Culture & Entertainment

The Spark: A mother's story, joy, and us all

By: Jennifer Gruden
Canadian Living
Culture & Entertainment

The Spark: A mother's story, joy, and us all

By: Jennifer Gruden
Have you heard about Kristine Barnett and her genius son who also has autism? Her memoir The Spark: A Mother’s Story of Nurturing Genius just rose to the top of my to-read pile after hearing her on CBC's The Current this morning. (The link goes right to the episode, if you want to listen.) In very broad strokes, her story is that her child is autistic, and he also is a true-blue genius, and started university at 11. He's also a very articulate young man, judging from The Current. But this is the part that caught my attention: Kristine Barnett told the story of how, after Jacob was diagnosed with autism (he regressed at 16 months, eventually having no language at all), she was running a home daycare.  Jacob was receiving 40 or more hours a week of all kinds of therapies. And one day, she took her daycare kids outside to play in the sprinkler, and they were slipping around on the grass and having so much joy. Then she realized her son was being deprived of his childhood. So at night, after all the therapy was over, she would drive him out to a pond in the country, and put on the fog lights, and play Louis Armstrong on the car radio, and be with him. And then they would lie out under the stars on the hood of her car. The Spark by Kristine BarnettAnd every night she would say (I am paraphrasing from memory) "Goodnight my baby angel, I love you."  One night Jacob hugged her back, and said "night night baby bagel" back. She described it like a child gets lost in a crowd, and you panic, and then you find him...but for parents of children with autism, they are lost in the crowd and don't come back. Jacob did. And she believes that being together experiencing what she calls "muchness" was instrumental. I honestly had to pull the car over at this point because I was crying. Not just because her story is so powerful and unique (believe it or not, her son has a huge interest in...astrophysics.) But because it is also universal. Isn't it true that we all get bogged down in the work of parenting our kids? And then it does get hard to reach each other. But making that time to take our kids out to listen to Louis Armstrong under the stars...or to play in the sprinkler...that's connection. And I have no idea if that was the critical piece, and would never, ever put on a mother or father that somehow any concern about their child can be fixed by connecting in that way. (And I don't think she was either. And Jacob clearly said on the radio show that he is autistic.) But -- That bond, whether it is all-healing or not, is powerful. And it is one of the best things about being a family, ever. I happened to hear this story on a day where my morning went right. I'd actually left the two loads of unfolded laundry and taken my boys out on the porch to enjoy the sunny morning, and we had gone up and down the sidewalk just for fun. It was maybe 15 minutes, but it was joyful. We don't always get there, but I am glad. Like I said, I haven't read The Spark: A Mother’s Story of Nurturing Genius yet. But Kristine Barnett did add a spark to my morning. How do you find time for joy with your kids? And if today's not a particularly joyful day, I promise: No pressure.
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The Spark: A mother's story, joy, and us all

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