like everyone else

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Brooke and Katie, ‘Sconset 2013

Katie and I are walking down South Beach Street, headed toward town. She’s telling me about a new favorite book, I Funny.

These are the moments – the ones when she starts talking, really talking. Yes, these are the moments I grasp onto by my fingernails now.

Her voice undulates, rising and falling with the distinctive exaggeration of twelve year-old intonation.

“It’s about this kid named Jamie,” she says, “His parents and his sister are killed in a car crash and he’s paralyzed. He goes to live with his aunt and uncle and his cousin, who is a terrible bully.”

“Oh, geez,” I say, “did his parents die a long time ago or was it recent?”

I’m not sure why I ask, but I need to know.

“Nope, happened just a couple of months before,” she says.

Somehow this strikes me as all the more tragic, though my logic in determining it so is pointless, of course.

“Yikes, I say, that’s awful.”

“Yeah,” she says, “but he’s a comedian. So even though the circumstances are sad, the book is actually funny. I know; it’s weird. But it’s really good.”

She goes on to tell me more as we walk. I revel in the barrage of words coming out of her as if from a machine gun. Rat a tat tat a tat tat. She’s like her Mama, this kid – her brain always four steps ahead of a mouth trying desperately trying to keep up.

“But there’s this one part where he actually ends up liking the bully,” she says, “because, well, he beats him up and then takes his wheelchair and leaves him lying there helpless.”

We stop under the lights in front of Lola 41. I inspect her face to see if she’s putting me on, but her face betrays nothing.

“He likes him because he beats him up?” I ask incredulously.

“Yeah,” she says, and then adds, slowly, deliberately, “He beats everyone up. He’s a bully. So, in a twisted way, it shows that he respects Jamie because he treats him just like he treats everyone else.”

She waits, knowing it will take me a minute, knowing that the story is absurd and extreme, knowing that, with it, she has my attention, knowing that I hear the message that she’s delivering.

We walk silently for a minute or two. She allows me take her hand, then lets it drop as we turn the crowded corner onto Broad Street.

I think of a conversation that I had with my friend Barb a few months ago.

“Dont’ be afraid to tease,” she said.

Especially in our house, where, without sarcasm, we’d have to rely on interpretive dance to communicate, equally (lovingly) teasing means equally (lovingly) valuing. Treating Brooke as we treat each other means respecting her.

“We don’t tease people we pity,” Barb had said.

“We don’t tease people we pity.”

The words echo in my head as we turn toward onto Easy Street and then into the cobblestone alley, snaking our way through town toward the wharf.

Katie starts talking again as we emerge from the alley into Harbor Square . She’s telling me a joke that Jamie tells in the book. It’s funny enough that she giggles as she tells it, but then she gets serious.

“More than anything, he just wants people to know that it’s okay to laugh with him,” she says. “And he’s funny, so you kinda can’t help it. But the whole point is that he just wants to be treated like everyone else,” she says, “Not have anyone feel sorry for him, ya know?”

And suddenly, in that moment, I do know. I know exactly.

I reach for her hand again as we turn onto Straight Wharf. I know she won’t let me hold it for long, but I’ll take what I can get.

And we walk.

Amended to add:

Ed. Note: I want to be very clear that I am not encouraging nor condoning a free-for-all on those with differences. For literal thinkers and those with acute social challenges, the concept of teasing, especially in the form of sarcasm, can be extremely complicated if not totally incomprehensible. As such, the perception and consequences of even loving teasing are likely to be radically different than one might have intended.

When we use sarcasm with Brooke, it’s tailored to ensure that she knows that we are teasing. To that end, we often ask “I’m being silly, aren’t I?” and always check that she sees the humor before moving on.

It’s vital to understand that for the many among us for whom sarcasm simply doesn’t compute, its use might well feel far more like bullying than love.

14 thoughts on “like everyone else

  1. Beautiful! Katie has nailed it once again. And, yes, hold onto that hand whenever she permits. She is so you at that age.

    Love you,
    Mom

  2. Well, this makes me feel better. I am sarcastic and I tease my daughter, then feel badly that I do because she doesn’t get it and I should be sensitive to that. But I sure don’t wish to pity her. So, I guess I am successful in this area. Good insight from your tween who seems wiser than her years!

  3. My husband and I also lovingly tease our son and always have. For the longest time we would follow up with “I’m just kidding,” and then explain to him why we found what we were saying humorous. There were a few missteps when he got upset, and we took responsibility, apologizing sincerely for those. (Incidentally, my father and brother teased me about “slug sandwiches” when I was little because they knew I was totally freaked out by slugs…and I theoretically understood the concept of irony but NEVER once found that joke funny.) Anyway, we knew we were onto something when HE started asking US “Are you just kidding?” It is such a gift to share this sense of humor with our son in a way that brings him in on the joke. And now he is learning how to tease us back.

  4. It’s funny this teasing thing…..when my husband or I do it, Rob has learned how to read us. When the next day is Saturday and we say, ‘the teacher called, there is school tomorrow” – he stares at us then flashes a fake smile and says “just kidding?” or “are you being silly” – we smile and say “yes” and laugh. The problem with peer teasing is it’s usually done to hurt and cut the other person down and is done by those who don’t want to make themselves feel better by hurting someone else. With Autistic kids, that it is the hardest thing to teach them – there is a difference. We know how far we can push the teasing envelope….the “everyone else” who doesn’t know are kids and do it – it’s not in good fun – it’s done to hurt. This is a hard one to teach.

  5. humor, jokes, sarcasm…they’re a form of inclusion. silent respect, walking on egg shells, lack of humor…they’re the absence of inclusion, holding someone at a distance. which is a boring way to repeat what katie said far more eloquently here. she rocks.

  6. This is so true. But as an NT parent, it’s so hard to find that balance where teasing is understood as teasing. And one thing I worry about are the words “I’m just kidding”. I’ve heard this phrase myself used as a sort of get-out-of-jail-free-card for someone when they AREN’T kidding. Any ideas of a different humor “code phrase” we can use to teach our kiddos about humor? Sometimes it’s such a subtle tone of voice – how do we expect them to figure out the difference between the real and fake “just kidding” when sometimes it’s hard for US?

  7. great blog jess, u r teachable. what fun! true funny is good for all that ails ya. there is power in humor – healing power and lots of it.

    pitied or not we all grow up. katie’s got it. no one wants to be treated differently. i find it helps to take some of the power back.

    lets beat autism to the punch line. each twisted autistic joke weakens its pity choke. for additional lessons (warning r rated) about being enough and autistic humor please check out my brief blog: http://muleandmuseproductions.com/turtle-soup-for-the-soul/

  8. I had a teacher in high school that used to tell us “You only tease the ones you like, so if someone is teasing you…” Completely changes the perspective. He empowered many kids. I’m now 47 and still remember and value that lesson.

  9. We, too, use sarcasm and teasing regularly. I used to ‘tag’ every sarcastic comment for my son, so he’d understand what it was. Then, one day, he responded to something I said by pointing accusingly at me and shouting, “SARCASM! I see it in your eyes!” Which made me laugh and laugh and hug him hard, because it was awesome on so many levels. So now, when he seems not to get that he’s being gently teased, we just smile at him and say, “I see it in your eyes,” and he gets it. Usually. Though there is, of course, always the chance that he’ll respond, “I know. But it still hurt my feelings.” Poor kid. It must suck living in a family full of wise-asses. 🙂

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