“Today, I am turning 33.
My life at 33 is not what I pictured it would be at, say, 23. You have this idea when you’re young that you’re going to get to a certain stage of life (30s, 40s, etc.) and have life ‘figured out.’ What I’m realizing is that we all still feel 18 inside.
What does change as you get older is you gain perspective. When you are a parent of a child on the autism spectrum, you gain — dare I say — even more perspective.
I do feel a disconnect from parents of typically developing children. I feel a disconnect, even, from parents of children with other disabilities if I’m being honest. Other disabilities don’t necessarily come with the intense behaviors that are included with autism. Even at events designed for kids with special needs, I feel different. There is just something undefinable about autism. As challenging as it can be for me, I actually can’t imagine how much more challenging it is for the people immediately around me. They don’t have the benefit of knowing and loving my child inside out. They only see unusual behaviors. A fumbling, directionless mother.
I sometimes snap at strangers and need forgiveness.
The boys and I were at Walmart a few weeks ago, and a mom and her two well-behaved young daughters approached us. Linus was looking at toys, and Milo was in tricky territory. Autism moms will understand this. It was one of those moments when I knew if I looked at him in the wrong way, I might need help getting out of the store, and I had no help available. I could tell just from this mom’s body language she wanted us to make ourselves smaller, move out of the way. We couldn’t. I couldn’t move them, or it would probably create a scene. I pretended to be oblivious, thinking they might squeeze past us or turn back and go a different way.
They stopped, inches away from us. She cleared her throat.
I smiled without making eye contact and didn’t move. Didn’t. Dare. Move.
Turn around, I beg you.
She continued staring, then announced (and, boy, was it an announcement, not a request), ‘Excuse me.’
‘We’re still looking at these,’ I said quickly. I smiled and looked away.
‘I just need you to move.’
I glanced up at her. She and her daughters stood there like Mount Rushmore — immovable, grim faces.
Here we go. I’m going to be ‘that woman.’
‘We were here first,’ I said firmly, refusing to make eye contact.
She made a scoff-laugh sound, like she was in total disbelief at the audacity of my existence. ‘There’s no need to be ugly about it,’ she said, squeezing past us, demanding the space I refused to give her of my own accord.
She wants to see ugly?
‘I’m not being ugly. My son has autism and transitions are difficult for him,’ I smiled.
Then, my blood boiling, I added: ‘I guess you discriminate against people with disabilities.’
Disgusted, she began hurling insults at me as she hurried away with her daughters. However, I literally could not hear anything she was saying because I was so ashamed of myself for stooping so low. I wanted to crawl into a hole.
How could I say that? She didn’t know.
What made me say such a thing to this woman?
I’m a monster. A complete monster.
Even as I felt terrible, I also found myself justifying my actions.
I mean, how entitled can a person be? I don’t have to move just because she tells me to move. This world is so entitled.
I spent the rest of the day vacillating between shame and self-righteousness.
Life is complicated. I don’t know what kind of day this woman was having. She didn’t know what kind of day I was having, either. We assume that everyone else has it together. We assume we’re the only ones who are screwed up.
I looked at her and saw perfection. Well-dressed daughters. Pretty clothes. I created a fantasy narrative in my head about this woman’s life. I imagined that her greatest concern was whether to get her drive-thru latte hot or iced. In reality, I have no clue what her life is like.
She had no clue that my biggest fear, as she approached, was being asked to move. She couldn’t see the world inside my heart.
And I couldn’t see the world inside her heart.
As I start my 33rd year of life, my goal this year is to be more kind. Assume fewer bad things. Assume more good things.
I loved the movie Pollyanna as a child. In one scene, Pollyanna interrupts Reverend Ford as he stands in a field practicing his sermon. The conversation turns to the inscription on Pollyanna’s locket. That quotation has stayed with me for decades now.
‘If you look for the bad in mankind, expecting to find it, you surely will.’ —Abraham Lincoln
My goal this year is to extend as much grace as I hope to receive.
And the grace I need is endless.”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Heather of The Map to Milo. You can follow her journey on Instagram. Submit your own story here. Be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.
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