it’s not you it’s me


Dear Lady In The Bookstore,

I have something that I need to say to you. This isn’t going to be easy and I’m likely to stumble a bit. But I owe it to you to say this. And more importantly, I owe it to my daughter. So I hope you’ll bear with me.

I’m sorry.

You see, I was wrong about you.

And being wrong about you means that I have to face some really hard stuff about me.

It took until your third lap around the kids’ section for me to really look at you. I mean really, actually look at you. To realize that you were simply trying to find something to do while staying within sight of your daughter as she looked for a book. I’ve been there a thousand times. I’ve poked around looking at the same books, the same toys, the same stuffed animals, then people-watched to pass the time.

It took until the third pass, the time that I smiled up at you and realized that you didn’t return my smile not because you were cold, but because you really weren’t taking much notice of us at all, to see.

It was then that I played back the video in my head. Then that I paused it as you came to us, glanced down and took a beat to process something out of the ordinary – a nine year-old girl and her Mama on the floor of the board book section – reading Elmo. And I zoomed in on your face and I searched for the judgement that I’d been so sure was there. And I caught my breath as I realized that I was looking in the wrong place. The judgement of me and my daughter that I’d assigned to you was my own. I’d watched you through the lens of my own insecurity and it had changed what I thought I saw. And I’m sorry.

You see, I’ve said this before, a bunch of times actually, but it will be new to you — autism has this way of laying us bare in the village square. Of forcing us to examine our own insecurities about fitting in and standing out – about being strong enough to be who we are as we allow our children the room to be who they are. And sometimes, no matter how far we think we’ve come, our own prejudices, our own insecurities – creep to the surface unbidden and muddle our perceptions of how other people are looking at us – at our children. And it’s so much easier to think that it’s you. I can be angry at you; I can resent you. That’s easy. But if it’s me, well, that’s a whole other messy ball of wax, now isn’t it?

At the bookstore that night, I’d wrestled with the same questions that I’ve wrestled with for years – Am I doing the right thing by indulging my girl’s need for sameness, for predictability, for the characters that she knows and finds comfort in? Should I be pushing her into finding things that are (God I hate these two words) age-appropriate? Am I doing her a disservice by giving into what makes her happy in the moment but may make things harder for her in the longer term? Are there any right answers? And there you were, walking by, looking down, taking notice, briefly registering something amiss and that was all it took for me to assign all of my questions, all of my fears, all of my own intolerance to you. For no other reason than you were there and you happened to see us.

I hope you’ll accept my apology. It hasn’t been an easy one to make. But truthfully, it’s a lot easier than the one that must follow. To my daughter, who deserves a mother who doesn’t give a crap if we’re on the floor reading board books at nine or nineteen – as long as she can be exactly who she is.

Thank you for listening.


40 thoughts on “it’s not you it’s me

  1. I have to admit that I’ve been guilty of the same – even going as far as challenging the percieved prejudiced individual.

    It’s so difficult not to feel judged by the rest of the world, isn’t it?

    *hugs* xx

    • I’ve done the same thing. I felt horrible for the poor family I lambasted because I thought they were judging my harnessed 5 year old son. It turns out that they wanted a harness for their daughter and really liked ours.

      It took a long time for me to forgive myself for that and now I try to proceed cautiously. It most certainly isn’t easy and there are definite times when I need to say something. As in the Serenity Prayer, it’s all about being granted the wisdom to know the difference.

      Remember that you are not alone, Jess!

      Best Wishes,

  2. I ask myself this question of my soon to be 9 yr old. I made a compromise. I read chapter books to her but I also read board books. She can read but she doesn’t choose to read anything but board books and picture books.

  3. This took a lot of guts to write. Thank you. I’ve been guilty of the same…I wrestle wih those same questions and the fact that there are not pat and easy answers. Thanks for providing this very important food for thought.

  4. So close to home for me! I struggle with this on a daily basis when I question if it’s MY perception of OTHER peoples perception of my son that is causing me to be do damned guarded! A lot to take in and think about. Thanks so much for your courage and your honesty….. As always!

  5. ((Hugs)) I have done the same thing. I have had to face the same guilt. I want to follow my son’s lead and just go with it–but some days that is hard. You aren’t alone.

  6. “Age-appropriate” is a much harder target to catch as they get older. The target moves so much faster and I am sick and tired of running to try and harness it for the sake of other people’s comfort. My daughter’s happiness is much more important and an easier goal to achieve and it is the only one that I am running for now. Everyone else will just have to catch up.

