I pause, I sigh, I count to 10. Then, with a calmness that can be drawn only from my deepest insides, I answer. “It’s okay to say quarter to ten, even though your digital watch says 9:43.” My child looks on, listening, really trying to understand the nuances of life that I am trying to convey.

While shopping, a classmate of hers stops to chat with her. My daughter mumbles her reply, which leads to another “conversation.” Again I pause, I sigh, I count to 10. My calmness and patience are still there, albeit being tenuously held. “Honey, when someone says, ‘Hello, how are you?’ it’s polite to respond with eye contact, a smile and a ‘Fine, how are you?’”

I find myself reviewing these obvious (to me) rules with her frequentlyI find myself reviewing these obvious (to me) rules with her frequently. Our “conversations” have become almost a daily ritual. When someone smiles, you smile back. When someone looks sad, it’s nice to ask them if they are okay. If they don’t answer you, don’t press the issue. If two people are talking, it’s not appropriate for you to barge in on their conversation, unless of course one of them motions for you to join them. Things that come so easily for most children do not come so easily for my child. The confusing, murky world of interpersonal communication remains a puzzle that seems to have a perpetual missing piece.

When she was young, and social navigations were easier, she had friends. Never one to overly seek out others, she was content when her peers would enter into her domain. As I would observe her in the sandbox or on the monkey bars, she would watch the comings and goings of her peers, happy to talk to whoever was sharing her little corner at any given time. As she got older, and the rules became more complex and the expectations greater, things started to change.

When she was born, I found myself dreaming of her teenage years. Phones ringing, friends over, group study sessions, nosh eaten, along with giggles and whispers throughout the night. I imagined my feigned exasperation at the phone line being used all the time, as I would roll my eyes at my husband and mutter, “Oh, teenagers.” Instead, the phone remains silent, she studies alone, and the sleepovers are rare.

Being a rather social person myself, I spent many years struggling, prodding, coaxing, and at times overly pushing her to become something she was not. With each further retreat to her beloved world of books, I found myself dreaming up new ways to manufacture social situations to engage her in. I planned and invited the Shabbat guests, sleepover parties and the class Shabbat gatherings of my dreams. Only to have them end, all too frequently, in my disappointment and her confusion.

As my child got older, I have learned that she is who she is, and it is my job to help mold her into the person that she needs to become. It’s tricky, even painful, to let go of the dream. We went for evaluations, searching for a diagnosis, only to find that she falls in the murky world of no diagnosis. Meaning that she has some tendencies on the Asperger’s spectrum, but, in layman’s terms, she’s just not socially acute. “Falling on the spectrum” sounds much more colorful and happy than the reality.

I struggle to ignore the phone that doesn’t ringSo I explain about the time, the smiles and the expected social nuances. I struggle to ignore the phone that doesn’t ring. On Friday nights, when our Shabbat candles are lit, instead of disappointment that there is no one that she wants to meet with outside, I strive to appreciate her willingness to stay inside and read as she watches my sleeping baby, and I can take the other little ones out to play. I realize that I undervalued her intelligence that comes from being an avid reader. And I have taken for granted her amazing insight into people and their emotions—an insight that is honed by being an outsider looking in.

I often wonder and worry about how she will do as she gets older. Where will she fit in? But, for now, I help her as best I know how, love her and help her develop. I pool my resources of patience and understanding to calmly have our conversations, to help her learn, be aware and figure out her place. I can’t worry about the future right now; all I know is that she fits just right into my heart.