Yesterday was perfect.
I took him to the zoo.
We didn’t have one meltdown.
He is learning to feed himself.
He only bolted while playing on the playground so, all things considered, totally manageable.
He tried to make friends.
He interacted with his surroundings.
He played appropriately at the sandbox in the dinosaur exhibit.
It couldn’t have been more perfect.
We’ve had so few of these outings over the past few years that sometimes I forget, or rather I don’t think about in clear, vibrant ways, that he is disabled.
Yeah, that word so many people don’t like: “Disabled.”
“Lacking in an ability.”
And let me be very clear, My Boy is the Shiz.
But there are things he can’t do.
And I know it.
But I also forget quite often what it’s like to stand him next to a group of children and “compare.”
And yeah, I think it’s an important thing to do.
I need a plan for him. I need to know how far we have come. How far we have left to go.
I need to know goals and what works and what doesn’t.
I need to see so I know.
I saw him running and flapping and doing his “scarecrow dance” onto the playground shouting “my friends are all here” and I watched to see if his simple joy was enough to make friends.
And I saw him playing along with the 3 years olds, mostly able to follow their lead.
And I watched them gang up to hit and kick him.
Was it his size? That he was so much bigger?
Was it that they couldn’t understand his speech or his behaviors?
But I didn’t know what it was that I saw.
And then I saw him leave the toddlers, whose games and dances he understood, and I saw him approach the bigger kids his own age.
And I saw them decide to take him out, too.
And running, phone in hand and recording, I saw him.
As if his very existence was billboarding him as an outsider.
As if they could smell him.
Or see a flashing light over his head declaring, “I am different. And vulnerable. Come hurt me.”
And their taunting punches and kicks landed softly, as if egging him on, and were met with his blank, thoughtful stare.
He was so present in that confusing, awful moment.
And then when the ring leader decided to go after him for real, with me running full blast toward them in the sand as slow as a dream, I saw My Boy punch that Kid-Bully in the jaw.
And when Kid-Bully stood stunned, I saw My Boy side kick him ninja-style in the hip.
And down Kid-Bully went.
And My Boy stared at him.
A blank, thoughtful stare.
And later in the car I answered My Boy’s questions as best I could.
No. You are not allowed to hit.
Well, not hit first.
Yes, if someone hurts you it is okay to fight back.
Yes, you should come get Momma if you can.
No, you are not a villain.
I know it’s confusing.
I’m proud of you for defending yourself.
And I’m heartbroken you had to.
Why is a boy who hasn’t mastered potty training and doesn’t know his ABC’s having to learn how and when to defend himself?
Why is my Boy, who just wanted to make friends, unable to do so in a setting that should be so natural?
Why do I have to hover just to protect him?
I know why.
And it has nothing to do with “Autism Awareness.”
And it has nothing to do with “Autism Acceptance.”
It has nothing to do with special needs or childhood independence.
It has to do with them.
With the highlight-haired and meatball and coleslaw pita sandwich-eaters (ew) and coach diaper baggers standing in line for lunch at the zoo who think it’s okay to laugh and roll their eyes at the awkward teen girl who invaded their perceived “space” as she reached past them to grab a pudding.
It has to do with them.
The moms standing in line for the zoo train wearing their babies.
When their 3 year old points at my 5.5 year old and says “He’s in a baby seat!” And I reply “No, it’s just a stroller.”
And she ushers her kid around the corner without correction or apology or even a glance to let me know she didn’t know what to say.
Because I know that’s what you told him, isn’t it?
Not considering the needs of others who will need strollers throughout childhood or adulthood, you told him that he didn’t need to ride in a “baby seat” today.
Because trying to foster independence you unwittingly, I presume, taught him that children with other needs are “babies.”
It has to do with them.
The mothers who let their kids mock and bully a child who acts differently and speaks differently.
Because “they’ll work it out on their own” is such a solid parenting plan.
And you could care less who gets hurt.
Until your child gets punched and side-kicked by the autistic boy.
And then you don’t like it, do you?
And then suddenly, in the flurry of emotions I can’t even name and the flailing scenes moving so fast my mind can’t keep up with my eyes, it isn’t about you it’s about us.
And it’s about the fact that I am us and you are them.
It’s about me realizing that raising your level of autism awareness isn’t enough.
Because there will never be enough autism awareness to make you move over so the awkward teenage girl, the only one in the group standing all alone in line, can grab her pudding without being visibly mocked by adults.
There will never be enough autism awareness to teach you that a simple “would you like to sit with us” could have taught others to accept and not reject the teen that was different from yours.
There will never be enough autism awareness to teach you that telling your child “a kid in a stroller isn’t a baby, he’s just a kid” would have made all the difference to the mother pushing the stroller.
Or to the kid in the stroller who understands more than you think, because his stroller doesn’t inhibit his hearing.
There will never be enough autism awareness to teach you that “they’ll figure it out on their own” doesn’t work when one of those kids perseverates on Ninjago.
And he knows the difference between playing and when he is being attacked.
And because we raised your awareness yesterday, didn’t we?
About autism kiddos and side-kicks and the autism Mom that video documents everything.
But it wasn’t enough. Was it?
All that autism awareness.
I know it.
And it hurts.
And it’s sad.
And I know, too that “Autism Awareness” can’t be “Autism Acceptance” until you are willing to be a kind human.
Until you are willing to practice “Human Awareness” and someday, if you possibly can, “Human Acceptance.”
Even if it’s just to help another mom have less of a hard day.
Even if it’s just so that solitary girl knows that people are aware she is just as deserving as the girls standing in line in groups.
Even if it’s just so you don’t underestimate the strength and the fortitude of that kid with delays as he takes out your son on the playground.
Even if it’s just to stop making everything them VERSUS us and you VERSUS me.
Can we start there?
So that sometime, somewhere, someday the perfect and beautiful day at the zoo will be less of a hard day.
For all of us.