Poem of the Week |

A Boy, as Beautiful as a Goldfish

Ayala Ben Lulu describes mothering an autistic child.

Vivian Eden
Vivian Eden
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Like a goldfish. Woodblock print by by Utagawa Hiroshige, ca. 1840.
Like a goldfish. Woodblock print by by Utagawa Hiroshige, ca. 1840.
Vivian Eden
Vivian Eden

I’m a Mother

Ayala Ben Lulu

I’m the mother of a pet –
a puppy that wags its tail when it sees you.
But that’s not accurate.
Even a dog looks at you and runs to bring you the ball.
Even a dog is happy to play with you.
Maybe like a cat that rubs against your legs when you come into the house.
But that’s not accurate either,
Even a cat snuggles and purrs in your lap.

You are more like a goldfish.
It’s pleasant beside you, you’re so beautiful, but
you don’t even get that I’m here.
I need to try harder.

Translated from Hebrew by Vivian Eden

Ayala Ben Lulu. Credit: Mor Shmoshkovitz

An economics professor once observed that children are not an investment, but are, rather, for consumption -- kids are for pleasure. Beyond the fulfillment of God’s first commandment in Genesis 1:28 to “be fruitful and multiply,” in Israel having a child is a right backed by legislation and subsidized in vitro fertilization. All children, of course, are expected to be “above average,” like in Garrison Kiellor’s fictional hometown Lake Wobegon.

But raising a child who isn’t at least average (or neurotypical, the opposite of autistic) is difficult.

According to Alut, the Israeli Society for Autistic Children, which will hold its annual fund-raising drive on December 14, one out of every 100 babies in Israel will be diagnosed with autism. No one knows what causes autism; it might have to do with brain structure or it might not. Some scientists postulate that parental age could be a factor, or hormone deficiency or even pollution.

Countering Jerry Seinfeld’s claim to a spot “on the spectrum,” as is said in the autism world, Rogel Alpher recently wrote in this newspaper: “For parents, the diagnosis of their child as autistic is a terrible blow. For him and them, lifelong. Parents of autistic children suffer from high levels of tension and anxiety.”

“I need to try harder,” laments Ayala Ben-Lulu, in this poem from her debut book “Shortened Childhood” (Pardes Publishing House, 2013), which Amir Becker has praised for her witty treatment of questions of ars poetica and her openness about her autistic son.

It is brave to acknowledge that a child is less cuddly than a puppy or a kitten – most autistic people do not like to be touched. He seems to live in a different medium, like a gold fish in water, behind glass.

But this mother finds joy in her child where she can: “It’s pleasant beside you, you’re so beautiful” – indeed, it is said that some autistic children are uncommonly good-looking and they have been identified with the fairy children or changelings in folklore: difficult but comely.

* Musing: Do you know a child like the boy in the poem?

* Bonus: On raising a neurotypical daughter, forgiveness, and not being perfect though all the women are strong, all the men are good-looking and all the children are above average in Lake Wobegon.

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