OK, guys. Don’t hate me. I know that some of you (don’t worry, April, I’m not naming names. April.) aren’t going to be too thrilled that I’m taking a detour from telling the improbable story of the public servant who was actually looking to serve the public.
But as it turns out, trying to tell an actual story – when you’re hell-bent on doing it justice at least – takes time. And as you know, time is a rare and fleeting commodity around these parts.
So, while I promise to get back to it, I hope you’ll forgive me if I distract you with a fun little story in the meantime.
Ooh, look, something shiny ..
awk·ward (ôkwrd) adj.
1. Not graceful; ungainly.
2. a. Not dexterous; clumsy.
b. Clumsily or unskillfully performed: The opera was marred by an awkward aria.
3. a. Difficult to handle or manage: an awkward bundle to carry.
b. Difficult to effect; uncomfortable: an awkward pose.
4. a. Marked by or causing embarrassment or discomfort: an awkward remark; an awkward silence.
b. Requiring great tact, ingenuity, skill, and discretion: An awkward situation arose during the peace talks.
A new friend is coming over for dinner. Laurel is a client; someone who I’ve just recently begun getting to know. As we firm up the details, it hits me that she doesn’t know that Brooke has autism. It feels odd. By our very nature, there aren’t many people in our lives these days who don’t know.
I say, “There are a couple of things that I need to tell you before you come to the house.”
I pause, not entirely sure how to proceed. This is usually a far more organic conversation, but I can’t really figure out how else to go about it.
“My youngest daughter, Brooke has autism. So there are some things in our house that may seem a little – well, different.”
Laurel is younger than we are. She doesn’t have kids. I have no idea how this might go.
She responds by asking thoughtful and respectful questions – “Are there specific things that are hard for her? That she likes? Are there specific colors that she likes or doesn’t like? Sounds?”
We talk a little bit. I tell her that my girl has trouble with novel conversation. That she may start reciting scripts at the table. That she may talk about Godspell. A lot. That she is funny. And sweet. And smart. And really damn cute. And that sometimes she does and says things that appear to come out of left field.
Laurel is officially unruffled. She all but shrugs and then asks if she can bring dessert. I liked her before this conversation; I’m pretty sure I love her now.
I try to tell her how much her reaction (or lack of one) means to me. I begin to well up. Not OK at work. We move on. No, she can’t bring dessert, but thanks for asking.
“Oh, and um, there’s one last thing,” I tell her.
“We, um, well, oy. We do a team cheer before dinner.”
I tell her that she’s still welcome to back out – no harm no foul. She chuckles. If nothing else, she’s now coming just to see this.
I tell her how it came about. I explain that every night before dinner, our family has held hands, bowed our heads and said, “Thank you for the food we are about to receive and the precious gift of each other.”
I explain that about a year ago, Brooke apparently decided that our simple grace was not enough. One night she insisted that we all put our hands into the middle of the table and chant, “Go! Go! Go! Go! Goooooolden Explorers!” Yes, Dora fans will undoubtedly recognize it as the cheer for Dora’s soccer team, but hey, it is what it is and what it is is important to our girl, so we went (and still go) along for the ride.
Dinner with Laurel was delightful. Brooke showed her how to do the cheer and she joined in with gusto. Katie talked her ear off. Laurel told us stories of her adventures traveling around the world. She loved Luau’s cooking. It was quickly obvious that the dinner would be the first of many.
The following week, we planned to do it again. This time Laurel’s boyfriend would join us. We chatted beforehand. “Jess,” she said, “Sam doesn’t spend much time around kids. I just wanted to let you know. I mean, it could be a little .. well .. awkward.”
I laughed so hard the water I was drinking stopped just short of coming out my nose. Nice image, huh? You’re welcome.
“Um, Laurel?” I said. “We do a friggin team cheer before dinner. I think we’ve beat you to awkward.”
She laughed and agreed, “Point taken.”
As it turned out, Sam was just as laid back, generous, easy-going, warm and funny as Laurel. And despite a whole lot of opportunity, there was not a single moment in the entire evening that felt remotely awkward. Instead, there was laughter and warmth and the beginning of a very real friendship.
Nothing like getting your awkward on together to make things not awkward at all.