Ed note: Thank you all so much for your wonderful comments on yesterday’s post. (Except for the one who felt the need to write ‘This retarded.” in response to a post about how hurtful the word can be to our children, written in large part by a nine-year old. Classy, my friend, classy.)
But to those who have made the effort to remove the ‘R’ word from your own lexicons, and even more to those who have then spread the word to others, I am grateful. To those who posted a link to the blog or who started a conversation with a friend yesterday, to those who might have been inspired and empowered to speak up the next time you hear the word, thank you.
I hope to readdress the thread that began on diary’s Facebook page yesterday about HOW we approach people who might be unwittingly offending or hurting those we hold dear.
How do we shoulder our bats when we want to come out swinging? How do we move past anger and defensiveness to interact with one another thoughtfully, respectfully? How do we dig deep enough to find the place where compassion dwells? How can we find common ground with those who feel so far removed from our experience?
Timely questions, I think as I believe they are poignantly and profoundly relevant right now – not just to us as individuals, but to us as a community, a nation and as citizens of the world.
How do we change the tenor of our discourse?
I will return to offer my own answers to those questions.
But in the meantime, I could use a little light and funny, and I’m guessing I’m not alone. So I give you the story of Becky and a little girl who, despite frequent evidence to the contrary, is ALWAYS listening …
The other night on the way home from work, I stopped into Whole Foods to pick up a couple of items that we needed. I was hoping it would be a surgical strike – in and out with the stealth and speed of a cat burglar. But you know, one who pays instead of steals stuff. Or like those Special Ops guys. But one who doesn’t kill anyone, cause that’s just so not me. Oh, whatever – I wanted to be quick.
As I turned my cart into the produce aisle, I nearly bumped into the family of a little girl in Brooke’s class. “Becky” is the cutest darn thing you’ve ever seen. Like Brooke, Becky is on the autism spectrum. Although they have EXTREMELY different personalities and their individual brands of autism manifest themselves in very different ways, they share many of the same overarching challenges.
They each have their own dedicated aide in school, so there’s a practical ease that comes from placing them in the same class. They have been together in this arrangement since preschool. Over the years, we have joked with her parents that they will have to choose a college together.
Becky is a walking, talking, laughing bundle of love. She is energetic and bright and simply explodes with joy.
Every morning last summer when I brought Brooke to camp, Becky would come running up to me at full speed and yell, “Good morning, Brooke’s Mom, I mean Mrs [Diary]!!” She’d come careening into me and land square in my gut, in a delicious cross between a body-slam and a hug. She’d then step back looking very serious and ask, “Where’s Brooke’s Dad?”
I couldn’t have thought of a better way to start those days.
As I greeted her mom and dad at the market, Becky stood up from the inside of her mom’s cart. Her face lit up with recognition the moment she saw me. As tired as I was at the end of a long day, her smile filled me with energy.
“Hello, Brooke’s M ..!” she yelled before stopping short at the ‘M’. “Hello, Mr Diary!” she yelled again. “I mean, hello, Mrs Diary!” She looked very pleased with herself for getting it right.
I looked down into the cart. “Well, hello, Miss Becky! That was a great job fixing those words! You fixed that TWICE and got it EXACTLY right!”
She beamed up at me.
“Mrs Diary? Where’s Brooke?” she asked.
I told her that Brooke was with her daddy and that I was going to meet them as soon as I was done shopping.
“Mrs Diary? Where’s Katie?” she asked.
I explained that Katie was with Brooke and Luau.
“Mrs Diary, Where’s MISTER Diary?”
I told her that he was at home and that I was on my way to see him.
Becky’s parents stood by as we talked some more. She told me her address and asked me mine. She laughed at the name of our street and yelled it in a sing-song. I teasingly shushed her, telling her we’d better not shout it out or people might think we were having a party.
She cracked up. “A party!!” Laughing so hard she had to clutch her belly she added, “I had a party once!! It was a birthday party and it was fun! Do you remember that, Brooke’s Mom?” The words were spilling out in classic Becky rapid fire.
I finally managed to say good-bye and complete my shopping run. As I turned the corner, I could still hear Becky’s happy sing-song.
When I got home, I found Brooke in the playroom, cutting pictures out of a coloring book. I sat down next to her and watched her for a while, enjoying the easy silence.
“Hey, Brooke,” I said finally, “guess who I saw at the market?”
She didn’t look up.
“I saw your friend Becky!”
As she worked her little scissors around the page she said, “You did?”
Without looking up from her page, she responded with four words. Four words that showed unequivocally that she was paying attention, and that she knew her classmate well.
“She talks .. A LOT.”