My husband and I decided to throw our son his first birthday party at age 5 — the first official birthday party we’d thrown for him, not because we didn’t want to, but because it’s the first time that he really got it.
See, a year prior, he was diagnosed with “Aspergers with Hyperlexia”, which is kind of a new way of defining Savantism. So, his first 5 years had been interesting, to say the least. “G” was unique. While fairly unnoticeable to the average spectator, he didn’t engage with other children except his older brother. He never asked about other children, he never showed an interest in any sort of friendship. He simply had no use for kids his age.
Mid-way through preschool, I made the very difficult decision to move G from a special ed school opting to mainstream him into a Montessori school. Even though I wasn’t really a Montessori fan per se — it’s a little too fairy godmother for my tastes — I felt that the special ed school was holding him back in many ways.
Furious, the special ed school made no effort to hold back their displeasure with my decision and basically told me that I would being doing G a disservice (hence: you are a bad mom). I questioned myself many times, but after consulting with a world renowned expert in G’s “condition”, he succeeded in convincing me G was misplaced and would thrive at Montessori.
So, fast forward to the next Fall.
G started Montessori but had a difficult time adjusting. After 4 years and finally succeeding at potty training, he started regressing. He would say that he wanted to go back to his old school and he didn’t like Montessori. If it had not been for my husband who insisted we give it more time, I would have relented. I agreed to give it a few more weeks and fortunately, it paid off.
A few weeks into the school year, things started to turn around for G.
Montessori combines ages 3 – 6 in one classroom and G finally connected with a little girl named Lily. (That’s Lily with one “l”. I made the mistake of spelling her name “Lilly” on his MagnaDoodle and was harshly criticized for it.) G came home and started telling us about Lily. The school encourages older student mentors and Lily was in kindergarten, while G was in preschool. He loved the older kids and gravitated towards them even if he only admired them from afar.
G would tell us things about Lily that gave my husband and I a sense of progress and confirmation. He would tell me she was pretty. Apparently, he and Lily had a lot in common too. G was crazy about “Hannah Montana” and Lily would sometimes hurt his feelings when she told him “Hannah Montana” was just for girls. They had their good days and bad days, but mostly Lily was a great influence on him. He looked forward to seeing her and was sad when she wasn’t there.
Sometimes G would be doing hard math problems at the dinner table and I would ask who taught him that and he would say, “Lily.”
Other details slowly emerged about Lily. He knew her exact address, “303 Easton Drive.”
“This is just a few streets away from us, we could probably catch her parents outside, if we walked the dog that far”, I thought to myself.
We could arrange a playdate. G has never had a playdate.
Since socialization is something that Aspergers children struggle with the most, I was thrilled that he found another child to connect with and show him the wonders, trials and tribulations of friendship. That had always been our hope for him.
Some days, G would tell us that Lily wasn’t at school, she was only there part-time, Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. That’s why she wasn’t in the school picture, which was taken on a Tuesday. Made sense.
I was so excited to facilitate a “normal” kid thing with G, I couldn’t wait to get his invitations for his birthday party. I went through the class roster and mailed out 20 invitations to family members and classmates.
Lily wasn’t on the roster though.
I called to G, “G, Lily is not on the roster. What is her last name”?
“Germastedt,” and he spelled it, “G-E-R…”.
“Huh?,” I said to my husband, “What do you make of that?”
“Perhaps her family is really private,” he responded. “Just bring the invitation to school when you pick him up.” (The school highly frowned on that, but c’mon, I couldn’t exclude his best friend!)
So, I picked G up from school one day. Almost skipping. This will give me an opportunity to meet Lily’s parents, I thought. I can tell Lily’s parents how much G appreciates her.
Upon arriving at the playground, I see G’s teacher, Ms. Tammy. Holding the invitation, I apologize for failing to adhere to their mail-only invitation policy and explain why I brought Lily’s invitation in person. Then…
The teacher looks at me, confused, and says, “There’s no Lily here.”
“Are you sure. Is it a nickname?” (As if the teacher doesn’t have a grasp on the 20 children she’s been with, day in and day out.)
My head started spinning. Suddenly, I felt the same shock wave I felt at the end of that movie, “The Others”, with Nicole Kidman. Warning: spoiler alert — when at the end, you find out that the whole movie, she and her kids — that they were actually DEAD.
I believe I dropped the invitation and it blew around in the sporadic wind when I finally came to and chased after it.
Back to reality.
“Ask G to point her out for you,” the teacher suggested.
“G, where’s Lily? Which one is Lily?” I asked.
“Oh, she’s sick today,” he explained.
The teacher caught my glance and shook her head to indicate “No.”
All the progress, all my confidence in his social abilities were suddenly squelched and canceled. I was dizzy. Confused. I couldn’t breathe.
G and I started to walk towards our car and the teacher ran to catch up with me, “I have to tell you,” she said, “G is starting to skip count by 6 and 7’s…”. The rest of it sounded like Charlie Brown’s teacher, “Bwah, bwah, bwah, bwah, bwah…”.
What the hell is she talking about? Can’t she see that I want to sulk and be alone in my horror??
“That’s nice,” I said unconvincingly.
Although G continued to insist that Lily would be at his party, I just played along.
The following year, Lily disappeared and many years later, he has friends. Real friends. Not imaginary friends. I’ll never forget Lily though and how she got G through a very difficult time. Imaginary friends can really be best friends and at the time I didn’t know it, but Lily will probably be G’s most important BFF and we are thankful for what she did for him.