And sometimes in a moment of weakness
A single tear falls, and that’s all
She’s strong – she’s got the world on her shoulders
She just keeps carrying on
She can take the heat; she can take the cold winter
She’s got faith there’s no quit in her
-Tracy Lawrence ‘Strong’
She was trying to cook dinner for her children – her three year old daughter and her five year old son with severe autism.
‘Not thirty seconds, Jess. I didn’t turn away for thirty seconds.’
He was gone.
She ran to the neighbors yard. He’d been drawn to their bubble machine.
He wasn’t there.
The neighbors rallied.
A frenzy of motion – ‘We’ll find him.’
She called 911.
‘My son doesn’t speak. I can’t find him. Help me.’
They told her to stay in front of her house.
She knew she couldn’t. He wouldn’t be coming back on his own. ‘I have my cell phone. I’m looking for him.’
Not long, but a lifetime.
A neighbor found him down on the street by the school. He was trying to find a car door that would open so that he could climb into the back seat and buckle up. He’d wait to go for a ride.
The neighbor gently brought him home.
The policeman said, ‘You need to watch him.’
I look at my friend’s pleading eyes as she tells me the story. The emotion is so raw. The anger is so palpable. The defeat is so fresh. Outrage. Frustration. Disbelief. Hurt. ‘How can he tell me to watch him?’
’24/7 I watch him. All I DO is watch him. I had to FEED him. I was cooking for him.’
It was her neighbor’s voice that said, ‘All she does is watch him!’
But those words will sting. The blame.
As parents, we all spend so much time blaming ourselves for one thing or another. As parents of children with autism, it becomes an obsession. It must have been something I did. Or something I didn’t do. Something I exposed him to, or didn’t. I wasn’t there enough. I was there too much. I had blue cheese dressing when I was pregnant. (No, really. I’ve thought of that.) I didn’t know that there was thimerosal in her flu shot. I didn’t know what thimerosal was. I still don’t know if it mattered. I didn’t nurse him long enough. There must have been something I did. ‘I turned my head to the stove for less than thirty seconds to feed him. And he was gone.’
This was NOT her fault. It was her nightmare. It was what she spends all day every day trying to avoid. But one thoughtless officer summed it all up with ‘You need to watch him.’
The neighbor came to her and said, ‘We are with you. When you fly; we fly. We are in this together.’
I hugged her. It was all I could think to do. I felt powerless. Small.
A single tear fell and that was all. And then she was strong again.
I’m sure the officer meant no harm, but ignorance leaves a mark. Educate people. Sensitize people. Let them know what it means to care for a child with no understanding of boundaries or safety or fear. It is up to all of us to protect our children and to support each other. When she flies, we fly. We are in this together.