21: Jay’s Odyssey Tales

21: Jay’s Odyssey Tales

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

Jay’s Odyssey Tales

Each man delights in the work that suits him best.

~Homer, The Odyssey

The term “odyssey” has come to mean any challenging journey. My ten-year-old son Jay however refers to The Odyssey . . . as in Homer. My son reads for enjoyment many of the books that are dreaded by high school students. Where other children his age are collecting baseball cards, my boy collects mythological facts. He loves to share his knowledge with everyone too, whether you want to hear about it or not.

Every morning he spends fifteen minutes retelling a tale to his little sister Grace. I am not sure if it is Jay’s amazing storytelling talent that makes her listen or if it is just her way of showing her big brother with Asperger’s that she cares. Nonetheless she sits there and lets Jay weave a web of god and goddesses, mythical creatures and mere mortals. It actually has become the highlight of my mornings. I listen from downstairs and let them have their special time. Of course I have to eventually put an end to it or else they both would be late for school because Jay can go on and on and on. But for those fifteen minutes . . . it is Jay and Grace and together they travel back in time to ancient Greece.

The other morning was a repeat performance of the Cyclops Cave. Grace sweetly listened to the tale as if it was her first time hearing it. In many ways it is, because each time Jay tells the story a little differently.

“Odysseus and his men had been traveling for a very long time and they needed more food and supplies so they landed on shore and they found a cave full of sheep. They cooked the sheep and ate them. What they did not know was that the sheep belonged to a Cyclops, a huge one-eyed monster!” Jay excitedly told her. He then went on to tell her how the Cyclops got upset and started to eat the humans. The next part of the story was his favorite part because it involved trickery, outsmarting an opponent. He told Grace how Odysseus got the Cyclops drunk, blinded him with a stick and then hid among the sheep making bah-bah sounds while he crawled away to safety. After a quick session of Q&A I reluctantly stopped story time before Jay started another tale. “We’ll do the next part tomorrow,” he told his sister and then they both disappeared into their own rooms to get ready.

The amazing thing is that special exchange is so quickly forgotten. By the time they come down to breakfast they are fighting over who gets the orange vitamin and who gets the red. They are pushing and shoving while putting on their jackets. I am not complaining, well maybe a little bit, but mostly I don’t complain because I love this sense of normalcy. I love this regular sibling bickering and interaction, because many days Jay isolates himself or withdraws. But still how is it possible for them to have had such a fantastic fifteen minutes together and then just as quickly drop it?

I understand why Jay enjoys the Odyssey tales so much. In many ways his life is an odyssey, a challenging journey. Every day Jay faces his own Cyclops. It may not come in the form of a giant one-eyed monster. More likely it will look like a five-paragraph writing assignment or sitting through a loud assembly. Every day, Jay, like Odysseus, will need to use trickery. Jay needs to trick his brain, which is wired differently than ours, to do what is considered normal. He will seek ways to hide until he can crawl away to safety. This is what my baby faces every day.

I understand why Jay loves stories about how the gods come down and help special chosen mortals. Homer’s Odyssey tells of the troubles that Odysseus and his men faced over the years as they traveled to find their way back home. I am sure that Jay can relate to these stories in ways I will never be able to totally understand.

I am not sure that I like the idea that a famous Greek poet who lived over 2,700 years ago may understand my son better than I do. But I am happy that at least my son has chosen something with which he can identify. What mother wouldn’t want her son, be he special needs or typical, to identify with a hero?

~Sharon Fuentes

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