When my ex-husband Keith and I decided to divorce, I thought my chances of having a second child at my age were no more. When I reminded myself that there are other ways to conceive a child besides the conventional way, within a marriage, with a husband, I thought about my life and how I hadn’t taken many traditional routes, hadn’t done things in orthodox ways, and didn’t altogether comprehend the lure of the mainstream.
When I became pregnant with my second son, Lumen, the thing I feared most was telling Keith. We were still very good friends, trying our best to co-parent our son, Enlai, and I didn’t want to hurt him. I expected him to be angry, to say I was irresponsible, mad, selfish. I assumed he’d say that he would not be offering any help with my unborn child, and justifiably so. This is precisely what happened when I informed Keith. I was in tears; he stormed out of my flat. The next morning he showed up at my flat with bags of groceries and said that I would need to look after myself if I was pregnant.
From the day Lumen was born, Keith has treated him as his own son. He adores Lumen, and Lumen adores him. My Lumen, my light, my love, the below is for you, from Keith, the man in your life who knows you best, who has been there for you from day one, who will do anything for you, who gives you a love so rich, so full.
A couple of years ago, prodded by my now ex-wife, I wrote a few words for my sweet and beautiful son Enlai on Father’s Day, something in retrospect I’m very glad I did. It stands as a postcard in time and it comforts me to think that Enlai may peruse it, decades hence, and at such time it will give him some degree of solace, amusement and inspiration. This Father’s Day, I would like to do the same for Enlai’s little brother, my sweet and beautiful Lumen, who will be three next month, otherwise known to me as The Luminator, Lumes, Fruit of the Lumes, The Supergeezer and sometimes, quite simply, Supergeeze. I’m not Lumen’s biological father. But I do very much consider myself Lumen’s spiritual father. With the exception of his older brother Enlai, now seven, Lumen has spent more time with me than with any other male. He’ll always have a warm place in my heart and in my life and I’ll always have his back.
Several months ago, when I was informed that Lumen was possibly autistic, it broke my heart. I rode around London in the rain on my motorcycle for more than an hour, crying like a baby into my helmet. I cried so much I got a sty on my eye. My first thought was “What will become of this sweet and beautiful boy?”, “What will his life be like?”, “Will he be happy?”, “Will he feel loved?”.
About a week later, it hit me, like a two-by-four to the back of the head. What a shallow and presumptuous tit was I. I knew little about autism but what I had seen was alarming. Over the years, I had seen several severely autistic children, and my heart went out to these children and their parents. It must take great courage and strength to be such a child or the parent of such a child, I thought at the time. How do they cope? And I couldn’t even imagine what it would be like to not know whether or not your son or daughter was happy, to never see him or her smile or giggle or experience him or her giving you a cuddle.
But this has never been the case with Lumen. He has always been and continues to be an extremely happy and affectionate child, taking delight and giggles in his own amusing observations, and, like a true mensch, he always gives deep and soulful hugs and pats on the back. He is also a strikingly handsome young tyke and he has the fitness and physical dexterity of a young Hercules. In fact his physical agility, especially at such a young age, is astonishing. He’s more coordinated and physically adept than most adults I know. In observing Lumen, a friend of mine, a former professional ballerina, said that, in her country (the former Soviet Union), Lumen would be snatched up at this age to be trained as a ballet dancer or professional athlete. And, perhaps more to the point, Lumen has also always been brilliant company – affectionate, clever, funny and buoyant and yet exuding a Zen-like calm that Kane from “Kung Fu” would aspire to. In fact, the older I get, the two people on the planet I get the biggest kick out of, and enjoy spending the most time with, are Lumen and Enlai.
There are, regrettably, a million and one ailments and afflictions that can befall a child. Some will suffer, and even be overcome with, life threatening diseases and conditions, some, as they grow older, will struggle with depression, with their looks, their perception of their own intelligence and abilities, the way they perceive others perceive them, their lack of love, feelings of loneliness, sadness and alienation. Some will succumb to madness or unhealthy and destructive addictions. Some will never be content or happy, no matter what positive things they have going on in their lives. All is possible, for better or worse, in the nature-and-nurture lottery.
