My son and I get to spend Saturday doing one of our very favorite things: looking at rocks!
Since he was able to walk we've spent countless hours on beaches and wooded paths hunting for the perfect stone orb, or the funniest shape, or the best skipper. Whenever he goes to a beach or rocky place without me, my son looks for and almost always finds a heart-shaped rock.
"Look mom," Aidan tells me. "I found a heart rock with your name on it."
"Hmmm, that must mean you really love me," I always say in return. "Heart rocks are hard to fine." It's a thing between us.
This weekend we are not headed to a beach or forest, instead we are bussing it over to the Lake City Community Center for the North Seattle Lapidary and Mineral Club's annual Rock and Mineral Show. The show will feature displays of very cool rocks and gems, demonstrations on cleaning, collecting, polishing, a silent auction and several activities just for kids. Hourly door prizes will be given to both adults and kids.
But we aren't going for the prizes, just to see the rocks, to hold them, feel the rough and shiny parts, look at the different colors and marvel at how old they are.
You see, rocks are one of the very first ways his dad and I truly connected with my son, who was diagnosed with autism when he was two. For hours we would pick up rocks, hand them to him, and watch him drop them in a bucket of water. More hours still on the beach, sitting quietly beside him as he picked up pebbles and threw them in the ocean. I never really looked at rocks until my son did.
And in doing so I found a connection to them and to him that I never knew was possible. There is something solid inside a rock, and when I looked at my son, I realized there was something solid and oh-so-valuable in him as well. And not just because I am his mother, but because children with autism are a certain special kind of gem.
One of our very favorite books when Aidan was a child (as opposed to the very tall, very animated tween that he is today) was Byrd Baylor's Everybody Needs a Rock. The book, first published in 1985, provides important information – 10 very specific rules – about how to choose your rock. Emotionally, that is. I cannot count the number times Aidan and I sat down to read:
"RULE NUMBER 1: "If you can, go to a mountain made out of nothing but a hundred million small shiny beautiful roundish rocks. But if you can't, anyplace will do. Even an alley. Even a sandy road."
By the time we got to rule number 10, Aidan would have his entire rock collection out on the floor. Analyzing. Because, according to that rule:
"Don't ask anybody to help you choose. I've seen a lizard pick one rock out of a desert full of rocks and go and sit there alone. I've seen a snail pass up twenty rocks and spend all day getting to the one it wanted. You have to make up your own mind. You'll know."
Aidan is now a strapping 12-year-old headed to middle school next year. Like I imagined, he has grown more and more solid in the world, despite being labeled with a disability or called "special" sometimes in a less than complimentary way. He has a memory like an elephant and can tell you exactly where he found every rock in our collection, which is now at it's smallest size in 10 years. When we moved homes in 2007, we decided to take just a few of our favorites with us and we have held on to them through two other homes. Most of our favorites are hearts because as Aidan and his favorite book reminded me a couple years ago:
"Everybody needs a rock," he said. "You know, mom, every rock is different from every other rock. They are all special."
Cheryl Murfin is owner of nestinginstincts.com, a doula service, and an editor at Seattle’s Child magazine. Her son Aidan is 12 and daughter Maddy is rounding the bend toward 16.