I had dinner with an old friend last night.
It was getting late so I called home to say goodnight to the girls.
Katie picked up and we chatted about this and that, promised to carve out some time together over the weekend, then said goodnight.
I asked if she thought Brooke might be up for a quick goodnight too.
She brought the phone to Luau, who put it on speaker and announced that Brooke was in the tub. As soon as I said, “Hi, Sweetheart!” she launched into the first script.
“Stick out your tongue like this!”
I swear I could hear the smile in her voice. God, I missed her.
I stuck out my tongue. And I made the noise that goes along with it. Cause, well, duh.
Three more rounds of tongue sticking outing and then she was onto Pablo.
“How did I ask Pablo if that was his beak?” she asked.
I put on my best British accent, because, well, that’s what we do, and said, “Pablo, is that your beak?”
“How did I ask him if that was his head?”
“Pablo,” I said, still ‘speaking in British,’ as she likes to say, “is that your head?”
She could barely contain herself at the prospect of what came next.
“What did the man say when I asked Pablo to put his foot on his beak?”
“I don’t think he can do that!”
The giggles were delicious.
I swear, I could eat this child.
After a couple more scripts, we finally wrapped it up and said good night.
I hung up the phone and snapped back to the reality of the dinner table. Of the conversation. Of having just called my ten year-old daughter and, in order to talk to her on the phone, stuck my tongue out, made a probably fairly bizarre noise, then asked questions about Pablo’s beak in a British accent.
God bless my friend, there wasn’t a hint of judgement to be found in his face, but his presence alone begged the question – –What must this look like from the outside?
What must all of these machinations … these hoops that we’ve set up to jump ourselves through day after day … the scripts, the noises, the knock knock jokes … the very ways in which we connect and communicate with one another … what must they look like to someone who doesn’t live this?
I try not to care.
I thumb my nose at normal, because Who would ever want that?
Dear God, I say with an eye roll, can you imagine the tedium of being normal?
But so too, I pretend that it IS normal.
It’s our normal at least.
A couple of years ago, I wrote the following.
And that’s the thing about autism. It’s messy. It’s sticky. It makes demands of all of us and what it demands are the things that are hardest for us to find within ourselves – flexibility, compassion, patience.
But above all It lays us bare in the village square. It forces each and every one of us to confront our own insecurities about fitting in and standing out and having the conviction to be who we are in a world that thrives on conformity. Autism holds up a mirror – giving us no choice but to see ourselves in stark relief. It asks us who we are – forcing us to question why we are so quick to judge and so slow to offer real support. And it makes us look at what we fear …
Just a few months later, I’d write a letter to a woman I’d seen in the bookstore. I’d been convinced that she’d been judging us – judging my girl. It took me a while to realize that she wasn’t – *I* was. This is what it said….
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.
There was no question last night that my friend couldn’t have cared less last night if I’d stood on my head and scissor-kicked my legs at the table.
The only judgement was mine.
And that’s what hurts the most.