don’t they want to be with me?

Ed note: What follows is my best attempt to relay the crux of the events that unfolded on Saturday evening. For the sake of brevity (and truthfully, self-preservation) I left out a lot.

I’ve been up since three o’clock this morning – kneading and rolling and attempting to pound this story into submission. And yet, this is the best I can do.


Cape Cod –

We are in a small marketplace built around an old meeting house. An open square in the center is filled with benches and picnic tables. Restaurants offer take-out to bring to the tables. There is a wooden platform that serves as both a stage and a dance floor in the center of the square.

Katie and I sit at a table while Brooke wanders back and forth along the perimeter of the stage. We are waiting for Luau to join us with dinner.

Three sisters join the scene from a table across the way. I guess their ages to be nine, six and three or four. Brooke makes a beeline for them. There is no one else on the stage.

“What are your names?” she asks them each in turn.

Her voice is a little too loud. She gets a little too close. I watch the subtle signs in their reactions. They answer her politely enough, but it’s in their body language. They’re on guard. Something doesn’t feel quite right.

Brooke couldn’t be happier.

She inserts herself into their circle. They stop and look at her. They’re not unfriendly, but no one quite knows what to do next.

Ed note: This is where I’ve chosen to fast forward. We’re skipping over a stilted game of Ring Around The Rosy, a failed attempt by Katie to intervene and a couple of tries at getting Brooke to join us at the table and leave the sisters to play. Brooke will have none of it. She is determined to play with her new friends.

She runs back to the trio of girls.

“I will teach you to bow!” she says.

“No, no, no. no. Please no.”

Katie is burying her head in my arm.

She all but hisses at me, “This. Is. So. Embarrassing.”

“It’s OK, babe,” I tell her. “It’s OK.”

Brooke has one arm thrust out. “First,” she tells her reluctant pupils, “you go like this.”

They are standing stock still. They look like deer in headlights.

I feel like I’m watching from behind glass. Years of facilitating this stuff and yet I’m frozen in place. I have nothing.

Katie whirls and twirls in a vortex of ten year-old social insecurity. She looks like she’s going to be sick.

Brooke looks confused when the sisters don’t respond. They look far more confused than she does.

She repeats her instruction a little more forcefully.

“You put one arm out like this.”

The little one does it. Why not? Seems perfectly logical to her, apparently. She stands in front of Brooke, mimicking her stance. Her sisters slowly follow suit. Sort of.

Brooke is emboldened.

“You put your other arm out like this.”

They lift their arms just enough to satisfy her.

“And then you bend over like this.”

She bends at the waist, then looks up to watch them.

They all bow.

The eldest gathers her little sisters. She’s ready to get them out of there.

As they walk away, Brooke follows. She tentatively reaches out for one of them, then lets her hand drop. The small gesture nearly kills me.

I call over to her. For some reason, my words hit pause on the scene. No one moves.

“Sweetie, I think the girls are going to go back to their table now.”

Brooke turns back to them. They aren’t moving. Without warning, she hugs the older girl with everything she’s got.

The girl’s arms hang awkwardly at her sides. It only takes a moment, but I watch it in slow motion.

As soon as she is free, she grabs her sisters by the hand and leads them away.

They were never unfriendly. They were never mean. In fact, they were as solicitous as anyone could ever hope a group of unsuspecting girls might be.

I’ve been at this too long to feel this helpless.

I should have. What?

I could have. What?

There were so many damn ways I could have helped.

Why didn’t I?

I was paralyzed.


Katie is softly crying into my sleeve.

I call Brooke over.

“Baby,” I say, “I think the girls are all done playing for a while, OK?”

She looks at me. She doesn’t seem to understand.

She looks back at them. They are retreating to their table.

She says the words that I will hear again and again and again. The ones that I will wake to at 3 a.m.

“Don’t they want to be with me?”

Luau shows up with dinner.

I try to hide the tears streaming down my face.

It’s just too much.

46 thoughts on “don’t they want to be with me?

