pirateThis morning, after I’d dropped Joseph off at school, I stopped at the supermarket to pick up a few things. I was checking the ingredients for gluten in the frozen broccoli-potato patties (yes — it has oat bran) when some acquaintances came down the aisle.

Btw, if you are friends with someone on Facebook, can you still call them acquaintances in real life?

But I digress.

So we start the small talk. “How are you?” Ally asks. “Really good,” I answer.

Long silence. “Nothing else to report,” I say, smiling.

The truth was, I’d just spent 20 minutes in my car reading a paper that Joseph’s preschool teacher wrote. This was to fulfill the special needs portion of a class she’s taking: She’d observed Joseph for 30 hours and then reported her observations in this paper.

Reading her perspective was hard. It wasn’t any earth-shattering news for me, but it outlined matter of factly some of Joseph’s more awkward areas: patting kids on the head, speaking in one or two-word sentences, having a huge reaction over a spill. I had to cry for a while before I could get myself together enough to go into the store.

So it’s God’s little joke that I then ran into this couple. I finally ended the long pause by asking how they were. Turns out she is working on a Masters, he is training for the Iron Man, and he is taking their 7 year old boy to the Strawberry Festival this weekend.

If you don’t know what the Strawberry Festival is, allow me to enlighten you: it’s where families with neuro-typical children go camping together in Yosemite. There is lots of live music (read: over-stimulation). There are lots of children (read: over-stimulation and incompetent social abilities). You camp under the stars (read: new and unfamiliar setting – impossible to sleep. And where would you keep the medication/vitamins without refrigeration?).

These are amazing, sensitive people. They know my kid has autism. They also, no doubt, knew I was choosing not to talk about it in that moment. So we smiled at each other and, with some awkwardness, just said goodbye.

***

I have a friend whose son is serving a life sentence for the murder of his wife. My friend can’t talk about it except to the closest of friends. It’s not that she wouldn’t — it’s that she feels people aren’t comfortable with the subject.

I know the feeling.

What I wanted to say to that couple was, “Well, we’re still working really hard on Joseph’s autism. We’ve made a lot of progress and I’ve been feeling quite hopeful. But just now I read this teacher’s report and it’s got me down again. It’s totally irrational, but what I really wanted was for her to write that Joseph would be ok – that he would live a happy, normal life. But she didn’t say it. No one can say it. So it’s got me feeling a little vulnerable right now. And how are you?”

It’s hard when something so huge in one’s life is also something that can’t be spoken about in a casual meeting at the supermarket.

No wonder autism parents stick together. No one else on earth could possibly get it.

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