Over February break, Katie was begging to come into work with me. It just wasn’t feasible to bring her in for a full day, but we managed to come up with a compromise. Luau would bring both girls in for a visit toward the end of a day and then leave Katie with me to close up shop.
I was nervous about Brooke coming into the office, but hopeful that after her last experience it might be O.K. As it turned out, it was far better than O.K.
As soon as they walked in, Brooke made a bee-line for the white board. She immediately retrieved the markers from their storage spot and began to draw an elaborate rendering of the Teletubbies at the beach.
Luau and Katie had walked over to my colleagues and were saying their hellos. There were introductions that needed to be made, but I was going nowhere. I was torn between maintaing some semblance of manners and ensuring that my girl was comfortable in a tough setting. I decided that manners could wait and let Luau fend for himself.
Once the Teletubbies were all in their bathing suits, I decided it was time to push just a little. “Brooke, honey,” I said, “as soon as you’re done coloring that in, we’re going to walk around and say hello to Mama’s friends, OK?”
“I’m still drawing,” she said.
“Yes, baby, I see that,” I said. “But as soon as you’re done coloring that in, we’re going to say hello to Mama’s friends.”
“O.K.,” she said, never looking up from the board.
Eventually she finished coloring and I took her by the hand and walked her around the desk.
I introduced her first to a new colleague. He’s been with us less than a month and I realized as he began to talk a mile a minute that I had never told him that Brooke has autism. “Hey, kiddo. Nice to meet you,” he said with his hand outstretched. She handed him her forearm, which he bobbed up and down in an awkward approximation of a handshake. “You visiting Mama at the office today?” he asked. There wasn’t nearly enough time for her to process the question before he was on to the next. “You guys having a good vacation? Doing some fun stuff? What have you been up to? Hey, I like your shirt. I like tie dye too. Big fan.” She stood looking at him, but didn’t say a word. “Brooke, honey,” I said pointing at her shirt, “this pattern is called tie dye. Mr J likes tie dye. Do you?” She mumbled, “Yeah.” I prompted a ‘Nice to meet you,” and we moved on. I made a note to have a chat with Mr J the next day.
We moved on to the other side of the desk, where Mama sits. I introduced her to my closest neighbor, Mr K. Yes, the very Mr K who I asked just over a year ago to please consider removing the R word from his lexicon. The very Mr K who, at least in my presence, has. The very Mr K who had no prior interaction with anyone with autism. The very Mr K who has sat next to me now for over a year. The very Mr K whom I have grown to respect and really like, even if he finds me annoying and thinks I talk far too much.
Although he’s heard about her (ad nauseam, no doubt) he’d never met Brooke. Just like Mr J before him, he reached out a hand and got a forearm in return. He shook it with a gentle smile. He said that it was nice to meet her and she said. “It’s nice to meet you too.” It was short, sweet and charming.
We moved around the room repeating the scene. She needed a lot of prompting, but she hung in like a champ. Eventually she cried Uncle and asked to head back to the white board. I didn’t insist that we hit everyone. We’d pushed enough for one day.
After Luau and Brooke headed off, I sat down at my desk with Katie. I couldn’t stop smiling. My girls had BOTH come to my office. Brooke had, in her own way, enjoyed being there. And by God, she’d walked around and said hello to my colleagues. I could barely get my brain around how far we’d come.
“I’m really proud of her.”
The words weren’t mine.
I turned to Mr K. He had a huge grin on his face. “I mean, wow,” he said. “That really must have taken a lot for her to do, huh? I mean, this place can’t be easy for her, right?”
The tears stung my eyes. Oh God, crying at work is not an option.
“No,” I said, barely looking at him, “it’s not easy at all. But she rocked it.”
Katie nodded. “She did really well, Mama. That was awesome.”
I looked back at Mr K. He was still smiling.
I took to IM. I knew I couldn’t say what I wanted to say out loud. If I did, it would come with a waterfall.
“You made me cry damn it.”
“No! Not a bad thing.
It means the world to me that you would see that.”
One more person who gets it. One more person who slows himself down a little. One more person who no longer uses a word that wounds. One more in an ARMY OF PEOPLE who will – who ARE! – making the world just a little more understanding, just a little more forgiving, just a little more ACCESSIBLE to my girl.
One more person to whom I am grateful.
Who will you tell your story to today?