  1. I hear you, from all the way over here, and though I lack a Katie, I feel some of your pain too. Some days I dream of oblivion, where I’m not charting Billy’s progress like a time lapse camera.

    FWIW, I reckon you did the right thing. You let it be. As heartbreaking as it was, it was. And each natural event will find a place in all of your learning.

    Huge hugs from here ❤

  2. oh Jess…I don’t know what to say…except I know. I know what you were feeling, what Katie was feeling and what Brooke was feeling. I hate that place where you all were – wanting it to go so right but waiting for the shoe to drop. But I see progress here too, with Brooke…do you?

  3. I, too, see so much progress, Jess but I also get the pain that you all also felt and I hurt for you. I’m so sorry but you know there was nothing you could have done.

    I love you,

  4. Just 2 years ago Nathan held little interest in engaging peers. Now, like Brooke, he is starting to make those attempts at connecting. His approaches are awkward and clumsy and yet so brave and determined.

    She’s getting there Jess.

  5. DOAM we have all been where you are in some facet or another. In reading previous posts, Brooke seemed oblivious to the social stuff, and now, good news/bad news, she gets it. Ugh…I am so sorry for all. And BTW, what you were doing is called triage, staying with the one that most needed you . Yes, we have all faced that too.

  6. Oh Jess, I’m so sorry. The pain! In this situations a always invoke Dr. Seuss.

    ‘Those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind’

  7. Oh Jess, I’m so sorry. I’ve been there. The pain! In these situations I always invoke Dr. Seuss.

    ‘Those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind’


  8. Instead of rushing in to stop what you knew could be a train wreck, you gave her the opportunity to be herself. I think that took some courage and patience to not jump right in. Give yourself some credit for that. Those heart-wrenching moments kill me every time I see that look on other kids’ faces. At least those girls were nice and not rude. The only thing that hurts more than rejection is watching it happen to your child. 😦

  9. Oh, Jess…I’m so sorry you hurt so much from this. Don’t beat yourself up, as I don’t know what you could’ve done. It’s not like the little girls would’ve understood if you explained she has Autism. And forcing Brooke away may have caused a huge melt down and an even bigger scene ending in a quick exit.
    I agree with some others too. This shows a lot of progress for her. I know it’s hard for you to see it that way, but it’s so true. My pain comes from seeing Cymbie with her peers, having NO idea what to do. Can’t say Hi, can’t interact. I see in her eyes that she wants to…then she just shuts down and plays by herself with a swarm of kids around her. She doesn’t try to play, talk, or interact. She doesn’t have the tools yet to even know how to TRY. If she went up to a group of girls and said hi I would pass out from shock and joy. Even if her attempt failed miserably I would be thrilled that she TRIED. I’m not trying to take away from the pain you’re feeling…but remember to keep things in perspective too. Through my eyes this was an amazing step towards social interaction that right now I only hope and pray I’ll see happen with my girl. For now, you’re lucky if she’ll even look at you if she doesn’t know you.

  10. Ouch! Will our hearts ever heal? Hugs to you, Brooke and Katie. Wishes for the scabs to heal and another reminder that none of you are alone. We get it!

  11. Your words always tend to reach my heart. I have been in that square, that lobby, that Dr.’s office so very many times and watched this scene unfold praying that just this one time, everything will go perfectly. Its called hope. Hope is what we hang our hats on every day. Hope gets us out of the house believing that today is the day. Hope took us to the mall yesterday to see Glee 3D. Unfortunately, Hope was unaware that there would be a kiosk filled with Happy Nappers that needed to be touched and held. Hope did not realize how important it was to talk about the Happy Nappers…all through the movie. Hope had no idea that Aeropostale would be our only stop after the movie and that EVERYONE would be in the store with us.
    Hope simply gets us from point a to point b sometimes.
    Thank you so very much for putting the words out there to share how all us moms feel every day.

  12. she is getting there. You didn’t do a thing because YOU KNOW she needed this. She needed to be there, she needed to approach them, she needed to experiment to start researching this social weird world . She is getting there.

