In the car, or during one of the many times a day she wants me to "snuggle on Mama's bed", I often recite nursery rhymes to Janey. Janey likes to hear them, and frankly, it's sometimes just to keep me alert and not falling asleep, as she can be a poor conversationalist at times. We've been doing this a lot lately, and the other day, I was reciting "Sing a Song of Sixpence" to her (you probably know it, but if you don't, it's here) and she was singing it back and happy. Suddenly, though, she wasn't. She started screaming one line of it---"And down came a blackbird and snipped off her nose!" Which, if taken in isolation, certainly is a little bit of a disturbing line, but Janey had never particularly noticed it before. I immediately started my patter "that part is VERY PRETEND! Birds NEVER snip off people's noses! That's a very silly part! It's not true at all!" Janey started reciting this back, and then saying the whole rhyme, and while she screamed the snipping part, she didn't get too upset by it. About the third time she said it, after that line, she said in a thoughtful voice "That's the sad part" I was blown away. I hadn't used the word sad, and I've never, ever known Janey to comment like that, on something abstract like a nursery rhyme. I've never really heard her call anything sad on her own, although she'll say "I am sad!" when I ask if she is sad or angry, sometimes.
Of course, it set off a big wave of thinking on my part. I wonder how much more Janey understands of stories or songs or poems. Last summer, she got upset when she heard the song "He Stopped Loving Her Today" (this is the post about that)---that's the closest I can remember to this. It makes me think that a lot of times, when Janey gets upset out of what seems like nowhere, it's not nowhere. It's something she's just heard, or something she is thinking about or remembering. We know she gets upset about tone of voice, if she thinks we are arguing or upset, and I know some videos upset her after a number of viewings, when she starts to understand them more, but I hadn't really thought she understood more abstract readings well enough to get upset.
I am thinking lately I underestimate Janey a lot. I wish I didn't. To someone reading, hearing about incidents like this, it might seem obvious she has a lot more ability to understand than I give her credit for. But I write about the exceptional incidents. There can be days and weeks and even months where Janey gives no sign of understanding things like that rhyme. I read someplace recently about a mother saying she almost hopes her autistic child doesn't a mind that is hidden and secret, that is understanding everything, and I can get that. Of course I wanted Janey to do all she can do, but it's heartbreaking to think that she might be in there getting all we say and everyone else says, bored by schoolwork that she has mastered mentally years ago, longing for me to read her some kind of complex literature, and that I'm failing her by not doing so. I don't think that it's the case. I think Janey does understand a lot, but I think these moments of extreme clarity are like the nights that somehow you can pull in very far away radio stations, because the conditions are just right. The receiver is there, but so many other components are there too, a lot of which need to be lined up just right to have those rare moments of radio from far away (if you are interested in this hobby, called MW DXing or AM DXing, here's a Wikipedia article about it!)
So I am going to try to remember that it might be the rare day that Janey is receiving enough to be worried about a blackbird snipping off her nose, or someone stopping loving someone. I want her to know that I will do everything in my power to keep the blackbirds at bay, and I will never, ever, ever stop loving her.