I often have a hard time sleeping at night. Sometimes I lay awake, wondering. Or I wander about the yard, worrying. Or I just freeze in those moments after the boys are in bed, pondering. I don't have time during the day, when I have boys and life is hurrying along. But in the pauses... I think about it.
What is this world I am trying to prepare Joey and Andy for?
The stories stream in from all quarters. Autistic people threatened with isolation, arrest, death. Some threatening to burn down the home of an autistic child. People who insist autism is 99% a discipline problem. Families with autistic people being tossed out of stores, planes, restaurants, schools, churches. Labels attached to autistic kids: trainwrecks. Idiots. Weirdos. Freaks.
I see it. Kids who tell Joey to go away on the playground, or who avoid him altogether. Adults who recoil from him when I explain he is autistic. This is the world I am preparing him for. How do you prepare a child from that kind of discrimination? How do you help a person grow and understand how beautiful and wonderful and special they are, when you know people all around them are going to be sending a different message?
I carefully cut the zinnias, because I know it will still be a couple of days before the boys get into the back yard now. Our afternoons are already booked with speech and OT, the mornings with camp and school. By Friday, there will be new blooms, and it's better for the plants to cut them. I place them carefully in the vase with a few roses, just to fill the vase really. I'll put them on the mantle and tell them that these are their zinnias, from their garden. Andy will get it. I don't know whether Joey will understand or not, but perhaps when we wander out Friday, he'll see the new ones. The sunflowers have their head buds on them, so we can talk about that, I can show them the sunflower buds in our book about sunflowers growing. The tomato vines are finally setting tomatoes (who ever heard of not having any tomatoes at the end of July???). I ponder a brief lesson on tomatoes and seeds, but store it away as a "just in case". It isn't likely that Joey will be able to focus on the garden long enough for a lesson. Maybe I'll do that when they start to ripen. Maybe they'll be going pink by Friday, and that will hold his attention. Focus and attention are real issues for us. We were hoping when he learned to read, he'd get interested in books, but that hasn't really happened. It's all just words to him.
The zinnias are all different colors. there is a sunny orange one, a sparkling white one, a bold red one. One is a purply pink, another a creamy cross between ivory and lemon yellow. The soft pink of the roses makes the more brash colors pop out.
Is this world going to be such a terrible, tough place for Joey? The world certainly has its violent crimsons, but isn't it mostly soft pinks, butter yellows, warm oranges? What about the ladies and the older men who see Joey in the store, and crinkle up their faces in delighted smiles, a response to his giggles and grins? What about the ladies in church who tell his classmates that God made us all as we are, and loves us all as we are, and we should love all our fellows the same way, as they are? What about the folks who, realizing Joey is different, slow down their speech and try to engage him a little more? What about the family in front of us in the awards ceremony who, seeing Joey going across the stage for his reading award, clapped enthusiastically and noted, "he must be smart, he's the only one in his class to get the award!" even though they had never laid eyes on him before? Do we notice the fear stories all the more, because they pop out of a world that is, for the most part, trying to be supportive of my child and my family?
Perhaps that is a lesson for my Joey and my Andy: always be kind. Help and kindness unlooked-for is a treasure that makes the world a better place.