    My oldest use to do that. She doesn’t have autism and she used to do that when the language barrier was int he middle, she only spoke Spanish and those were her approaches to the kids with only English language. Using the poor English she had back then, her social approaches were “weird” for her peers. But she kept trying, and now she is so there. She knows how , and thanks to all those previous fails she has a big heart for those who are starting their own approaches to the social life between peers.

    Brooke is getting there. She is, Cheer up. She is fine, she is strong, she is learning, she is processing the scene as you had, but from her point of view.

    This is something that is on my mind every single day with my little boy. The social scene. He is not social at all but lately he has been trying. And I’m amaze by that. He is trying. Brooke is trying, that is all she needs to keep trying. And she will find the perfect Match for her friendship. :).

    Hugs for both girls :).


  13. I’ve lived this scenario so many times with my girls. I’ve also fought the urge to intercede. Do I go over or let them use the social skills we’ve worked so hard to teach them. Will they be successful this time or will their peers just stare at them? It breaks my heart to hear about Brooke. I understand all too well. Hugs to all of you!

  14. I know this hurt you,, but you have to know how wonderful it is that she actually put herself out there to interact with those children!! I’m glad they weren’t outwardly unkind to her, and I am soooooo sorry she felt unwanted. I have so many feelings about this. Joy and sadness – Hope and desperation….. not unlike a typical day in a house effected by Autism. You do the best you can for your girls, somedays there is just nothing we can do to protect them… sad but all too true.

  15. I get it. Timmy doesn’t yet. I see the body language. I hear the comments. I notice the teasing. Timmy doesn’t…at least I don’t think he does…yet.
    It’s hard to get it, to watch it, to know that very question may be asked of me someday. It’s a constant heartache.

  16. How many times I have been in that same situation. A big ball of emotions struggling against patience to determine who should be the champion of the moment. I know there are no words that make these incidents better, but I do find comfort in knowing the enormous achievement when my son makes the attempt and despite whatever anyone’s response or perspective he has won, and that’s all that matters.

  17. I’m sorry. I always jump up and intervene too soon and then get annoyed at myself that I did. There’s no easy way to deal with this. Too many times, it’s just too hard.

  18. I understand this situation all to well unfortunately. Growing up with a sister with autism, I never developed very good social skills either. I’ve seen my younger brother (who is developmentally disabled), her, and myself go through this again and again. Fortunately, Brooke has a very supportive family. When we were growing up, no one knew what autism was. We were not mentally disabled, but we were not normal either. What is worse is we get these reactions from our own family and older brother who can’t understand why we are not “normal” like him so he avoids us. My father is also autistic, and it has just been the last ten years before my mother died that she began to understand.

  19. Aw Jess… Hugs. I also see it as growth, but growing pains are just that – painful. I read a great article the other day from a Mom who said she forgets sometimes how much she needs to *explain* to her son; things we would all take for granted or would come naturally. I’m sure you thought of this, but maybe it is a chance to talk to Brooke about strangers? I have to do that with Fraser as he awkwardly inserts himself everywhere. I explain that he is the stranger and if the children are shy, they might prefer to play with people they know, so you have to ask, or test it out like a detective. I’m sure you don’t need advice… But just in case. Most importantly I so deeply understand that sadness you and Katie feel. The awkwardness is palpable.

  20. Today you brought back many, many memories of similar situations with my son. I agree you were paralyzed as I’ve been there too. I’m glad Brooke has progressed to a point where she’s wants to be friends or play with others but sad that the progress has to hurt everyone (especially her) so much. My Aspie son now 14 has progressed to a point where he cares, is hurt, but can usually move past it and can realize that the other person is the one who missed out by not being his friend. I am happy though that the girls Brooke met were not mean to her. Hugs to all!

