47: The Little Man Inside

47: The Little Man Inside

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Raising Kids on the Spectrum

The Little Man Inside

It is best to love wisely, no doubt: but to love foolishly is better than not to be able to love at all.

~William Makepeace Thackeray

Around age fourteen, our son Toby began to notice that there are two versions of the human race, and that the girl version comes in fascinating packages. Toby has mild/moderate autism, and although he is friendly and somewhat verbal, his communication and social skills are weak. This, combined with his newfound interest in girls, created some interesting situations.

Our daughter Kirsten and her bevy of sixteen- and seventeen-year-old friends were in and out of the house constantly. Where Toby had ignored Kirsten’s friends before, he now started observing them with interest.

“Mu-therrrrr!” Kirsten screeched one day. “Toby is following Janice around staring at her legs!”

I walked into the room and saw Janice standing at the kitchen counter, drinking a soda, while Toby stood a scant six inches away, his eyes glued to her legs.

Janice has a lovely figure that would be striking even in a pair of overalls. That day she was wearing cut-off jeans. They weren’t Daisy Dukes, but showcased in those shorts, Janice’s legs would do credit to a Rockette.

“Well, girls . . . Janice does have very nice legs. I imagine most boys would take a second look. Toby, please come here a minute.”

Once out of the room, I explained to Toby that one does not stare at portions of a young lady’s body, no matter how attractive they are. I reminded him of personal space rules and as an afterthought said, “Absolutely no touching!”

Toby nodded virtuously. “No touching. Look only.”

“Right. Now, you owe Janice an apology for making her feel uncomfortable.”

Toby went back into the kitchen.

“Sorry staring pretty legs, Miss Janice,” he said, staring at her derrière.

“Um, Toby . . .” I began.

“It’s okay, Ms. D’Ann,” Janice said with a giggle. “Kinda flattering, I guess. Mom thinks these shorts are too small, anyway.”

“It’s em-barr-ra-ssing!” Kirsten sputtered. “C’mon, let’s go upstairs where he can’t aggravate us.”

Kirsten seemed to be the only one who was really bothered, but Janice nodded and followed her out of the room. As Toby watched Janice bounce up the stairs, I reflected that guys don’t have it easy these days. Sighing, I told Toby again that staring at a girl’s anatomy is unacceptable.

A few weeks later, I stood in the church vestibule, chatting with friends. Kirsten was with a group of her buddies, and Toby stood nearby, smiling. While Toby doesn’t interact much, he enjoys being with people and often hovers near the edge of a crowd.

Kirsten’s voice soared over the muted roar of after-church fellowship as if she’d been speaking into a bullhorn.

“Toby! Stop staring at Charlene’s breasts!”

Everyone within shouting distance looked over at the group of kids. Toby leaned against a post, his eyes fixed on Charlene’s generous bosom.

People started laughing. Kirsten and Charlene turned bright red. I wanted to hide behind the nearest potted plant and pretend I was childless. Instead, I apologized to Charlene, took one child by each arm and propelled them outside.

As we drove home, I scolded Toby for gaping and Kirsten for calling everyone’s attention to her brother’s behavior. My husband Paul smiled slightly and said nothing.

At lunch, Paul clarified the fine art of girl-watching versus girl-ogling.

“Son, it’s fine that you’re noticing girls.”

Kirstin snorted. “Noticing? More like he’s stalking them.”

I glared at Kirsten. “He is not. Stop interrupting your father.”

“It’s normal to look at girls,” Paul continued, “especially when they dress to be noticed.”

“We do not!” Kirsten protested.

I crooked an eyebrow. “Really. Is that why you were talking about how sexy you look in your new jeans?”

Paul talked over us. “All us guys have this little man inside, saying, ‘Look, look!’ and jumping up and down at the sight of a pretty girl. Looking is fine, but you have to do it subtly.”

“He doesn’t understand words like ‘subtle’ Daddy,” Kirsten said.

“You have to look quietly,” Paul said. “Not obvious.” Paul stood, came to within a foot of me. “Watch how I look at Momma. Not like this.” He stared down at my chest.

“Ew, that’s gross! Stop that!” Kirsten said.

“Not that way,” Paul said. “Like this.” His eyes swept me with a quick glance, and then he focused on my face and smiled at me warmly. “See, Toby? Quiet appreciation.”

Paul had me stand up. “Not like this,” he said, giving my bottom an exaggerated leer. “Like this.” His eyes encompassed me in a brief glance, and then he focused a charming smile on my face. “Hi, you’re pretty,” he said.

“Thanks, kind sir.” I curtseyed. “Would you like to buy me an iced tea?”

“You guys are weird,” Kirsten said, laughing as she left the room.

“Got it, Toby?” Paul asked.

“Okay.” Toby rose to put his dishes in the sink.

I wondered how much of Paul’s lesson he had understood.

A few weeks later, we had to take my car in for maintenance. Toby and I were waiting on Paul to complete the paperwork when Toby noticed a very pretty girl standing at the next counter. He started to stare, so I nudged him.

“Remember what Daddy said? You can appreciate and say hello, but don’t stare,” I murmured into his ear.

Toby bounded over to the girl’s counter.

She looked up from her computer. “Hi. Can I help you?”

My son grinned from ear to ear and swung his arm back and forth like he was waving a semaphore. “Hello, Girl!” he proclaimed joyfully.

I was relieved to see Toby focus on her lovely face, rather than below her neck, but my relief was short-lived.

Toby began bouncing up and down on his toes, the little man inside fully celebrating the vision in front of him.

I said a silent prayer that the girl would “get” that he was special, and not call security. Toby is a handsome young man, but he’s tall and muscular. The sight of 150 pounds of appreciation bouncing up and down could be intimidating. An explanation trembled on my lips.

A warm smile lit the young lady’s face. “Hello! How are you today?”

“Good!” Toby said, giggling as he bobbed up and down.

Paul walked over. “All set, we can go now.”

Paul and I smiled at the young woman. I mouthed “thank you” and we left. As we reached the door, Toby turned, beamed, and waved at her once more.

“Bye-bye, pretty girl! Appreciate!”

She grinned and waved.

We walked out into the warm afternoon sunshine.

“Toby,” I began, but my husband shook his head and squeezed my arm.

“It’s okay, Mama,” he said with a reassuring smile. “Like I said before, all us guys have a little man inside who jumps up and down frequently. Toby’s just more honest than the rest of us.”

~D’Ann Renner

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