About five years ago my sons and I were walking through the grocery store. The kids needed something so I stopped real quick and started doing whatever it was that they needed. As I focused on the task at hand I was rushed by a mid-twenties woman. She started jabbing me in the chest saying “constitution”. Over and over again she just kept jabbing me in the chest.
By the time I had become aware of what was happening, I realized it was a woman with autism.
Another woman, that I later discovered was her mother, was pushing people out-of-the-way to get to us. The fear in her eyes was obvious, but I understood. By the time she reached us she had already apologized a few times. She instantly did what I would do when Monkey bum rushes someone. She grabbed her daughter’s hand and tried to pull her away, all the while hoping that there wasn’t going to be some ridiculous reaction that would only make things worse. Right away I kept repeating “it’s ok, it’s ok”, but it took a few tries before she could really process what I was saying. This poor woman looked beat. She was in her late fifties to early sixties from what I figure. Her health and care for her appearance seemed to be given up on. She didn’t look lazy so much as rushed, or maybe just too busy to care.
The culprit, or trigger in this whole situation, was my School House Rock t-shirt. Apparently the young woman loved the show, and as you may have guessed, her favorite episode was the one about the constitution. This random shirt triggered this woman to take off from her mother and run about fifty feet across multiple aisles only to start jabbing a stranger in the chest. You haven’t lived until your child does something like this! Monkey has many triggers such as someone’s cell phone being out, or women with pony tails. He sees either one and it’s a matter of whether or not I can beat him to it and keep him from assaulting perfect strangers.
From the age of the woman, and the demeanor of the mother, I could tell this was far from the first time she rushed someone. In lies the point of this story. The mother took some time, but eventually calmed down and began to notice my children. Giving a good deal of notice to Monkey. After a moment she realized that I truly did understand how she felt, and that it was more than OK that her daughter was so excited by my shirt.
She began to ask me about Monkey while my younger son Mater stayed busy naming each character the woman continued to point out on my shirt. The woman’s mother and I began talking and I learned that she was a lot like my son. Yes, she could speak fairly well, and Monkey doesn’t speak at all, but that was about the only big difference I could see. It started becoming this awkward feeling for me. As if I was seeing the inevitable future. Not that I am judging the two women so much as noting how absolutely tired the mother looked. I addition it was hard to ignore the reality that Monkey was going to get a lot bigger, and quicker, but not “better”. Just like the woman who was jabbing me in the chest moments earlier.
Towards the end of our conversation she drifted off in to repeating that “it gets harder, and harder” as if that is all she could think of to say. She wasn’t as crazy as that sounds, she just kept focusing on how old Monkey was at the time, and how much older her daughter was. The sorrow in her eyes as she wished me good luck was about as unnerving as it gets. I walked away feeling this distinct worry about whether or not that was my future, my destiny that couldn’t be avoided.
Fast forward to today, with Monkey’s size at 14, and his increased aggression, I can see myself wearing down. I feel my bones ache when I change his diaper for the 14th year straight. I feel the anxiety in my chest over his moods lately and our struggle to wrangle in his emotions and aggression. I feel my knees ache when I get up repeatedly during the two-hour window that is “bedtime” to simply keep Monkey in his bed at night. I feel…. tired. Yet, Monkey is still a good ten years away from the age of the woman we met that day. I would be lying if I didn’t say that I can see myself slipping away already. The tired days of never getting to sit down. The stressful months of puberty and keeping up with my youngest son so he has a halfway normal life are adding up. It’s all for love and my lifelong wish to be a father. It’s all positive, and still, it is eating me alive. Day by day; year by year. Destiny sure seems to be knocking. Like a dark shadow at your door on a stormy night I fear what it could be.
The mother of this woman didn’t start out beat down and negative. I can’t believe that she did and made it that far without giving up altogether. That doesn’t change the fact that she became such a person when I spoke with her that day. That’s all she wanted to focus on. That it would get harder and harder. I guess she was right in the end. The past year and a half has been one struggle after another for my son and our family. It has been much harder to keep up with every day life (both work and play) and in the process life has become more like a cruel joke than my younger self would have ever believed. Still, I can’t quite yet tap out in defeat. I can’t become the negative, defeated, there is no hope parent of autism. I understand and empathize with that woman, and others like her, who may feel overwhelmed. I can’t say I blame her for how she felt, or even say that it wasn’t just a bad day for her. Maybe she is usually chipper and ready to face the day with a smile. Just not that day.
Regardless of the reason, I can’t allow myself to accept such a way of looking at life. The days get harder and in the process the family grows stronger. We prove our support for one another and solidify our bonds. What’s sad is that my gut told me it was just the mother and her daughter. That the bond I get from my youngest son, my brother’s, or my good friend was something that she wasn’t able to have. That she really had to do it all alone.
The only tragedy I can imagine, beyond living with autism, is doing so alone. For the sake of those two women, I hope that was not the case. Whatever the reality is for those two women, I’ll never forget them. I’ll never forget the look in the mother’s eyes. The absolute defeat.