  21. I feel your pain, we ALL do! I love the Dr. Seuss quote in the comments above. It says it all. It’s so true. Now that my son is more verbal and engages more socially to varying degrees of appropriateness, I’m seeing very similar situations unfold. When we leave the house, I have realistic ideas of what might occur, but always dashed with a lot of hope, optimism, and confidence. But then…it happens. It is always just as shocking as the time before, yet it catches me off completely off guard. When it comes to seeing your child in a space of being hurt, there is no relief!

  22. That is so painful……I have lived similar situations many times. There are blessings to it when you peel the layers back….. but they don’t out weigh the pain. Love & prayers to you.

  23. After reading this, my 12yr old son with PDD-NOS (who loves following you and your family) asked me why I hadn’t responded to this post yet. I was still processing it because it hit so close to home. Currently, he has one great friend ( an 8yr old girl ) who likes him for just who he is. A little strange, yes, but they love hanging out together and it’s so great to see him happy for once. On another note, and I hope this doesn’t come out wrong, I was relieved to hear about Katie’s reaction to the situation. From all I have read, in my eyes, Katie is the perfect sister. Unfotunately, I do compare my NT son’s reactions to everything I read about Katie, wishing he could be just a little more like her (understanding, compassionate.) It really helps me to know that Katie does have moments when she embarrassed by something Brooke says or does. Thank you Katie for helping me and for all you contribute to your mom’s blog!

  24. Jess,
    I am so sorry for this most painful experience. I can feel your tears. I can feel Kati’e tears and her pain. I can feel Brooke’s courage and then her great sorrow. I know it is heartbreaking. Please just know that you are not alone.

  25. My daughter too has reached the stage of wanting to make friends. Yet, she doesn’t know how. She is too different. She KNOWS that she is different. Now, she has anxiety attacks. Progress and new heartbreaks.

  26. Fi ~ ‎:'(

    Patrice ~ You capture a moment we have all lived so many times. I know the “give it time” phrase gets old, but you will see, Brooke will find those that appreciate her. My son is 10. He is slowly gaining friends in our neighborhood. They are patient with his “quirks” and are often his biggest fans, coaxking him to try things he fears. I once found tree sticks in a line across my neighbor’s driveway when I went over to check on everyone. The kids told me it was their idea to show Peter where the street started since he was getting mixed up. I cried that day too, but for the opposite reason. That day of tears will come.

    Debbie ~This is the exact fear that let me have less than 4 hours sleep last night. Dust day of middle school for my son. He has two “friend’s” on his hall. Their body language tells me different. Oh how I pray he has a good day and good transition. Thanks for this post. It’s good to know this doesn’t only haunt me.

    Karen ~ My heart aches for you…I know that feeling very well…

    Jodie ~ ♥

    Teresa ~ ‎*hugs* to you, Brooke, and Katie. She will find girls that love to be with her and will help her when she struggles. And I am sure Katie will be there to help along the way.

    Pam ~ We share your heartbreak…

    Kelly ~ What doesn’t kill you….. (that goes for our typical kids too). I try to remember that often and sometimes actually believe it ;-). But, boy, some days I just wish for us to have easy, peasy, lemon squeezy days……

    Janice ~ Ugggghh. Been there. Seen that look on the faces of those kids. So ManyTimes!

    Sara ~ Ouch. Looks like it is the NT kids who need the social stories. How can we teach all kids to be accepting of differences if they have never had such an experience before?

    Cheryl ~ ♥

    Jean ~ Word for word, we are there right now and it gets me every time. And keeps me up as well.

    Aimee ~ oh, such heartache. Once again, though, your eloquence speaks for all of our fears and nightmares. 😦

    Maureen ~ ‎{hugs} to you all.

    Lily ~ ‎(((((HUGS))))) to you jess and all the rest of us dealing with this crushing and overwhelming heartache time and time again….

    Jackie~ heartbreaking. love to you all.

    Megan ~THIS is why I am an autism advocate. Maybe if the girls had known? Maybe. So heartbreaking, I’ve been there too.