  7. This is a great post, as always. I hope this doesn’t sound like I’m underestimating the importance of *your* challenges and struggles, *your* growth process, but I have to tell you that I learn so much from the things you think about, the things you share. I don’t have any children yet, but I do work as an administrator at a school for kids with learning differences, including kids on the spectrum. Also, I’m *human*, which is such a drag sometimes :), so I get a lot out of your ability self-evaluate. You inspire me regularly with your beautiful humanness. You are perfectly imperfect. Or is it imperfectly perfect? If you’re ever looking for a blog subject, and I’m sure you already have plenty, I would love to hear your thoughts on how to persevere when things really get you down, how to snap out of it, how to redirect yourself. You seem very, very good at these things, and I think they are remarkable gifts. Thanks for all that you share. It makes a difference to a lot of people.

  8. You hit the nail on the head with this post, I have been there so many times and not just with strangers, with family and friends as well. Thank you for writing this, it makes us all feel less alone in this struggle.

  9. Hugs, my friend. I get this. Wish I didn’t, but I do. Every time we walk through Target and Nik wants to play with an infant toy because of the music or lights. I’ve finally decided…it makes him happy and makes our shopping trips so much easier for both of us. Why not?

    And I put on my mask of false bravado and silently DARE anyone to give us a look or make a comment. *sigh*

  10. I love you.

    Yesterday we had a small, very small, gathering for RM’s birthday because I was convinced the whole point of any party large or small was just to make *me* feel better about my baby girl turning 6 and perhaps not really understanding what that means.

    But as it turns out, those *were* my own insecurities. She had a fabulous time. She had two of her best autistic buds with her and they held their own impromptu dance party in my kitchen. Laughing and giggling and having a grand time. It just had never occured to me that was even remotely possible. I just thought I would end up going through the birthday motions to make myself feel better.

    Thank you for spelling this out for ME.

  11. Oh wow. You just summed up some things I have been grappling with myself. It’s taken me a while to realize that so many of the feelings I attribute to other judgy people are actually coming from me. And I have realized why it bothers me when people are truly being judgmental. It’s because I think I secretly believe they are right. My insecurities and intense desire to fit in and be like everyone else is causing me so much anxiety and making me miss the good stuff…

    Thank you for writing this. I think I should print it and hang it on my fridge to remind myself that it doesn’t matter. It just shouldn’t matter what other people think or what society says is appropriate.

  12. We are all guilty of this. Some times we’re right, many times we’re not. I admit I live in that insecurity way too often. Even when we are home, and she’s sitting at the dinner table flapping away, I think to myself…’will she do this when she’s an adult?’ ‘what will people think?’ I shouldn’t care. I love Cymbie for who she is with all of my heart. I worry though about other people. Judging, making fun, being mean. It’s something I need to work on, for sure. Don’t be too hard on yourself. We’re human, and sometimes our feelings, right or wrong, get the better of us.

  13. Oh, this one resonates down to my core. I am so fiercely protective of Em’s right to be exactly who she is that it’s easy to perceive judgment in others — because I’m so hyperaware that who she is is likely not who they expect her to be. I believe that I accept her absolutely. I just wish I could get past expecting others to do the same.

  14. Thank you! For sharing what is swimming around in me too; rememants of that person before our children showed us what is important (love, happiness, tolerance, empathy, support). Our children have taught us so much, and they will keep teaching us until we deeply learn the lesson. Be easy on you, Jess. We’re all learning. .

  15. I really like this post. I have a lot more to say, but I deleted it because it was coming off wrong and I didn’t want to do that. I just want you to know that I very much respect what you have to say here.

  16. I am sobbing because you’ve just summed up so many fears, so many heart wrenching questions that have no answers. I have been guilty of putting up this wall of indignation so many times – of shutting people out because I’m sure that they’re staring oddly, judging me, when maybe I’m just judging myself – or worse… my beautiful child. Thank you for always being honest and putting these posts up and keeping it real. They are invaluable for someone like me, who doesn’t always feel like a “super mom”.

  17. Wow – that hits me where I’m living. We do it, don’t we? Force someone else to carry our issues so we don’t have to admit they are really ours. I am an awesome advocate for my girl – when someone else is letting her down. But who advocates for her when I let her down? Thanks for the bold awareness.

