As we drove home Saturday evening from a day out, I caught up on email. Finally, I looked up and saw the sun was setting. It's amazing what you notice when you tear your eyes away from your iPhone. I turned around to see what Max was up to.
He pointed at the windshield.
"The sunset?" I asked.
My heart. It was the first time Max had ever taken an interest in a sunset.
It's not that I'm so grateful that Max is appreciating nature. Sabrina thinks hikes are torture. To each their own. This is about me being grateful that Max's awareness is expanding.
I've always noticed what Max does and doesn't pay attention to, in an ongoing effort to better understand his cognition. He never got attached to any toys as a tot, perhaps because they were generally hard for him to play with. He has never voiced preferences for what is or isn't in his room, other than paraphernalia related to his interests (fire trucks, firefighter gear and one glorious firefighter bedspread). Max could care less about the brands of food he eats or clothing labels. This, I realize, is a good thing. He is not aware when adults or kids stare at him. This, I think, is also a good thing—and should the day comes when he does notice the stares, I hope he will have the wherewithal to stand up for himself.
Max does, however, notice when I move something around in the house, and he'll ask me about it. He observes when new buildings go up in our area and when stores close. He is very attuned to Ben's babbling, and laughs delightedly when a new string of sounds comes out of his mouth. If we're at the supermarket, he is all over what I'm buying and will readily point out if I grab the frozen food box labeled "vegetable lasagna" (horrors—veggies!) instead of "meat lasagna."
Max notices when I'm wearing a new outfit or shoes, or when Dave gets a haircut. "Nice dress!" he told me when I recently wore one for an event. This is pretty much the opposite of what I get from Sabrina, who has been known to say "You wore that today?" when I've walked in the door from work.
The other day, I was tidying up Max's room and I tossed a name tag from a camp program he'd been in. It said "Fireman Max" and, excitingly, he'd been in the red group.
"Hey! Not nice!" he announced, and retrieved it from the trash can.
And I was heartened that he cared. And he was right, I shouldn't have thrown it out without asking him. Because as Max keeps showing me again and again, there's no telling how he'll change and I shouldn't assume he doesn't care because he never has before.
Watching Max become increasingly aware of his surroundings is like watching the never-ending bloom of a flower. It is wondrous to see. It thrills me; I never know what each unfolding petal will reveal.
Back to that sunset.
"Nice," he said.
And it so was. I've witnessed a whole lot of glorious sunsets in my life, but this one—seen through the windshield of our minivan on that urban oasis known as a highway—is one I won't soon forget.