s funny when she says, “It’s just too good to be true!” with a sarcastic tone, although I have no clue where she heard that one.  Seriously.

      I know children reflect their parents in many ways.  My brother, Moose, looks exactly like Dad when he turns his head to the side.  My best friend, Pocahontas, and her daughter, Blondie, could be twins when they get irritated and say, “Excuse me?!”, ponytails swinging in unison.  Buttercup is the spit and image of The Yankee, but she certainly sounds like me.  As hilarious as it is, her echolalia gives me cause to stop and think about what I say and how I say it.  It’s a scary proposition knowing that you will always have a little record-keeper following you around.  Scary and funny.  And humbling.  And scary.    Her renditions of my grouchy quips have forced me to be careful what I say and constantly think, “Do I want this to be repeated in front of God and everybody?”  There is nothing more “in your face” than hearing your voice, your personality, your words come out of a tiny, perfectly pink mouth.  As carnival mirrors go, this one has to be the most frightening.  (Except for that one mirror that made my legs look bigger around than the pecan tree in Nanny’s yard.  The nightmares about that one are down to once a week now.)

      I finish frying my bacon and make myself a sandwich, still thinking about the things I say.  Would I be so cautious if echolalia weren’t a part of our lives?  Would I think to soften my words as often as I do if I didn’t have someone there to remind me how I sound?  Those are questions I can’t answer.  My life is what it is and speculation about a different arrangement is nothing more than a fun mental exercise.  I sincerely believe that everything we need is provided for us if we just have the wisdom to look around.  As I look around, I see a husband sent to teach me patience and a daughter to keep me lighthearted about it.

      Now, if I could just find a way to squeeze, “My mom is hot” into casual conversation.  

© Bertha Grizzly 2011.  All Rights Reserved.  No duplication or distribution.

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