Monday, August 27, 2012

Breaking the news

I should have mentioned it sooner. That thought crosses my mind as I am asked a simple question: “Do you have kids?” I usually try to work it in long before the question is asked. But for some reason it didn’t work out that way today.           

“Yes. Just one. A boy, 17.” I respond, wary of the topic. “Oh? What grade is he in?” she asks. Scrambling to think, I say. “Tenth, No eleventh. Yes eleventh.” Her quizzical look seems to say, “You don’t know what grade your only child is in?”

No, I don’t. We don’t move from classroom to classroom or get a new teacher each year. The school year isn’t punctuated by summer vacation. A day rolls into a week and then a year with little change.

I try to segue to a new topic as she interjects the question of where Sam goes to school. “We don’t go to school locally,” I say finally. “Sam is has autism and attends a wonderful school about an hour away.”

I catch the look of discomfort as it flits across her face. I watch her hand briefly cover her mouth as if to prevent the words, “I am so sorry” from spilling out. And there it is. The subtle reminder my child is undesirable to some.

I want to tell her a part of me understands. When I first heard the word autism, I was scared. But that was so early on I barely remember the emotion. I don’t know if she would understand.

She hasn’t experienced the laughter. She hasn’t seen the victories. She doesn't know the joy or laughter. She doesn’t know the people we have met. She hasn’t had her heart melt as Sam looks deeply into her eyes with an ever-sly grin. She doesn’t know the quiet peace of holding hands. She doesn’t know our life.

And so I smile and gently respond, “Thank you. But I am not sorry.” What I hope she does understand is that like her, I see perfection in my child. Like her, I can't imagine him any other way. 

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  1. Wonderful as always, and spot on. Just this morning someone asked me how to prepare their child for the transition to public high school, knowing that my boy goes there. I laughed and said, I have no idea, our teachers told us what we needed. Then I found the presence of mind to tell her the name of a mutual friend who could give her some useful advice. First I felt vaguely stupid, then lucky, but never bad. That's what it's about, right?

  2. You have it so right. Your words help me all the time, because you have your priorities straight. I love the goodnight Peter hug and the good morning Peter hug. Two of my absolute favorite times of day and if I miss one I really long for it. I love your "quiet peace of holding hands." There is something special in being close to a child for a period, and not talking.