I’ve spent nearly all of my life feeling unsupported. My family of origin was big into unspoken pretense: If you pretended all was well — if you avoided the underbelly of yucky, really awful stuff — then you’d get by.

But if you’re completely invested in this kind of pretense, then you never learn to ask for help. You’re too busy pretending you don’t need it.

For decades I had a recurring theme in my dreams. I was being chased by some unknown, but very scary, creatures. I’d make it to a phone booth, pick up the phone, dial 911, wait breathlessly for them to pick up — and they never did. Or I’d see some people and I’d open my mouth to scream, “HELP! HELP!” but I couldn’t get the words out of my mouth. Never did I get the help I needed. It was terrifying. I felt so helpless.

When Joseph was diagnosed with autism, I followed the family pattern. I isolated. We told almost no one for a long time, and even when we told our families, we didn’t tell them what a nightmarish time we were having of it. We didn’t ask for help when we really, really could have used some.

This is one of the things I know this amazing soul has come to teach me. With Joseph as my son, I have to show my vulnerable underbelly a lot more than I want to.

We go to a church. Yes, I am a yogi, but I am a Christian yogi. A couple of years ago we stopped in at a church for Christmas carols. Joseph insisted that we go back again — and again, and again — and, before you know it, we were enjoying ourselves and getting some deep insights from the pastor who, like us, has been broken open by pain.

Yesterday there was a new teacher named Carol volunteering at Joseph’s Sunday School. It turned out that her son goes to the same small, country public school that Joseph attends, and we saw her there today. Carol asked if there was anything she could do for Joseph at church when the music gets loud — she noticed that he covered his ears when that happened.

Carol was presenting us with an opening, giving us a choice we’ve encountered many times:

To tell or not to tell.

Oftentimes in the past I would have chosen Door Number Two, but I’ve been worked over so much now that it’s easy to choose Door Number One. I told her that Joseph has high-functioning autism. She’d already guessed that, but telling her immediately shifted the depth of our conversation. She shared about her friend’s son’s autism, about her own child’s anxiety, and ended by inviting us to have Joseph and her boys share ice cream together sometime soon. None of that would have happened if I’d stuck to my old habit of pretense.

It was a good start to Joseph’s first day in first grade. What also made it good was the principal coming to tell Blue Eyes and me that they’d interviewed 25 people and had found the person they felt would be perfect as an aid to Joseph. They’d selected very carefully, he said, because Joseph is an awesome kid and they wanted him to be set up for success. Joseph’s teacher came over to tell us she was including a journal in his backpack to keep the channels of communication wide open between the three of us and that she was excited to have Joseph in her class. And she meant it.

I walked away from that school feeling held. Carried. Supported. I guess Joseph isn’t just my and Blue Eye’s project. Joseph has always had the good karma of drawing together a caring community that holds him lovingly. And when I’m honest and vulnerable I get held by them, as well.

They say autistic kids at some point choose whether or not to let people into their lives. I’m coming to realize that this is not just an autistic person’s choice. That fork in the road is constantly before us. I thank this son of mine for helping me to choose the path that lets people in — more deeply than ever before.

It’s incredibly nice to dial 911 and have someone answer the call.

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