A couple of months ago, I locked myself in the bathroom and sobbed. Something momentously, earth-shatteringly terrible had happened, and all I could do was cry and cry.

Um, from two months past the event, I confess that I can’t remember what I was crying about. It was something Joseph had done, of that I’m sure.

So there I am in the bathroom, hysterical with tears, when Joseph comes to the door. “Let me in, Mom!” he pleads. Angry and upset, I refuse and go back to my crying. He is persistent though, and finally, thinking that maybe he’ll be repentant or at least supportive, I unlock the door.

He looks at me, with my red face and waterfall of tears running down my cheeks.

And he smiles.

This is an ongoing thing, where Joseph smiles when others are upset or hurt. It has gotten him in trouble with other kids since he was in preschool. He knows it’s not the right thing to do, but it seems he can’t help it. It’s hard for him to act “normal” when others cry.

In the book Look Me in the Eye the author, who has Aspergers, describes what this phenomenon is for him. He’ll hear about some horrible accident and then he’ll think about how grateful he is that it didn’t happen to the people he loves the most. He’ll smile thinking about those people, and that’s when he gets in big trouble for smiling when someone is relaying tragic news.

A friend of mine has an adult daughter with autism. Her daughter will stick her foot out in an aisle, make someone trip, and smile.

I don’t know exactly what happens for Joseph to make him smile. I do know that, when I was in his classroom this year and a kid got upset about something, he turned first to Joseph and snarled, “Don’t LOOK at me!”

In that bathroom incident, I knew just how this kid felt. When Joseph smiled, I got mad. Furious. I yelled at him for smiling,  pushed him out of the bathroom with much force, and re-locked the door. Then I had even more to cry about.

A while later, when I finally emerged, Joseph was nowhere in sight. I finally found him in another bathroom, sobbing, with the door locked.

Blue Eyes brought about a truce, and Joseph and I headed off to his school, sober and spent.

I felt bad about manhandling Joseph so roughly, but Blue Eyes was reassuring. Sometimes Joseph needs a point brought home very strongly, he said. Let’s see if this incident registers and helps him to respond in a way considered more normal.

I’ve been having a rough time with my feet lately. They’ve been painful and, sometimes, difficult to walk on. Earlier this week, I was rushing up the stairs to get Joseph out the door for school, when I slammed my big toe into the stair rail.

The world stopped and I sobbed with the pain. Joseph came down to me, looked at me seriously and said, “What happened, Mom?” Through my tears I told him and then asked for a hug. He gave me one. Then he said, “I didn’t smile, Mom!”

I was really proud of him. I said so then and brought it up again later, in order to spotlight what a great thing he’d done.

It’s a small thing, but it’s a big small thing because of its effect on other people. I hope that this lesson stays with Joseph, as it’s a lot easier to get along with “normal” people if you can act that way too.

What it’s taught me is that it’s important to make a stink about things that are inappropriate — a big stink, so that Joseph really gets it. When he blew his nose into the throw rug recently, Blue Eyes and I got very verbally grossed out. I don’t think he’ll do that one again.

These are the kinds of things we work on in our house, where life can get a little surreal. Not quite normal, but not so far off, either. Next to normal. That’s where we reside.