In my pre-cable TV college days, there was a black-and-white TV in our dorm’s common room. It was on 24 hours a day, and my memory is that it received only one channel, and that channel aired only two programs, Star Trek (original series) and The Big Valley. You could stroll through the room at any hour of the day or night and one or the other of those shows be flickering away. I never latched onto The Big Valley, but by the end of that school year, I had seen every Star Trek episode multiple times. I still use the word g’rups to refer to adults, still employ the Spock-esque commentary “Fascinating” for life’s oddities both logical and illogical, still give people the Vulcan salute and hope that they live long and perspire. Uhhhh . . . that is, prosper.
Bryce has enjoyed the Star Trek movies and knows well my story of the perpetual-loop TV episodes, so this past couple of weeks we’ve been celebrating the coming of summer by making our way through all the TV episodes, via Netflix. When we came to the installment titled “What Little Girls are Made of,” I asked if he was familiar with the sugar-and-spice-and-everything-nice rhyme.
He wasn’t, and once enlightened, took a dim view of it.
He recalled too many times falling victim to “mean girls.”
“Girls,” he said, “are made of atoms. Like everyone else.”
Then he wondered how a metaphor as ridiculous as sugar-and-spice came to be.
Then he wondered how much a role his autism played in his response.
Then we laughed about whether it wasn’t his autism, but perhaps he was part Vulcan, because “Girls are made of atoms” seemed like something Mr. Spock would say.
Our pediatrician, Dr. John Springer, had thoughts about what little girls and boys are made of that entertain me to this day. “Once upon a time little girls were made of sugar and spice and everything nice; little boys are made of snips and snails and puppy dog tails. What exactly is a snip?” he wrote in an essay about developing strength. “The children I know are nearly 100% puppy dog tails, both boys and girls. Who needs sugar and spice? It melts in the rain or even if you sweat.”
Bryce was right, of course, in that girls (and boys) are composed of oxygen, carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, calcium, and phosphorus and a number of other trace elements. But all little girls and boys also contain elements that don’t appear on a periodic chart, and can’t be measured in molecules. Star Trek doesn’t specifically tell us whether the crew of the Enterprise encountered autism in beings throughout the universe. I’d like to think that 300 years from now, autism awareness will have reached galactic levels. I like to imagine that James T. Kirk, ever the humanitarian, might have made notes in his captain’s log about what little girls and boys with autism are made of:
There is more, far more, to these young ones than meets the eye . . . or the ear . . . or the fingertips.
They sense much more than they express.
They mirror our words, and our behavior, in a manner that should give us pause.
They may say little, but when we are able to travel the inroad to communicate with them, we find emotions just like our own that run just as deeply, values and convictions just as closely held. We find fantastic ideas waiting to be revealed, seeds of talents needing only our nurturing to bloom. “Only . . .”
In every one of these little boys and girls lies the capacity to achieve more than she or he is able to do now.
They give new meaning to our mission to boldly go where we have never gone before.