Seriously, who? Look at that smile…
Okay, by now if you’ve been reading regularly, you know that I’m somewhat of a sap. It’s true, I admit it, I cry at McDonald’s commercials. (And not just because the food they’re advertising is slowly killing our nation’s children… *insert loud sniffling sound here* …) Seriously, I get sentimental. I think it’s a hazard of truly knowing how to count my blessings. Each day just brings one more thing to get sappy about. Usually it’s something sweet my daughter said, or a new skill my son’s teachers discovered at school, something like that. Rarely are my sappy tears tinged with that pang of real sadness that comes with grief or loss or longing.
But this afternoon, my heart ached for my boy. For about a week now Alex has been out of sorts. Not quite himself, acting out, on the verge of a meltdown. And today he flat out punched a teacher. Of course she called me right away to tell me what had happened and we spent a good bit of time on the phone trying to sort through what might be going on inside Alex’s head. Perhaps it was hunger, after all he is growing. Maybe it’s classroom dynamics, had there been any rearranging of activities recently? The change of weather, seasonal allergies, maybe coming down with a cold? (And of course my greatest fear is ever-present in the background of these conversations. That maybe I’ll never know what’s hurting my child or what’s really going on. Maybe there is no answer, no logical conclusion. At all. Ever.)
After milling over the conversation with the teacher and all the possibilities for a couple hours this afternoon, I decided to head home from work early to spend some extra time with Alex to see if I could help him get things back on track. When I arrived, Alex and his team were just coming home with little sister Hannah from the bus stop. I could see Alex was sad, but sometimes hyper and sometimes on the verge of angry. He alternated between running to the window, looking out at the neighborhood longingly, smiling to himself; and muttering to himself in a frustrated way or looking like he was about to cry.
Yesterday afternoon at the bus stop with Alex, I noticed how particularly excited he was and how he seemed to be showing off for one of the girls who had accompanied her mother to meet her sister. He kept saying “Meet friends at the bus stop” loudly and walking over to them. The mother looked like she didn’t even know what to make of Alex, and the little girl just stood silent. I tried to encourage interaction and explained, “Alex wants to say hello and be friends, but he’s not quite sure how to do that.” She smiled politely but didn’t even attempt to say hello back. Poor Alex was doing his best to smile, make eye contact, and impress this girl with his jokes and funny plays on words. But she seemed to be having none of it. (In her defense, maybe she was home sick from school or there was something else preventing her from coming forward to join the conversation. Still it was heartbreaking to watch.) So apparently today Alex had thrown a fit at the bus stop when he tried to get on the bus to talk to the same girl and was told by the bus driver that wasn’t allowed.
Take a sensitive ten year old boy whose receptive language and comprehension are perfect, put him in a body who’s expressive language is impaired and whose social barometers are skewed. Then amp up all the typical desires, challenges and emotions that go along with being a ten year old guy. Throw the whole thing into the world of elementary school “bus stop politics,” add a parent or two who are essentially clueless about kids who are different from their own, and mix in the absolute embarrassment of a public meltdown. What do you get?
For me, I got a pang of sadness. I ached for Alex and wished so much that the object of his affection could see how hard he was trying and would feel compassion and interact with him. I wanted the other moms and dads and kids to see what I see in my son. I wanted them to know how much it took for him to be socializing the way he was. And goshdarnit! I wanted them to recognize how special that whole situation was and how lucky they were to be part of it.
But my blessings are not their blessings. And honestly, I don’t know if any of the other players in this scenario know how to count them or not. When I was a kid, I was like that little girl. I wish now that someone had shown me how to reach out and take a chance on something or someone new. I see the amazing ways my life has been enriched by the extra special folks I’ve come to know in the last seven years. That is my blessing and I am lucky to recognize it.
In the early years of Alex’s autism, my friend Susan recounted a story about seeing a mother in Bloomingdales department store yelling at her little girl because she spilled ice cream on her dress. Susan said if it weren’t for her oldest daughter with ASD, “I coulda been that mom. Now I know the dress will wash, the spill doesn’t matter. But I so easily coulda been that mom yelling at her kid. I am grateful for my daughter because she changed me.”
Alex, sweetheart, girls are silly. Sometimes they act strange and it’s okay if you don’t understand them. I think nobody really does. Remember that you are smart and funny and handsome, even if that silly girl didn’t pay any attention. You have many gifts to be appreciated. It’s your challenge to communicate out there in the world, but you keep trying because you’re doing great. And at least one girl- your mom- is grateful to know the wonderful person you really are. Thanks for changing me.