When my son Nicholas was one and a half he lost all his speech. He couldn’t even make coherent sounds. He was already speech-delayed, but he lost all the words he had gained.
When he was three years old, he started in a preschool program for autistics in Bellingham, Washington, at Alderwood Elementary. Debbie Haney was the teacher’s name; Velva and Susan were the lead assistants; Jeni Strom was the speech pathologist … you don’t ever forget these things.
In that classroom they had several spinning or moving pieces of furniture: a chair hanging down from the ceiling, a hammock-type swing, and a spinning egg chair.
Nicholas loved them all, and he would essentially set up camp in the egg chair, which not only could be twirled around but also had a hood that would lower down, shutting out all the sensory input of the world. Not infrequently, he would fall asleep in the egg chair.
I bought an egg chair (it was from IKEA and is still available) for home, and I and my ex-wife Loree would use it as motivation for Nicholas to make sounds: make a sound, be spun around; make it clearly, be spun around three times! Say a word (door, car) have parents collapse in surprise and then be spun around five times. Plus a whole bunch of spins at the beginning and end, too.
Nicholas adored that chair. He would have lived in it if it had been a little larger.
Yesterday we were at the wonderful City Lights Bookstore in Sylva, North Carolina, for a memorial for Pete Seeger, and in the children’s book room there was an egg chair. I hadn’t seen one since Nicholas physically outgrew it so long ago.
It made me emotional, Nicholas less so. He is thirteen years old now; he’s way, way, way too big to fit in the chair or for it to support his weight if he were to lean back in it. The hood doesn’t fit over his head. I took these photographs, and I’ll send them to my ex, now living back in Washington state, and she’ll cry.
I could write this post making the egg chair, with its hood, with its spinning ability, with its connection to Nicholas, into a metaphor for one thing or another, but instead it just moved me, as I was attending a memorial for a man I’d met when I was just slightly younger than Nicholas is now.
Childhoods, of all kinds, pass by so quickly.