I immediately set about tucking into the available literature on autism. I found it amazing that, even at this point in time in the so-called Information Age, what the medical community knows about autism, hard cold facts and not mere conjecture, would struggle to fill the back of a postage stamp. Many of the methods of “treating” autism, devised, prescribed and implemented by doctors (many of whom with impeccable credentials) were shockingly barbaric and disgraceful. Many of these methods have since been totally discredited, although, astonishingly, vestiges of some of these pernicious practices live on still.
There’s a saying that “The Harvard man acts like he owns the place and the Stanford man acts like he doesn’t give a goddamn who owns the place.” In this respect, I am, most definitely, through and through, a Stanford man. I had a very unusual mother, as eccentric as they come, who taught me, from a very young age, to question everything always and refuse to be spoon-fed and bamboozled by other people’s dogma and drivel.
At this point in time, autism is described as a spectrum, various individuals falling on to it at one place or another, from the very mild to the very severe. As I devoured the literature on autism, I found the subject increasingly fascinating. Autistic individuals, especially at the lighter end of the spectrum, often appeared to be possessed of some sort of super intelligence and soulfulness – they had unusual ways of looking at the world, and eccentric and uncanny abilities and talents, that lifted them head and shoulders above the hoi polloi. Many individuals labelled autistic, some posthumously based on records, have been game-changers throughout history — Mozart, Einstein, Gandhi, Isaac Newton, Hitchcock, Warren Buffet, Bill Gates, Yeats, Bobby Fischer, Carl Jung, Auden, Emily Dickinson, Jane Austen , Erik Satie, Franz Kafka, Nietzsche, George Bernard Shaw, Gustav Mahler, George Washington, Charles Schulz, Marilyn Monroe, Henry Thoreau, Mark Twain, Richard Strauss, Van Gogh, Virginia Woolf, Howard Hughes, Al Gore, Bob Dylan, James Taylor, Keith Olbermann, Robin Williams, Henry Ford, Paddy Considine, Abraham Lincoln, Alexander Graham Bell, Thomas Jefferson, Glenn Gould, Darwin, Michelangelo, Orwell, Bruckner, Bartok, Benjamin Franklin, Bertrand Russell, Dan Aykroyd, Beethoven, Thomas Edison, Jim Henson, Hans Christian Anderson, Lewis Carroll, Herman Melville, Michael Palin, Andy Warhol…the list goes on and on. I’ve always sensed the wisdom in Aristotle’s phrase that “There can be no great genius without a combination of madness.” And, the more I read, I even started to recognize certain autistic traits in others I know, highly functioning adults in all sorts of professions and walks of life. Looking back on it, I have no doubt that at the high school I went to in New York (Stuyvesant) which was chock full of brainiacs, all of whom were unusual and odd, at least half of the students were likely on the autism spectrum. I’m somewhat of an oddball myself, and if someone advised me that I, too, was also somewhere on the spectrum, I wouldn’t be surprised, nor, knowing what I know now, would I be alarmed. I would in fact be well chuffed to be in the company of such a uniquely endowed, perceptive and talented group.
My ex-wife and I sometimes play a game. One of us mentions a category and then we say names and opine on autistic or not. For instance – politics. Reagan? No. (Bill) Clinton? Yes, somewhat. Nixon? Somewhat. John F. Kennedy? Yes. Lyndon Baines Johnson? No. Bush? No. Jimmy Carter? Probably.
There’s no question that Lumen was born into the right family, one which champions and celebrates creativity and individuality. And Lumen most certainly hit the jackpot with his mother, Lisha, a woman who is above all, in equal part, a mother and an artist, and whose great passion in life is, in equal measure, being a mother and an artist.
As Lumen continues to head down the path of forging his own personality, his own destiny, we want him to be comfortable in his own skin and we will ensure that this always continues to be the case. We’ll be going on this journey with him every step of the way and he can hold our hand, or venture forth, at any time he likes. There’s no telling what will become of any one of us. Hell, I don’t even know what I’m having for dinner tonight – that’s how far my ability to see into the future extends. What I do know to a certitude, however, is that Lumen is a remarkable and extraordinary young boy, and I have no doubt that he will grow into a remarkable and extraordinary man, one who makes the world a better place.
Lumen’s name is Latin for light and that’s just what he is. Like his older brother Enlai, who adores his little brother and is always looking out for him, Lumen is a delight and inspiration to us all. And we love him to bits.