Most of my life, I have enjoyed being different.
I kind of march to my own hippie conga drum. For example, this would be me on the far right:
More examples…I have had big hair for as long as I can remember. (I even earned that nickname in high school.)
I wear unique stuff. Once I found my own style, I tried my best to rock it. I call it Urban Boho Chic. (AKA stuff I’ve found at Dots, Cato, Goodwill and yard sales, mixed it together with my handmade jewelry and called it vintage.)
I prefer Indian or Greek or Moroccan restaurants to a steakhouse any day of the week.
My walls are painted red and turquoise and green and blue, and I don’t apologize for it.
That’s just who I am. I like being creative and artsy, and standing out from the crowd. I’m a Pisces. It has faded a bit the past few years, because I’ve been busy raising children. But it is still there, because it is who I am.
Then my son was born. And within a matter of just a couple of years, standing out wasn’t so much fun anymore.
People were actually staring.
I didn’t like that.
When Zion was diagnosed with Autism in August of 2006, it was both devastating and liberating. And I dealt with it in my own way. I felt the need to explain his behavior to everyone.
I even carried business cards and passed them out to people who felt the need to make comments or parenting advice. The cards read “My child has Autism, what’s your excuse?”…and then listed a few websites where they could receive information about Autism.
Now, if you feel the need to do this, good on ya’ mate. Go for it. The problem with it on my end, was that I was behaving like a cornered raccoon. There was no love in those moments. Those cards were handed out to people in hurt and anger. Looking back now, I doubt if even one of those people went home and researched Autism because of me. As a matter of fact, if anything, my defensiveness and curt demeanor may have actually stopped them from educating themselves.
But that’s how I dealt with it at the time.
It was all a part of the grieving process. Soon after I began the W Stage.
Why did this happen?
What did I do wrong?
When did this begin?
Whose fault is this?
I spent a lot of unnecessary energy researching why my son had Autism, and looking for someone to blame. Myself, my OBGYN, the vaccines, gluten, antibiotics, anti-depressants…you name it, I probably blamed it.
But the most liberating moment of my life was when I realized that I needed to stop searching for who, when, why, where and what….
and start figuring out how I was going to help Zion find a way to function in this life.
And we have never looked back.
Now when we go to the store, we just go to the store. He is 9 now, and I have made peace with myself. If Zion feels the need to chirp, or spin, or touch a stranger’s butt, he does it.
I may have some explaining to do about the butt thing, but he just is who he is.
Over the course of 1 minute Zion may spin in a circle really fast, tell me “Hi Mama” 12 times, drop to the floor just so I will tell him to get up, and then run over to sniff the outside of a cereal box.
The place of peace I finally came to, was that I don’t owe you any explanation for that, anymore than I owe you an explanation for why my hair sometimes looks like Mufasa’s.
We are who we are.
Earlier this week after I picked Zion up from therapy, we stopped at CVS. Zion wanted some Cheetos. For years I have restricted our gluten intake, so he rarely gets Cheetos. But that day I wanted some too, so I gave in.
As we walked into the chip section, Zion practically dove on those Cheetos. When he saw that orange bag he squealed, snatched them up, and started jumping up and down. He was smiling from ear to ear, and just kept letting out high-pitched squeals. That child was HAPPY! (You can just hear Pharell’s song playing in the background, can’tcha?)
Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed a young man walking toward us. I looked directly at him, and he was looking at my son and smiling. He said “I feel the same way about Cheetos, buddy.”
We both laughed out loud. It was wonderful.
I proposed right then and there.
But what a profound moment of joy. No judgement. No shame. No business cards or explanations.
Just acceptance and kindness.
Thank you so much, lovely man, for that moment. Thank you for making us feel comfortable to just be ourselves…because even though it is Autism Awareness month, I am already acutely aware of Autism every single day of my life.
I do not need to be reminded by strangers.
Or maybe I do.