Our Mase had come home from school a little wired which was nothing new. He completed his after school routine of uniform off, favourite after school clothes on, lunchbox on the bench before pacing around the house until he was ready for the daily recall of his latest obsessions.
Superheroes were on today’s agenda.
Facts about Spiderman and Optimus Prime came first. I took my usual position on the couch next to him as he re-enacted scenes and lines from his favourite books and films in real time. My job was to listen, answer rhetorical questions and ask many more for Mase to enlighten me with all his superhero wisdom.
Then out of the blue came a surprising question, ‘Mum, why don’t we have Samoan superheroes?’ I took a moment to search the corridors of my mind for an answer.
‘We kind of have Samoan superheroes but they were around a really long time ago,’ I replied. His eyes lit up and a light bulb went off as he reminded me about Tales of the Moana, a cartoon series about Polynesian myths and legends that had brought to life the Polynesian God Tagaloa and Mase’s favourite, Losi the Giant Fisherman. He jumped up off the couch and took on Losi’s spirit as he splashed about in the ocean bravely catching fish for his human friends.
I marvelled at my son who was in his Losi zone without a care in the world. He carried on as Losi, a mischievous giant and son of Tagaloa who brought taro to earth. But as I watched Mase dart around the room he suddenly broke character and walked over to the fireplace mantle where a siapo hung from a canvas. I stayed quiet and quickly looked away at my phone to pretend I was occupied as he quickly glanced at me from the corner of his eye, Mase’s usual signal to stop watching and let him be.
Now because I’m a nosey mother and wanted to make sure the brand new glass covered gas fireplace wasn’t accidentally kicked by Mase, who isn’t always aware of his body movements, I watched him through the camera on my phone.
I observed Mase as he slowly scanned the siapo from right to left. Then he raised his palm and gently pressed it onto the siapo letting the aging fibres brush under his hand. It was as if the siapo was speaking to him. It was a beautiful moment, watching him connect with our culture in this way. I quickly took a snapshot of the moment with my phone to share with hubby before Mase took a deep breath, almost summoning the strength of the siapo, to say, “Mum … I’m different. I know I’m different.”
I was taken aback by the sharp turn of direction in events. I repeated what he said aloud to get hubby’s attention in the other room, my bat-wife signal for hubby to come immediately because for most of his life, our Mase had basically lived in his own world. We learnt how to best manage aspects of his Autism to help him and us cope with the real world as an ‘āiga and we never felt that he was ready to be told about his own diagnosis of Autism. But as our ten year old son stood in front of me, I knew in my heart that he was letting me know in his ‘Mase way’ that he was now ready.
His father entered the room as Mase returned to his seat on the couch and he held my hand squeezing it as his reminder to focus on the words that would come from my mouth. He talked about finding it hard to focus on boring things and that he just really liked what he liked. That he liked being alone and that we don’t have to worry about him because he, “likes it that way.” But as always he broke the ice when he mentioned that he was still wanting to audition for, The Voice, and that he didn’t care if he didn’t get chosen because he likes his own voice and will keep doing concerts for us. Both hubby and I smiled at his cheeky personality that always shone through the black and white tape that held his world together.
We talked about other differences he noticed about himself. Even his observations of other classmates. I spoke about my own differences and hubby talked about the journey we as an ‘āiga went on to learn more about his differences which led us to this thing called Autism, emphasising that it is our differences that make us all unique and special.
“Just like Losi!” Mase blurted out with wide eyes.
I laughed and agreed, emphasising Losi’s gigantic differences and how his actions changed our world by bringing taro to earth. A smile stretched across Mase’s face as he jumped to his feet excitedly announcing to us, “So if I’m like Losi, then I can be a Samoan superhero too?” I laughed out loud and gave Mase a huge hug saying, “Okay Samoan superhero what’s the first thing you want to do to change the world?” Not really expecting what he would say next.
“I want to tell the world about Losi! … Then everyone can know about our Samoan superheroes and how they’re different too!” His whole body lit up on the spot. My book publishing mind automatically switched on. It rotated through the 6 book projects that were already in motion for the year, reminding me that our Mila’s Books schedule was already completely full. But looking at the excitement of my son combined with the spirits of our ancestors coming from the siapo, my heart responded with, “Okay, but only if you help me?”
Mase grabbed his large drawing book and skipped over the pages of Sonic the Hedgehog, Bumblebee and King Kong to a fresh new page. We brainstormed all the important parts of Losi’s story that he could remember, the kind of pictures he wanted in the book, cover colour schemes and of course the length which he said, “Tales of the Moana episodes are not long mum so not too long.” Fast reader it is then, I thought to myself.
Then I did some further research about Losi the Giant Fisherman and realised that there are different versions. I shared this with Mase, whose directive was, “Include them all!” Followed by a gorgeous smile that I couldn’t say no to. The idea of making it a pick a path book was born, and when shared with Mase he said, “Four stories in one book that’s even better!”
Next I went to work writing. Mason gave feedback at each step giving a thumbs up or in one chapter a screwed up face telling me to, “Make the words easier mum,” followed by, “Don’t worry mum I’ll make us some taro for all our hard work, Losi would like that!”
Then there were illustrations based on Mason’s initial briefing. I filled in a few gaps for clarification and the final image of Losi came back instantly getting Mase’s approval. For Mase it was simple, decisions were easy and his mind was set. I, on the other hand, had a few questions –
Me: “Mase, Losi is the most handsome giant I have ever seen! … But do you think a giant from a very long time ago would look this handsome?
Mase: “Losi looks great mum! He should be handsome because us tama Sāmoa are handsome,” followed by a model pose.
Me: “Okay why don’t we make the pictures on the inside colour instead of black and white?”
Mase: “No mum, give people a break from colours because it sometimes hurts people’s eyes like how noise hurts my ears sometimes.”
Me: “What do you mean change the letters son?
Mase: “Like make them bigger so it’s easier to read and use the normal little ‘A’ not the weird looking ‘a’.
Mase naturally became my publishing advisor, wanting waves made from the`~’ button on the keyboard he had recently discovered as chapter header images to connect back to Losi’s love for the ocean and taro leaves on the pick a path pages so that it wasn’t “too boring.”
It took us four weeks to complete the book and the final part was deciding what the dedication should be. So we returned to the initial brainstorm we did in Mase’s big drawing book and circled a few key words. Then we were able to sum up our little project which not only supports our Mila’s Books mission of creating stories that help all our tamaiti be seen, heard and valued but also our Mase and his ongoing journey with Autism as a growing tama Sāmoa –
LOSI THE GIANT FISHERMAN – Launching 2nd of April in celebration of International Children’s Book Day and World Autism Awareness Day.