a pink sock sorry

Katie has finally come apart at the seams. Lest there be any doubt, she is sobbing, face down into the basement sofa. Her rib cage rises and falls, rises and falls. I cannot comfort her.

Brooke orbits the basement. She is frenetic.

She gathers the hammock swing in her hands and steps up on the arm of the couch opposite her sister’s. She pulls it as far as it can possibly go and then jumps with all the force available to her four foot, forty-five pound frame. At the very top of the arc, she throws her head back. I flinch as the swing sharply reverses course and her head narrowly misses the arm of the couch.

Katie finally agrees to talk. The words spill out – frustrated, angry, sad. I can only listen. She needs to purge; she’s not ready to hear.

“But, Mama,” she says, the echo of a sob caught in her chest, “I just want to DO something for her. That’s all. I’ve been trying all day. Really, I’ve been trying FOREVER.” I try not to smile at the perfection of ten year-old hyperbole. “Mama, she won’t let me DO anything with her,” she continues. “I just want to love her. That’s all. I just want to love her.” The tears begin to flow again.

Katie has been trying desperately to find a way to do something with her sister. Her attempts have been both flat-footed and ill-timed. Her latest went down in flames, topped off by a crack to the back of the head.

She tried to set up a fair in the basement – stations of ‘rides’ and games in which Brooke could win small prizes. She’d done it before with great success, but this was just not the time. Her sister was, and still is, in hyper-speed. There is no slowing down and certainly no stopping. I can’t, as Katie had so plaintively asked, “Just make her stop.”

Katie had decided that the first game she needed to set up simply HAD to be right under the swing. It was the only place in the entire basement that it could be. I don’t know how many times or how many different ways I said it. But she wouldn’t hear me. I watched in slow motion as she ducked directly into the swing’s trajectory. “Katie!” I shouted, just before it careened into her, knocking her to the ground.

I told her that I was sorry that she’d gotten hurt, but that it was hard to blame the train when one has walked onto its tracks.

Brooke propels herself around the basement now on the big blue exercise ball. I’ll never figure out how she manages to steer that thing as she bounces it around the room. But in the ball’s seemingly impossible movement she’s managed to find everything she needs. Speed, impact, movement, bounce, freedom.

Katie is letting it all out. How she feels like her sister never wants to be with her. How she wonders if she even likes her. How she just wants to show her that she loves her and she won’t let her.

We talk for a long time. I remind her that she often wants no part of her little sister either. How she too so often just wants to be alone. How sometimes, when you really love someone, the greatest gift you can give them is showing them love not in the way that you may prefer to deliver it, but in the way that they need to receive it. How that lesson has been the hardest for her mama to learn too. How sometimes space is the greatest gift of all. How her sister really does love her. How she shows it. How hard Brooke works too. Katie forgets. She’s not the only one who exerts energy to interact. She is somehow surprised to hear how hard her sister tries too.

Katie sobs and Brooke short-circuits. She lets out a tense laugh. Katie gets angry. “And now she’s laughing at me!”

God, we’ve been through this too many times. I feel like a recording. “Brooke, that’s not expected, honey. What do we do when we see someone crying?”

The words are rote. “Are you all right, Katie?”

I explain to Katie, for the thousandth time, that her sister’s laugh is not what it appears to be.

I walk Brooke through an apology. I walk Katie through an acceptance. The walls are closing in. I stand up to breathe.

Katie is pleading with me. “Please, Mama, just take me to the book store. I’ll buy her a present. At least it’s something. And I won’t give it to her until she’s feeling more sociable, OK? It won’t be a set-up. I’ll wait. But I’ll have it so that when she’s ready … please, Mama. Please.”

Her impotence is achingly familiar. Her desperation to just DO something. To connect. To love. I know it intimately.

As I contemplate getting her into the car, Brooke makes an announcement. “Katie, I will make you a picture.”

Katie and I sit and wait. She eventually picks up my laptop and finds her way to Girls Go Games. She falls into the comfort of a game she used to love, making a cake with Holly Hobby. She laughs when the game won’t let her mess with the ingredients. The fog is lifting.

