I can’t really explain what has happened between Brooke and me these last six weeks but it has been life changing for me. Never before has a child (other than my own) crept into my heart as quickly and stealthily as your daughter has. I have watched in complete amazement as she works and works to connect with the world.

Beyond the repetition and the grasping attempts to pull from her limited repertoire of conversation starters, there is this aura that is solely Brooke’s. It is an invisible exhale, a breath of color, warmth, love, tenderness and song. And then, in the midst of the ‘oh yeahs’ and missed nuances, the sensory overloads — there are these scintillating seconds when with just the slightest eye contact and a well-rehearsed smile, a tuck of the hair behind the ears, she pours her love around you the best she knows how. It makes my eyes well, my hair stand and my heart sing …

…I can’t explain it really. I just know she has touched my soul… She is so brave and has kept me honest. I need to come out of my comfort zone more often with even the tiniest amount of the courage that she shows each day.

Brooke’s camp facilitator after knowing her for six weeks, Summer, 2009

January 2009 – A Classmate’s Birthday Party

The kids were happily crammed into a crowded table at their classmate’s birthday party. They were carefully painting their plaster sculptures, chattering and bustling, sharing paints and cups of water for cleaning brushes.

Brooke was hard at work painting her plaster clown. From the looks of it, not a single color on the palate had escaped her brush.

From a couple of seats away, Katie glanced down at her sister and called out encouragement. “Brooke, you’re doing a great job!”

A little boy across the table from Brooke chimed in.

“Yeah, you’re doing a great job making a mess, Brooke. Nice mess. What a great job. You’re just dumb.”

He barely finished the last sentence before Katie angrily shot back.

“Stop making fun of my sister.”

“But she doesn’t even pay attention,” he said. “Watch this.”

He looked right at my baby girl, diligently painting her project and he shouted, “Hey Brooke,DOYNG!”

She didn’t flinch. She kept painting.

“See?” he said, looking around the table at his captive audience. He looked smug, having proven his point. “She doesn’t even pay attention.”

I took a step closer, but a clear, determined voice from across the table stopped me in my tracks. I know that voice better than I know my own, but there was an anger in it that I didn’t recognize.

“STOP IT!” said the voice. “STOP MAKING FUN OF MY SISTER.”

“She doesn’t even know,” the little boy said flippantly.

The voice got stronger, clearer. “It doesn’t matter if she knows it or not. STOP making fun of her. You don’t make fun of ANYBODY. EVER.”

I felt like a raw nerve.

I was proud.

I was angry.

I was torn to shreds.

For Brooke.

For Katie.

For all of us.

Hot tears ran down my cheeks in the car on the way home. My stomach churned with the bile of anger and fear. Is this what happens at school? Is this Brooke’s life when we’re not around?

The kids are getting older. They’re seeing the differences. They’re seizing on one another’s vulnerabilities. It’s what kids do. Hell, it’s what adults do.

He may be right; she may not know. She may not understand. I’m not convinced. She sees so much more than we think she does. But even if she doesn’t know now, she will. Then what?

June 2014 – The 5th Grade Concert

Luau says, “So that’s the kid that Ms J says has been flirting with Brooke.”

I look at him. The only thing that comes out of my mouth is a nervous giggle. “Um, what?”

He says, “Didn’t I tell you?”

“Uh, no, dear, you didn’t.” I manage. “That’s not something you miss.”

“Oh, well, it’s him,” he says, prompting me to follow his gaze to the stage.

“Oh no,” I say.

“Mama,” Katie says, “Isn’t that the kid that I told to stop making fun of her at a party?”

“Yes,” I say, “Yes it is.”

Luau pipes in. “People change, guys. He was six. He didn’t know better.”

“Maybe,” I say. “But I’m not over it.” (Ed note: I may or may not have added, “I still want to drop kick him every time I see him,” but that wouldn’t be appropriate for public consumption, so let’s just pretend I didn’t, shall we?)

“He’s been doing all of her scripts with her,” Luau says. “The other day Ms J said that she told Brooke that it wasn’t time for that right now and he said, ‘No, it’s okay, Ms J, we’re having fun.'”

I look at him. For so long I’ve held the anger of that day. He was six. He didn’t know. Fine, but he hurt my girl.

Is it possible though? Is it possible, not just that he’s changed, but that my kid has changed him?

That everything that we swear works — inclusion, disclosure, education about and celebration of differences .. does?

Is it really possible?

This kid made fun of Brooke UNTIL HE KNEW HER. And then? Then he liked her. Laughed with her. Flirted with her. Joined in her scripts.

Is it really possible?

Holy crap on toast, people. I think it is.


10 thoughts on “change

  1. We all change and grow. Brooke is capable of changing us all as she changes and grows. It’s possible!

    Love you,

  2. I am so pleasantly surprised and amazed that you gave the kid another chance (even if it needed a bit of convincing). that is such a positive and healthy attitude. Its so encouraging. so many parents would just have given up at the first hint of trouble and ended up isolating their child in order to protect him/her. you are amazing.

  3. As usual, your stories touch me so deeply and they reverberate within my heart when we are having our darkest moments. Sometimes I think to myself, “Dang. I wonder if Jess ever experienced _________ and what she did about it.” Or even, “Would Jess be in a pile of sloppy tears like I am right now over ________?” Much like you, I want the world to see my child for all of his magnificence, not simply a plethora of traits that they don’t understand. And even if that’s what they see, I want everyone to love and accept him because that’s WHAT WE SHOULD DO. You keep me strong, girl. Even when I’m away from my laptop, I am reminded of your family’s journey and I persevere like a (very messy and clumsy) WARRIOR. Thank you! ❤

  4. I’ve been avidly reading your blog for several years… but this is the first time I’m commenting. I remember so clearly when I read that first story from the birthday party. Your writing has motivated me to be present in my son’s social world, being open with his diagnosis, encouraging his peers (and their parents!) to get to know him… but I’ve always been unsure if true acceptance is possible. I’m so grateful to you for sharing these stories. This one illustrates so clearly the benefit of continued advocacy and awareness over the long haul. Thank you for the inspiration!

  5. As a mom of a NT 6 year old boy who is learning to “know better” as well as a 5 year old autistic boy, I see this from both sides and really appreciate that you shared this story! 6 is rough on all of us!

  6. Quentin has changed lives too. Here at the hospital, he has changed so many attitudes about autism. They now think first before they charge into the room, asking, how is this going to affect him and what can we do to minimize the stress and anxiety. He has changed so many people in his life just because he is who he is, and that’s a good thing! Thanks Jess 🙂

  7. Brooke may have changed that boy’s perspective, once he knew her, but let’s not discount Katie’s role in the events. What strength and courage it takes to stand up to a peer, especially at her age! You are raising two amazing girls, Jess, who are literally changing the world for the better!

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