  18. Beautifully (and bravely) said. What a great reminder that a lot of autism “stuff” is really about me, not about my son. Thank you.

  19. “Am I doing the right thing by indulging my girl’s need for sameness, for predictability, for the characters that she knows and finds comfort in? Should I be pushing her into finding things that are (God I hate these two words) age-appropriate? “. You took the words right out of my mouth. My son is 13 and I feel like we’re starting over in so many areas. Because of his age and his size there are different social rules/expectations both from us and the general public. Bless his heart, behaviors that were “ok” and even cute just yesterday in a child are not for a teenager. The looks and flat out stares seem to be more frequent and, yes, more judgmental. I check myself constantly to make sure I’m not judging them in return. Some days it’s just so hard. The other day I took my son swimming and I heard a “gentleman” (and I use that term loosely) say ” What’s up with the retard” to one of his friends. I froze, so angry I saw red until this very large man walked over and said, “If you have a problem, you can leave. Now apologize to that boy and his mother.”. It restored some of my faith in humanity but, I’m not gonna lie, it still hurts.

    • I just had to let you know, I am going through the same thing with my 10 year old. I am thankful he didn’t notice the tweens making fun of him the other day. I was ready to tell them off, but I knew in this day in age you cannot tell off someone else kid, so I bit my tongue and kept going. He is so innocent. One minute he is explaining everything there is to know about oceans and sharks and the next he playing with toys that are considered too young, but he is happy. I guess that’s all that really matters.

  20. I loved this its so honest thanks for being honest with us ive tears in my eyes as I know ive done the same , and now im so sorry too to all the parents who looked and didnt even say a word they just looked and my imagination ran riot clouding my day and making me resentful x

  21. I totally get it. I so, so get it. I am working on it. I am reading a book titled Buddhism for Mothers of Young Children. It’s changing my life. I think it might be just what you need too. And there is one for school aged children as well. Love!

  22. Amazing! I actually just wrote a blog post about judgment autistic parents face the other day (see my blog if interested) where I take on the opposite perspective. And… although I am happy with my post and think it is, unfortunately, based on real foundations of parents of autistic kids actually being judged, I got an amazing comment to that post from an autistic adult that was incredibly insightful and actually kind of mind-blowing.

    He approached the matter from the perspective of us parents of autistic kids and how we are always trying to help our children be as normal as possible, to fit in as well as possible, to stand out as little as possible. And he was seriously questioning that approach. And now you come and write this excellent post – and I know exactly where you are going because I’ve been there myself and yes, it is not easy to admit. Well done. You are amazing!

    xx Ragga

  23. it’s a fine line we all walk between just being in the moment and relaxing with our child and quickly slipping into judgement mode of “should i be doing something different with him”. It’s a constant struggle and hard to find balance. My 4 year old is so attached to electronics and yesterday while packing for a family trip he was on computer and iphone all day. i ended up being so stressed packing and anxious with him doing the same thing all day that I changed our flight to later today to get some much needed sleep and to have a new attitude today for our trip. Thank you for this post today….I needed it. I appreciate you letting me know that someone else out there feels all the same things I do. Oh…and I’ve got Elmo in the house too!

  24. Jess,
    Thank you for writing this. This is the first time, in my 12 years of parenting a “finally diagnosed” autistic daughter, that I not felt completely misunderstood and isolated. You get me! Thank you. I so wish you lived next door.

  25. I understand how difficult it can be to get past that “initial reaction”, and how it can be even more difficult to really look at whether it is our insecurities, as a mom, behind our perception of what happened, or not. I applaud you for going back and taking a deeper look at what happened. You are a fantastic mother and a wonderful person. I know that I have had to do it, myself, more than once.

  26. I read a saying somewhere once…” What people think of you is none of your business”. It’s hard to live life and NOT wonder if the things you do will be judged by others. But really…what does it matter? If your heart is in the right place and you are genuinely doing the best you can, the only judgement that matters should be God’s.

  27. Our son just turned 12, and “Elmo’s World” is still one of his favorites. We had the same quandry as to whether we should try to wean him off of Elmo and into something more age-appropriate. But it occurred to us, Elmo actually has some pretty good messages – learning, friendship, kindness, imagination, curiosity, and embracing diversity, among others. These are lessons that are appropriate for all ages.

  28. Pingback: Q and A Tuesday: autism spectrum and obsessive interests

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