Joey paced back and forth at the top of the slide waiting for me to clear the 1/16 inch puddle from the sand-like gravely dirt at the bottom, my last task on his take-off checklist. I spent the past ten minutes ridding the slide of its 17 dew droplets, barely visible to the human eye by using gum lined paper towel I had found in the trash receptacle. Twenty minutes after we arrived, and completion of five tasks, Joey tentatively sat down and slowly slid his way down to the bottom. Standing up on impact, Joey proceeded back up the stairs to slide down again; exactly the way he had climbed up and slid down the time before…my much needed minute break had come.
I sat down on the bench and took pride in my ability to resolve his issues once again. As my eyes took a brief recess from watching him, I noticed a flock of mothers, their eyes upon me. Disgust, irritation and disbelief were a few of the emotions I saw in their faces.
“I’ve heard of spoiled but come on – dry off the slide?”
No one understood and I didn’t want— nor did I know where to begin— to explain what Joey’s issues were. I wanted to yell out “I am not spoiling him! I am just making his environment one he can tolerate for twenty minutes to slide down a slide a few times…to do everyday things your children do and you don’t have to think about!” At times, I secretly wished Joey had Down syndrome or some other “visible” disorder that people would recognize immediately, thus feeling instant empathy towards me. Rather, Joey like most autistic children was an adorable little boy with blonde hair and big brown eyes.
I leaned back, brushed the gravel off my jeans and their comments off my mind and closed my eyes, taking peace, comfort, and safety in my isolation. I didn’t want to spend time with people who gave us dirty looks or those who didn’t take the time to understand…and that included some family members as well.
Then one day I was on the playground taking my minute break as Joey slid down the slide when one of the mean members of the mommy flock came towards me. She sat down next to me on the bench and handed me a paper bag. I opened it to find some dishtowels, a pal, and a small bar of chocolate. Confused, I asked what it was for.
“I always kept a bag in my car when my oldest son was about your son’s age.” she said. “I got tired of going through the trash to find something to wipe down the slide. The chocolate bar was my reward after I helped my son get down the slide comfortably.”
Through tears of disbelief I thanked her and she hugged me. I had been so alone for so long, I could barely contain myself and I began to sob. “We want to help, we didn’t understand…” said the other mothers as they handed me Kleenexes.
Most people make negative or derogatory comments about things they don’t understand or can’t explain. I’ve learned to look beyond those comments and take the time to “understand” them so they in turn can understand me. Since then, I have handed out a lot of paper bags, some filled with dishtowels, some filled with extra-baby clothes for a new mother, or a spa candle and bath bubbles for someone appearing overwhelmed.
I have grown to realize that, though our children may lead us down different paths, we as parents all have the same destiny and that is what unites us. Remember that the next time you feel shunned by another or a family member makes a negative comment about you or your child, take the first step in helping them to understand.
Fall is a great time for fresh starts. Make a point to have coffee with your neighbor or a family member that you have disassociated yourself from, because they couldn’t/don’t understand what you are going through. There’s a paper bag with your name on it waiting for you.