“When I met my wife, particularly when I first began to meet her friends in New Hampshire, I learned what the word ‘family’ could really mean. In joking, she and her friends would use the expression that someone was ‘family’ if they identified as a fellow member of the LGBTQ community. Now yes, the word could have so many inflections which would be far more entertaining in a podcast—ones for if they thought they were attractive ‘family’ or blatantly ‘family’—you catch the drift. But the concept was one so many of us our community related to, held on to, and tended to find comfort in.
It was about recognizing your fellow brother/sister/human, who may or may not have lived through the struggles you did in owning your true self; who know what it feels to avoid glares of judgement or scrutiny; and who know what it’s like to make daily decisions around how to live your life as ‘other.’ Basically, it was almost like the ‘Jeep wave’ for the gay community—the head nod of acceptance—the instant awareness you aren’t alone—better yet, you aren’t invisible, and I SEE YOU.
I took my kids to the playground this week, in desperate need to fight the challenges of February vacation where the lack of routine was driving them stir crazy, and their muscles desperately needed to move in the fresh air. It was 9 a.m., so early enough, and much of the playground was still strewn with melting snow. Forty degrees and comfortable, we trekked through the snow to enjoy the swings, the climbing structures, and the many slides. Their cheeks beamed with happiness as they flew down the slides, and let their boots fly through the air as they swung back and forth.
About twenty minutes into our fun, another family pulled into the parking lot. Two young boys, just slightly older than mine, raced to the playground, as desperate as the twins to soak in whatever sunlight would grace our presence that day. Jack’s eyes watched eagerly as they headed to the climbing structure the twins had ended up on. He looked to me for guidance, and I encouraged he introduced himself. Delighted to have the encouragement, he headed over to the boys and said, ‘Hi, I’m Jack Y.’—yes, stating only the first letter of his last name, as there is another Jack in the classroom and clearly this is how he is known with his peers. The boys looked at him, but when back to playing together. He tried again, and began to keep pace with them as they climbed to adventure down the slide.
I was helping Luca climb to one of the higher more adult slides. I wasn’t able to get to Jack right away, because the ladder was slippery from the snow covered boots, and I needed to ensure he safely made it to the top. Jack impatiently left my side and walked over to the bench, sulking sadly. I took a minute while Luca went down the higher slide to let him know I would be with him as soon as Luca was down with this one activity, but I needed to keep him safe because it was slippery. He nodded, understanding, and then looked to his left where the other boys’ mother had come closer with their younger sister. I smiled, waved, and she said hello. I went back to help Luca one final time, and then all four of our boys headed back toward the swings.
We got to talking, and she shared her son was on the spectrum. In return, I shared both my boys were, and she kindly admitted she had heard how I talked to Jack about needing to be there for Luca in a way she recognized. Apparently, my behavior felt familiar to her as well. Her openness in this moment was a ‘Hey, Family,’ and such a comforting one. I had forgotten what it had felt like to be recognized like this by a stranger. We talked for a while as the kids swung on the swings, even exchanging contact information to invite each other to group outings where many mamas of children on the spectrum get together to support each other. Soon my boys were done, and it was time for us to go. I thanked her for her conversation, and said I’d be in touch soon.
After I had gotten the twins into the car, and into their car seats, I sat for a moment in the driver’s seat, waiting for the DVD player to load, and just enjoyed the feeling. Since parenting autism, in the months after diagnosis and behavioral patterns have heightened to where my sole focus tends to be on my littles who never stop moving, I feel like there have been times I’ve forgotten to look up for adult human connection. When I’m at a playground with my kids, I’m more worried about what noises may trigger Luca, or if he’ll be patient enough to wait for another child to make their way down a slide before plowing in front of them, unwilling to wait his turn—or worst, if he uses physical force to make what he wants possible, possible.
I had coached Jack that morning to say hello to the new friends at the playground, and although I had looked up to be polite to the other mother—had she not approached me, I’m not sure I would have looked for a connection. Such an important reminder for myself, because those few moments connecting with another parent who wasn’t judging my children, or my parenting, gave me such comfort I was not alone. She, too, had been wrestling children all morning, and knew the need to risk any snow-potential injuries just to get growing boys outside to use their muscles.
Any chance we have to be seen, and to see others, without judgement, and in appreciation for our true selves, is a connection that should not be missed. Hopefully next time, I might be able to provide this to someone else in need…just a little ‘Hey, Family. I see you. We’re your people. You’re safe here.’
To the following groups in which I feel like I belong, in case you need to feel seen after reading this:
To the parents of little human beings who are trying to work full time: Hey, Family!
To the parents raising magical children with special needs: Hey, Family!
To the women who love the bodies that gave them their babies, but would love to find their body before babies again: Hey, Family!
To the spouses of entrepreneurs who are kicking ass and taking name with their careers, and in support of their achieving their dreams, you are picking up some of the slack at home: Hey, Family!
To the spouses who are trying to make sure their marriage is still a priority while raising a family, and after doing ten loads of laundry, dishes, cooking, cleaning, etc. (the list goes on), and still work to make sure their spouse feels like the most important part of their day: Hey, Family!
To the dreamers out there who are constantly working to achieve those dreams, and willing to do whatever it takes to make them happen (for me, to become a published author): Hey, Family!
To the members of the LGBTQ community, at whatever stage of happiness this life finds you: Hey, Family!
To the LGBTQ parents who are raising their families in a day and age where, although accepted, the constant need to teach and educate those around you can feel like an additional job all in itself: Hey, Family!
To the LGBTQ youth, still trying to figure out your truth, own it, and be safe in owning it: Hey, Family!
*WE SEE YOU, WE ARE HERE FOR YOU, and I PROMISE YOU—IT DOES GET BETTER.”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Christina Young. You can follow their journey on Instagram and their website. Do you have a similar experience? We’d like to hear your important journey. Submit your own story here. Be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.
Read more from Christina:
‘Last night we learned of the death of a toddler his age as we watched the news. Emergency rooms aren’t filled with kids like him.’: Mom of special needs child says ‘the least I can do is keep my family out of your care’
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