center stage

The sky is spitting rain.

Afraid to be late on the second day of school, we show up far too early. A man who Brooke doesn’t recognize is standing at the door. She eyes him warily.

“Is he a fire fighter?” she asks.

“I don’t think so, Brooke,” I answer. “He doesn’t look like a fire fighter to me, but why don’t you ask him?”

She gets just a little too close, then points a long finger at him. “What are you?” she asks.

It takes him a moment. He looks at me. I purposefully offer no assistance.

“I’m an intern,” he says rather unhelpfully.

“An intern?” she asks.

“Yeah, I’m an intern here this year.”

I chime in. Someone’s got to push this along just a little. “So are you kind of like a teacher?” I ask.

“I am,” he says. “I’m a teaching intern.”

Brooke is still eyeing him suspiciously.

“Are you a fire fighter?” she asks.

I whisper to him. “She’s afraid of fire fighters at school. She’s just looking for a little reassurance.”

“I’m not a fire fighter,” he says.

And with that, she walks in the door.

He tells us that the kids have been asked to wait in the auditorium until first bell. He points the way in case we don’t know where it is.

Brooke marches in.

I don’t expect us to last long in here. There aren’t too many kids yet, but there will be. I foresee another conversation with Mr Not Firefighter Teaching Intern. But in the meantime, I take Brooke’s rain boots and swap them out for her flats. I shake out the soaked umbrella and stow it with her backpack against the wall. And then I watch.

Kids stream in. One little girl waves to me as she walks by, then turns with a big, open smile to Brooke. She then waves enthusiastically to Brooke, who awkwardly waves back. She didn’t wave until she was seven. We still don’t quite have that one down. But dude, they waved at each other!

Brooke wanders down the aisle and heads straight for the scrum of kids who have just come off a bus. I watch, wondering how she’s going to handle this — if perhaps she’s going to stop to talk to someone or look for a seat next to the waving girl. She does neither. She makes her way through the crowd and keeps going toward the stage. When she gets there, she climbs the steps and stands stock still on center stage.

I consider calling for her or running up and grabbing her, but I don’t. I know that if I do I’ll make a scene.

The rest happens in slow motion.

She clears her throat a la Periwinkle in Blue’s Clues and then begins to sing.

Gotta keep your head down, whoa oh. You can put your hair up, aye aye. You gotta keep your head down, whoa oh. You can put your hair up, aye aye …

She acts out each line, first tucking her chin into her chest, then gathering her hair up with her hand. No matter how many times I’ve told her the actual lyrics, this is her song and this is how she chooses to sing it.

I’m not sure what to do.

I decide to do nothing. But watch. She wraps up the song without incident.

The little girl who had smiled and waved claps.

Brooke curtsies, and thanks to Periwinkle says to the applauding crowd of one, “Oh please, you’re too kind.”

Before leaving the stage, she will do a dance. Then she will curtsy again. Then she will once again tell the crowd, none of whom seem to really notice that she’s up there anymore, that they are too kind.

After descending the stage, she immediately tells me that we need to walk. It’s gotten crowded now in the auditorium. And loud. It’s time to explain to Mr Not Firefighter Teaching Intern that we need to wander for a bit. As it turns out, he’s too busy telling other people where to go to even notice that we’re going rogue.

As we walk through the halls, I wonder if I’ve done the right thing letting her do what she did. I wonder if I should have wrangled her. If I should have explained that climbing up on stage and performing is unexpected in that situation.

I replay the movie in my head. I think of the kids. Of the one who smiled and clapped. Of the rest who barely seemed to notice – or who didn’t seem to care much either way if they did. Of the fact that these kids know her. And like her. That there will always be those who won’t get it. And that it’ll be largely up to me to make sure that she doesn’t care.

As we walk, I realize that the insecurity was mine. With each step forward I decide that neither my desire to fit in nor my fear of standing out should ever, EVER stop my girl from taking center stage. Because from the looks of it, that’s exactly where she belongs.


