I’ve been moving office at work this week. It has been challenging, alongside teaching, but has gone better than I expected; I am now installed and connected in a high room with a view. it’s nicer than my old office, I told myself tonight, as I stood by the darkened window. Already, fireworks were fizzing and spluttering in the sky. I had forgotten it was Bonfire Night.
I drove home slowly, tired and surprised, beneath small explosions and fountains of light. These, I imagined, were from family fires lit for the littlest children as soon as it went dark. They would be the only fireworks I’d see this year I told myself; by the time the big ones started popping I’d be fast asleep.
There are no plans, as far as I know, to celebrate Bonfire Day at Dylan’s care home. I’m guessing that Dylan will not be the only resident who is noise-sensitive and not appreciative of tonight’s events. If he follows his usual pattern, Dylan will look for somewhere the noise can’t disturb him. If he can’t avoid it, he will doubtless assume the ‘noise blocking’ position: right arm clamped across his head, firm against his right ear, with his third finger inside his left ear. Dylan has sometimes spent an entire Bonfire Night in this position.
Needless to say, I haven’t attempted to take him to a bonfire party or firework display for years. It took me a while, however, to realise that this wasn’t a comfortable environment for Dylan. I think there is a tendency, as a parent, to try and reproduce the best of your childhood traditions with your own children. Because I’d found Bonfire Night exciting as a child, and had looked forward to our family celebration, I assumed when Dylan was younger that he would too. It didn’t occur to me, at the time, that this might be painful for Dylan.
I drove home tonight thinking about this and wondering at the continuities and discontinuities in our lives; the way my parents had passed their childhoods on to me and my siblings, and how some of the old ways had continued while others have stopped. It made me feel a bit sad; there was little in my life that was recognisable from my childhood, it seemed. I couldn’t see the connections between any of it.
As I walked past a neighbour’s pumpkin lanterns, left out on the step, I wondered whether Dylan would notice them at the weekend when he comes home. Except, as I had the thought, I realised I had done something my daughter tells me I do when I am very tired: instead of thinking of Dylan by his own name, I had substituted my brother’s. This tendency of mine has been a running joke for years: ‘I’ll just go and get N…’ I’d say sometimes or ‘Have you seen N…?’ My daughter would answer, deadpan and literal, until I realised my mistake.
Tonight, catching myself in the act, I was comforted by the connection I had unconsciously made across generations. And, I reminded myself, Dylan has a long memory and sense of history; being autistic doesn’t mean you can’t keep a fire burning.