Among Kai’s most baffling challenges is his complete inability to find things.
I don’t mean like the person who can never find her keys or sunglasses (guilty), but his inability to even organize a search.
If you lose your keys, you probably look in a series of likely spots, as I do. I start at the kitchen island, and if I don’t see them, I look for items I’m usually carrying along with my keys, such as my purse or a bottle of water. I also retrace my steps and think of the last place I remember having my keys in my hand.
But I’m not Kai.
I’ve asked Kai to find things, and he’ll start his search the unlikeliest place imaginable, like under a planter in the backyard for his library book, or in the basement utility closet looking for his pajamas—not because he was reading outside (unlikely for a variety of reasons) or was in the basement and suddenly decided to get naked (less unlikely but still doubtful just because it’s cold down there), but because he can’t think logically through where this lost item might be.
Me: Where did you last see your coat/backpack/helmet/iPad?
Kai: I don’t know. Maybe in the freezer?
Me: Kai, that’s impossible.
Kai: I don’t know wh—Hey! Can I have an ice cream sandwich?
And so it came to pass this morning that we couldn’t find Kai’s shoes.
His shoes are only ever in two places: by the back door and in his room, and when we couldn’t find them in either place, Scott and I were at a loss.
“Kai, where are your red shoes?” I asked him, for the ninth time, knowing it was futile but hoping for a miracle.
“They’re not in the freezer,” he said, shutting the freezer door.
We were, of course, running late.
“Kai, how about your green shoes?” I asked, thinking that at this point, we just needed to be shod and in the car, and if we had to wear an old pair, then so be it.
“I need my red ones,” he said.
“But we don’t know where they are,” I replied, logically. “We need to go. Your choices are your green shoes or your snow boots.”
“But snow boots will look silly,” he pointed out.
No sillier than showing up without any shoes, which is where you’re headed, I thought.
This is a threat that I’ve carried out before, tossing his four-year-old self in the car buck naked after he refused to get dressed after swimming at the pool:
“Snow boots or green shoes,” I said.
“I need the red ones.”
“THEN WHERE ARE THEY?” I asked, louder and angrier, knowing that Kai had no answer but needing to release some frustration.
We were officially late by now. And beyond that, where were this child’s shoes? We’d been all over the house. I took a page out of Kai’s search handbook and texted my friend Sarah to see if somehow we’d left them there the evening before. I couldn’t imagine that we would have forgotten to put on Kai’s shoes, but, well, there had been wine involved and the shoes weren’t here.
Scott caught him by the arm and tried to put the green shoes on Kai’s feet, but Kai struggled and resisted. “It’s time to go to school,” Scott said, struggling to catch hold of one of Kai’s feet as Kai kicked and squirmed.
I pulled out the big guns.
“Kai, if you don’t put on your green shoes, I’m going to take away the iPad and computer for the rest of the week,” I said. This is a threat that works every single time.
I presented Kai with his green shoes. “Come on, pal,” I said.
And then he surprised me. His eyes welled with tears and he started to cry. “If I wear the green shoes, everything will be wrong,” he wailed.
And then he pressed his face into my belly and heaved a choking sob.
For me, one of the fine lines I struggle to with is whether Kai is doing a particular thing because he is being a turd or because of his autism. I mean, if Kai’s just being a turd, and derailing the morning because he was tired or wants more iPad time, that’s one thing. If he needs those shoes or “everything will be wrong all day,” that’s autism. Punishing Kai for being a turd is perfectly reasonable. Punishing him because autism is making him do something fairly benign he can’t help, no matter how annoying, is like punishing a blind kid for not being able to see.
What would happen if he didn’t have his red shoes? I have no idea. Certainly the world would continue to spin, but Kai would somehow refuse to spin with it.
Scott, correctly recognizing that Kai was physically too big to force into more convenient sartorial choices, decided to make one more pass through the house for Kai’s shoes, and found them, finally, mercifully, behind the door to Kai’s room.
Kai put them on, and we got in the car, 20 minutes after the morning bell had rung and everyone who hadn’t lost their shoes had started their day.
I let Kai take the iPad in the car.
“Kai, I was being unfair taking away your iPad.”
I didn’t know how to tell him why he’d gotten his iPad privileges back in a way that he could understand. I knew it was too complicated, that I’d screwed up whatever lesson he was supposed to learn, or autism did, or maybe the lesson learned was supposed to be mine.
“What would have happened if you had the wrong shoes?” I asked, but he was lost in Minecraft already.
And so, with the red shoes strapped to Kai’s feet, I put the car in gear and we left, finally, mercifully, for school.