The Shirt and His Boy

jack & tigerThis is my son Jack. He has autism, as some of you know. But chances are, you have never met his favorite shirt, Tiger.

Tiger got his name from a character in Kung Fu Panda. Technically, it was TigRESS, but that’s unimportant. What matters is that Jack looked down at his striped sleeves one day while watching the movie, said the word “tiger,” and fell in love. He refused to take it off.

After a couple of days, Tiger really needed to go into the washing machine. There followed two hours of shrill hysterics. Jack could not handle the separation. He wanted his favorite shirt. Now.

So we worked out a system. We found a backup. It was gray and white, not orange, but it had horizontal stripes, so he begrudgingly accepted it and started calling it “Kitty.” We have no idea why… Anyway, whenever Tiger needed a wash, Jack would cry for five or ten minutes, but then he would put on Kitty and relax.

It has been like that for three months. Annoying? Yes, but at least His teachers appreciated the obsession. They said it was easy to keep an eye on him at recess.

Then came the Great Meltdown of 2013 (or GMo2). It happened last week. Tiger needed a bath, but Jack would not let him come off. Not even with Kitty as a consolation prize. It got bad, and we finally had to detach the shirt from his boy.

There was pleading.
There was weeping and gnashing of teeth.
There was screeching and flopping.
Remember the screams of the scary Ring Wraiths in Lord of the Rings? Yeah. It was like that.

Jack’s episodes aren’t violent, thank God, but they aren’t like other kids’ tantrums either. I’ve dealt with typical 6 year old tantrums before, and as irrational as they are, this is different. It’s not raw anger for him, but sheer panic, as if he is terrified of living without his beloved stripes. He is addicted.

The OCD part of autism still takes me by surprise. Without doubt, Jack’s obsessiveness has gotten more sever over time. He’ll get something in his mind, and he just… can’t… shake… it… It’s not always clothes. Sometimes it’s a toy, or a movie, or a kind of food, or a picture book. The boy can start to fixate on anything. And if it goes on for too long, war ensues.

So Sara and I made a decision in the sixty-third minute of GMo2: Tiger needed to go away. For good. We buried him somewhere in the garage.

Was that the right thing to do? I honestly don’t know. I’m curious to hear what other autism parents have done in this situation. We’re making this up as we go along! We want him to be happy, but at what price?

I wonder if God ever struggles with this. Because we are all a little OCD, I think. We ask for things, we receive things, and then the things start to own us. I believe He wants us to be happy, but what if the blessings he gives us start to rob us of all our time, energy, and even our joy? I wonder, does God ever have to withhold good gifts from me because of the inevitable attachments I will form with them?

Jack now has five go-to shirts: there’s Kitty and another striped one, two more with Pandas (he calls them both “Po”), and one with a Lightning McQueen knock-off. We make him rotate every night. Hopefully, he won’t love any of them too much.


What do you think? Have God’s gifts ever become a distraction? Have you ever dealt with a problem like this with your children? Leave a comment and let’s discuss.

8 replies
  1. Zee
    Zee says:

    Thanks for the reminder.

    I’m having that problem with our current Church building. The thing is, I’ve been quite involved in the life of my Church (my mom is one of the pastors) and I remember when we bought this building (and it was the first building that was finally our own…). I worked alongside the teams who remodeled this 1911 apartment building into a home for the Church. I grew up there because I was always around… and now, 17 years later, we have to move. There is no way around the move and… while I know it will open up more opportunities for our Church, I am having hard time saying good-bye to the place that was my second home.

    But you’re right, it’s time to let go.


  2. Joshua Rivas
    Joshua Rivas says:

    I’ve come to love our Associate Pastor. He is a great writer, friend and leader. Yet I find myself now wondering if I am a little too attached…………. : )

  3. Rowann Jackson
    Rowann Jackson says:

    Brody, my son is 6 yrs old and Autistic, he has been fixated on several shirts, used to only wear plain red t-shirts! And for some reason they are really hard to find when you need more than one! but he did have a stinky little stocking cap he ONLY took off for baths. We had to hide it after months of fighting. And he did move on 🙂

  4. Chester
    Chester says:

    Thank you Jason. I am trying ebery option before meds with chris I am not completly agent meds but they affect him in strange ways at times.

  5. Deirdre
    Deirdre says:

    My son Tristin has insisted on wearing nothing but yellow shirts and black shorts for over a year now. Yellow is NOT that popular for boys! He wears it because Greg from the Wiggles wore it and he has been fascinated with them from the age of two. (Love that boy!)

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