    Carrie ~ Xoxoxoxo

    Kendra ~ i know you know this.. but you are not alone. been there, tears, heartache and all. thatz why the sunshiny days are more special than words allow! thanks for sharing

    Sami ~ Poor Brook! Its the hardest lesson I have ever had to teach my son, that not everybody will “get” him! He used to ask why he had to be born such an “extrodinary individual”(that’s what I call him). He wants to be ordinary so they other kids will play with him. I always tell him better to be extrodinary you whole life until you are old like grandpa than be ordinary for a just a few years. He is coming around.

    Alyssa ~ all too familar, my daughter doesn’t ask yet, but the kids she approaches ask me why she keeps following them…I share those tears with you

    Mary ~ I wish that everyone could see passed the differences in people and just accept them and move along. Brooke is a rockstar for trying to interact with those girls and even persisting/not giving up. Katie is a very strong girl and great sister.

  27. The other day the other kids in the neighborhood actually ran away when my son asked to play with them. Wait til the meanness in kids comes out. Think you hurt now??? 😦 Sucks.

  28. Oh, my friend, I know how it hurts to watch, helpless, especially with your other child there, mortified. All I can say is this – Brooke will file that away; it’s experience for her, even subconsciously. I know that doesn’t make anybody feel better now. But Nigel used to do the exact.same.thing. It’s almost eerie how similar. And little by little, he learned from these sorts of experiences. It takes a long time. And it hurts to witness. But Brooke will get to that point too, I’m sure of it. Keep hanging in there, love. xo

  29. Jess, I also have been trying to digest this post since yesterday. It is so raw and painful to experience in print, I cannot imagine CAN. NOT. IMAGINE. what it felt like for you to be in it.

    I can only offer my sincerest love and prayer to you and your precious babes. Progress is far better than stillness, but progress never comes without sacrifice in one fashion or another.

    Each time Brooke makes the attempt, it’s proof that the tool box you stock for her is growing. The tools will sharpen as time allows. And whether Brooke struggled with autism or not, these are the social lessons we ALL have to learn one way or another. She WILL keep trying with your love and support behind her – and she WILL learn what friendship is and how to be more successful in social settings. Because of YOU – she WILL learn what really makes a friend long before most ever do (Heck, I know folks in their elder years that have not mastered this trick). I guarantee you that because of YOU, and Katie, and Luau – Brooke will find REAL, TRUE friendship sooner than you imagine and it will be far richer and more blessed than many ever learn to see.

    And Katie – Sweet Katie – will have only the best of friendships – REAL, HONEST relationships with people because she has learned from you and her amazing sister that embarassment is no match for LOVE. ;0)

  30. Barb, I am right there with you relative to my daughter. I too both feel for Brooke, Jess, et al. But, WOW, is that girl progressing or what!?

  31. I’ve always done my best to surround my son with people who love him and all his aspie quirks. Its a part of who he is and we no longer see it as a problem, just a quirk. So easy to get lost in that really. You start to think, there really ISN’T a problem and that cold neurologist we saw got it wrong, he’s fine!
    Then I enrolled him in the summer school program that I was working. We were in the same classroom. He wouldn’t engage with the kids. He didn’t ask to play, he just sat on the outside of their circle and played. The other typical kids were telling each other not to play with him. I overheard 2 girls saying he was weird. It was heartbreaking and just nearly killed me.
    Im told it gets better. And from this post, as heartbreaking as it was to read (and for you to witness), it sounds like it will get better. Baby steps.

  32. I’m so sorry you had to go through this. I think it kills me a little each time, Aidan, my 4 year-old makes a beeline for somebody’s leg to give them a hug. The kids whisper when he sing “The Wheels on the Bus” at the top of his lungs. We are affected by these things as parents of children with ASD. We might have been those very same girls when we were young. Our kids have helped us mature into better more compassionate people.

  33. My heart breaks for all of you. Has she ever hung out with other kids with ASD? I find that all of my SN summer campers are very open to other kids like them. It’s amazing to see these kids having playdates for the first time. They just want friends like any other child!

    hug your sweet girls from me!

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