Brooke returns clutching her drawing. She thrusts it out to her sister. “Here, Katie,” she says. “I made you a pink sock.”

Indeed she did. Katie takes her sister’s gift. “Why is it a pink sock, Brooke?” Brooke answers, “I don’t know.”

Katie looks at me and shrugs. Brooke points out the writing. “It says ‘Katie’.” And so it does. But it says a lot more.

(names removed)

Katie turns it over and finds more words on the back.

To Katie

Sorry I coughd (sic)


As she reads, Brooke suddenly reaches out and hugs her. Katie looks at me with wide eyes, then closes them and rests her head on her sister’s shoulder. As quickly as she leaned in, Brooke gets up and returns to her ball.

I ask Katie what she thinks her sister meant about the coughing. She has no idea and couldn’t care less. I think I do, but I let it go.

Katie clutches the paper to her chest. “Mama,” she says. “I’m going to keep this forever.”

Yes sometimes, when you really love someone, the greatest gift you can give them is showing them love not in the way that you may prefer to deliver it, but in the way that they need to receive it.

29 thoughts on “a pink sock sorry

  1. “Yes sometimes, when you really love someone, the greatest gift you can give them is showing them love not in the way that you may prefer to deliver it, but in the way that they need to receive it. ”


  2. Painful and real and beautiful. Thank you for sharing it. I’m betting it brings comfort to a lot of people feeling this and living this. ( me included). Xo

  3. Thank you, Thank you. You have no idea how your words soothe my soul. Just reading your eloquent words about the things my family struggles with helps give me the strength to face another day. Tears again but it feels good to let it out. And we all soldier on…

  4. Katie’s capacity to extend herself and push her love through the autism astounds me. Brooke’s ability to reach back is amazing too. You may not feel it at the time but you are an amazing Mama.

  5. It must be so tough on her. She is an amazing girl. And they are both lucky to have you for a Mom. What else can we do but start again each day, and hope for progress, understanding, and patience. ***hugs***

  6. Really, Jess. Your girls thrive within a secret garden all their own. Even on the days with needed space between them, it is remarkable how they feed each other’s souls down to the very roots.

    The love they share is so palpable. Even on a computer screen miles and days removed – we all can feel it, touch it and be comforted that autism doesn’t have the ability to deny that very sacred bond.

    Love you and your beautiful babies. So much.

    Thank you for sharing them with us.

  7. Great lesson learned. …and those two wonderful little ones are the best at showing love in whatever ways they can.

    Love you,

  8. So beautiful, so sad, so true. Our daughter has cried too many times over the way her older brother (who has AS) treats her and interacts with her. There are no easy answers. There’s lots of hard work, lessons in forgiveness and grace and love, lots of fireworks and occasional tears, cluelessness on both sides of the gender and autism gap, mixed with bright spots of camaraderie and friendship. What a roller-coaster. Someday I hope they’ll grow up to be friends. . . .

  9. “Sorry I coughd.” Given the depth of history behind the coughing issue, Brooke’s message – her empathy, her understanding, her own unique framing of the issue through a lens that makes sense to her – takes my breath away. I love your girls. Really, really love them.

  10. beautiful story, beautiful writing, beautiful people. She’s sorry she coughed, she’s such a dearheart, she gets it.

  11. Wow….this was so powerful. Sometimes I feel my best response to a post is by sharing a post that I have written. I have had to learn to tell Mae Mae that it is not that her brother does not “want” to play with her it is because he just “can’t”. I wrote about it this past May.
    Jess, I thank you for your words. Please know that you are not alone in how you feel. Katie is not alone in how she feels.

  12. I commentes in FB, but I forgot .. Please give Katie a Hug from my daughter. I think they are feeling the same way some days. 😦 But they are growing to be AMAZING Unique Woman.


  13. This is a lesson most adults can’t comprehend. To think that Katie is learning it at 10 is astounding. What a beautiful story of sibling love these two are creating together!