23 thoughts on “center stage

  1. I’m sure that was SO hard to not stop her. I think by the reactions it shows you did exactly the right thing. You let her be her and she was rewarded with the applause of that fantastic kid. By not doing anything the others showed you they are fine with it too. You are a good mama.

  2. You know, that’s really great that Brook is in with kids who do appreciate her and didn’t make a big deal out of it. I intervene if my daughter is doing something unsafe, but I don’t usually intervene if she is just doing something unusual. She’s young enough that no one really cares, but I have wondered how that will evolve and she gets older and the behavior is less age appropriate.

  3. I think sometimes it is hard to let go of the society rules that run in the back of our minds in this situation. We constantly walk that tightrope between expected behavior and letting our kids be kids. I think you did great.

  4. It sounds to me like the child is becoming the Teacher at times , it’s funny and amazing how our children do that to us . Good Stuff

  5. Words to live by….”That there will always be those who won’t get it. And that it’ll be largely up to me to make sure that she doesn’t care.” Sometimes the hardest thing is to just stand back and let them be themselves.

  6. Thank you, Jess. For a timely reminder to let my kiddies shine, to let them be themselves, to let them, simply, BE. They both start preschool next week, and I will struggle with the same worries; for their acceptance and for blending in. Good for you, for letting her be.

  7. All of us need to take a moment and sing in front of everyone unbothered by what anyone thinks! We sometimes dance in our driveway and I could care less what the neighbors think of my complete lack of coordination.

  8. Sounds to me like she’s right at home on the stage!! Good for her and good for you Mom for not stopping her sounds like you both have had a great start to the day!

  9. Wow. Thank you for sharing. I have a very handsome and sweet young man (he’s 7) who, given the opportunity, would have done exactly the same thing and felt the same way she did. I, on the other hand, would likely have made the mistake of stopping him – thanks for helping me to seeing things a little differently today.

  10. I think you did exactly the right thing. Why shouldn’t Brooke just be herself? And if you don’t let her do things like this, how will she find her peer group of appreciative kids and other outliers who will recognize themselves in her? Trust me, seeing other autistic people just being themselves just frees me up to be myself in a way that nothing else does. I think it’s a gift to everyone to see someone being un-self-consciously who they are.

  11. Great reminder to check our own baggage at the door and let our kids be themselves. I hope the year is full of friends who wave and clap.

  12. Sometimes I look back on things I did, and I cringe. As I recall those events I remember how I did something unexpected and people made fun of me, and I put the two together and of course I felt bad.

    Then there were other times that I looked back at myself doing something weird, and no one seemed to notice. I cringe anyway, because if I don’t and I do it again, I might not be so lucky.

    But I really don’t know . . . .

    There are times I did something that seemed funny or right or whatever and people took it totally differently. I looked like a fool, a jerk, or worse. Then someone else says, “I admire you for standing up and saying what you think.”

    Sometimes that makes me smile, but other times I hear the words and I realize the rest of the room thinks I’m a jerk anyway.

    And it’s so hard to know what to do, when you don’t have the right instinct and so much that is social requires deliberation and forethought.

    It’s a son of a bitch.

  13. This is how I live life for my NT kids–let them wear the mismatched outfit, let them dance without rhythm, let them live life in full, unabashed joy–and why shouldn’t I let my sweet ASD boy do the same thing? Well, done, mama.

  14. Catching up a bit, so a little late for this one. But this hit me so hard today! I have found myself fighting this same urge lately, but I am realizing that it is my need to fit in or fly under the radar that is causing my discomfort or I, daresay, embarrassment. I have worked so hard to help my son know that he is ok just the way he is and all the work we do is just so he can navigate the world…but then it’s hard to let them be just who he is! It’s a hard lesson, and one we will continue to work on – the both of us!!

  15. Love, love, love this. My daughter is perfectly happy to be the center of attention to or has no problem melting down in Kroger to leave all eyes on us. I am definitely the one with the insecurities.

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