With bitter cold weather over the past few weeks here in Northwest Indiana, Alex has been spending his spare time inside. I’m sure that he, like Ed and me, misses being out on our three-season porch reading and relaxing. Also, he probably is in withdrawal from roaming around our backyard, counting the pickets in our fence, watching our neighbor’s dog bark at him, and throwing a ball up into the air and counting how many times in a row he can catch it. Nonetheless, he seems to be dealing with cabin fever better the past couple of weeks. One would assume he’s entertaining himself with the variety of nice birthday and Christmas presents he received last month, and, of course, he has enjoyed them. But, like a typical child who seems more interested in the empty box than the present that came in it, Alex is finding fun in unusual items that he uses in his idiosyncratic ways.
Last week, my mom, Alex, and I went out to a restaurant for dinner while Ed and my dad went to a basketball game and a fans’ dinner served before the game. Lately, when we take Alex out to a restaurant, Ed brings his iPod, which he has loaded with various applications that Alex especially likes, including the game Deal or No Deal, Blackjack, Roulette, Texas Hold ‘Em Poker, and even a pi digit calculator. While we’re waiting for the meal, Alex and Ed pass the time playing on this handy little gadget. Since I don’t have an iPod, I didn’t think to bring something for Alex to play with when we went to the restaurant the other night. However, he was fairly patient waiting for his meal. After a few minutes, I noticed that he started pulling out the container of three different artificial sweeteners and looking at the packets. Figuring that he just wanted to read them, I watched as he began moving them into patterns on the table, creating an activity of his own. He placed one packet on a top row, followed by nine packets below that, then nine more below the second row, and finally six packets on the bottom row. He seemed pleased with his efforts, and he was even more pleased when I asked him if that meant the year 1996. [This was not just a lucky guess on my part; I happen to know that he’s somewhat obsessed with the year 1996, which he’s decided is the year of his earliest memory.] I’m not certain which was scarier—that he figured out a way to create an abacus out of those pastel packets of sweetener or that I immediately knew what he was trying to represent by the lineup he’d created. At least that activity kept him occupied and happy until his food arrived.
Of all the gifts he received last month, one that seems to be a favorite of Alex’s is the set of magnetic numbers I found in a clearance bin for twenty-five cents. Besides having two numbers of each digit, the set came with mathematical symbols: plus, minus, times, divided by, and equals. Knowing how much he loves math, I suspected that he’d find various ways to put this set together, and he hasn’t disappointed me. I have found those numbers in various combinations throughout the house—on the family room coffee table, on the kitchen counter, on his bedroom chest of drawers, and even on the bathroom floor. He has certainly gotten at least twenty-five cents worth of entertainment out of that little gift. Despite that he has new books to read, he’s been spending a great deal of time reading his old collegiate dictionary. Like the magnetic numbers, the dictionary seems to have legs, winding up in various rooms throughout the house as Alex roams around with it, too. While he received several gadgets for Christmas, he decided to spend some of his Amazon gift card money right away on a new electronic toy, a talking clock with calendar. I’m not certain why he wanted this because he knows how to read clocks and calendars, other than the fact he really likes clocks and calendars. However, he didn’t have any that talked to him, and he seems enthralled with this one. Besides the joy that clock seems to give him, another positive aspect was that he didn’t pester us at all after he ordered it, never asking when it would arrive or demanding that we track the package online. Perhaps Alex’s obsession with package tracking is disappearing; that would be welcome relief to us. As long as he’s finding things to occupy his time and keep himself entertained, Alex is happy, and so are we.
“So I concluded there is nothing better than to be happy and enjoy ourselves as long as we can.” Ecclesiastes 3:12