  14. This post reminds me of some amazing advice I received from a friend just after my son’s diagnosis with aspergers. I was lamented about how he didn’t have any friends and she said ‘is he happy?’. I was startled. Actually he is. He likes being alone. Then she said, when you held him in your arms right after he was born did you look at him and say ‘I want you to be the most popular boy in your class?’. I snorted with laughter. Of course not, I said ‘I wanted him to be happy and healthy!’. She said to me then just go back to that. Go back to wanting him to be happy and healthy in WHATEVER way he defines it. It isn’t about what you want and need. It’s about his wants and desires. What he needs and what makes him happy. It’s agonizing sometimes to do. It’s so darn tempting to place what I hold dear on him. To assume that since I learned of the concept of a friend at 18 months and immediately wanted at least 7, that automatically that’s what he wants to. But it isn’t. Sometimes he just wants to be alone and that’s ok. Tough stuff and I’m 36. No wonder it’s hard for your daughter at her young age. Great mommy moment though you should be proud at how well you handled it.

  15. “…in the way that they need to receive it” – Whenever I see Aidan (at almost 15) sitting on the floor and playing Lego with his older brother, interacting and laughing alongside him, I realize that he has learned this concept and taken it to heart. It took a long time, but he’s fine with it now, and I know Katie will be too. Sounds like she’s pretty close already!

  16. Your amazing girls & family teach me so much. Thank you for sharing your experiences so that my family can learn from them as well. Thank you always for a new perspective & hope.

  17. This post is beautiful and heartbreaking – but like someone else said, the tears actually felt good to me because I knew someone else understood what I have been feeling with my boys. They are only 3 and 5, so the youngest can’t express what Katie does, but he is already asking things like ‘why is S always so mean to me?’ God, it kills me every time, but somehow, reading your words makes it a little easier to manage.

  18. I have a question for you Jess – does your ‘neurotypical’ child ever exhibit autistic behaviours because one of her closest playmates (her sister) has aspergers? My youngest son is three years old (his brother on the spectrum is 7) and he is beginning to act and sound just like his brother. This behaviour is starting to make me nervous. To date, he has not exhibited any real spectrum behaviours, but now he is beginning to throw tantrums and speak similarly to his older brother. Have you run across this? Any suggestions?

    • Carolyn, 

      My NT daughter is my eldest, so I imagine that the dynamic between my girls is very different than it would be were their ages were reversed. Also, at ten, Katie is far less likely to mimic behavior than she might have been as a toddler. 

      I have a number of friends who DO experience this though and I know that it can be worrisome. 

      It can be tough to discern what is mimicry / learned behavior and what might be innate. Remember that toddlers learn by imitation, so it’s perfectly natural to assume that your little one is simply parroting what he sees his brother do, but if you have concerns, I wouldn’t hesitate to raise them with your support folks just to be sure. 

      Hope that helps. 


    • Carolyn, I am having this same issue with my girls. My youngest, 7, is showing the same lack of self-regulation when dealing with, well, everything– that her 3 older sibs (2 AS confirmed, 1 ADHD with AS tendencies) have. It is making me nervous and I am second (and third, and fourth) guessing myself. On the one hand, this IS normal behavior in her world, so it is most likely just “learned” behaviors. BUT, with the family history– WHAT IF she’s really on the spectrum, but her behaviors are late emerging? Other 3 I knew something was going on when they were toddlers, but maybe? It’s a fine line. I realize my child is older than yours, so it wouldn’t work so well for you, but I have been trying to talk more about how her sisters get so upset because they are NOT able to choose another reaction yet, while she DOES have that ability to look at the problem and see a solution before having a meltdown. At this time, there are no issues in the classroom, so I am hopeful that this is a phase she’s going through. But– my oldest daughter is a model student, too, so much so that her teachers were shocked when we had her diagnosed officially. There is no definitive answer for any of us! All I can say is trust your gut, talk with your support crew, and get the younger one involved in some play groups for more peer interaction. 3 is an age for trying on different personalities, and the ones he’s around most will be the first to mimic. Also, our spectrum kids get a lot of our attention…your little guy may be looking for some extra mama time. When his behavior is on target, give him a few minutes one-on-one time, and see if the meltdowns don’t melt away. Good luck!

  19. Pingback: Seeking a Connection « Autism Speaks Official Blog

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