I saw you at the other table Sunday night. My family had gone out for dinner at a Mexican restaurant..and my son with autism ordered chicken nuggets and french fries, and one beef taco..”just to give it a try.” I looked over as the waitress seated a group of people at a nearby table and noticed you, a “younger than me mom”, and your toddler, settling into your seats. Something about your son caught my eye. I continued to eat my tortilla chips and salsa, while watching you and your son, out of the corner of my eye.
I saw your son hit the table with his arm. Just one arm, over and over. I saw him grow stiff when you picked him up out of the high chair to hug him. I saw him yell, but not speak…when he was clearly old enough to have some words down by now. I saw the signs of autism. Your eyes met mine. I looked away. I talked with my son, who was watching a cartoon on my phone. I saw you cast furtive looks at our table, just as I was at yours.
Our food arrived, we ate and soon it was time to go. My son stood up, all six plus feet of him, and I helped him into his bulky winter coat. I handed him his hat and gloves and held his hand and we headed out of the restaurant. I wanted to look back at you, but I didn’t.
So many thoughts were going through my mind. I wanted to know if you knew that your son was exhibiting these signs of autism. I wanted to know if you were getting help, or if your fear was so great you were frozen into not moving. I wanted to know if you were getting any sleep. I wanted to say it would be ok…just not the ok you had originally envisioned.
I wanted to say to love your son and to fight for him. To push for the best treatment plans. I wanted to say that while you are fighting for your son…don’t forget to fight for yourself…and for your marriage. Don’t ever put that on the back burner…because what you put there, gets forgotten about, and burns..get’s ruined..and sometimes must be thrown out. I wanted to say surround yourself only with positive people, who see the potential in your son. And find people who can give you a break. And then take it.
But instead, I said nothing. I was afraid of scaring you. I was afraid of you seeing my 18 year old son, and seeing your future…and then looking into my eyes and seeing despair, and not hope. So I looked away. I wanted to be able to help you by telling you of my failures, or where we could have done better with our son–so much has been learned in the last 18 years in regards to autism–but I’m afraid that the damage has been done to my soul. Too many tantrums, too many years without sleep, too many public instances of vomiting, melt downs, attacks…I could tell you of all the good–my son’s love of animals, his sloppy kisses, his teasing, his love of Bruce Springsteen and Lady Gaga, his love of super villains–did I mention his love of animals? But first you would have to look thru the curtain in front of my eyes to see this happiness. It’s there. But first it must be lifted to see the intense joy he brings.
I love my son. That’s what I really wanted to say to you. It will be ok. I see you. And I see him. But I walked away.