As I was leaving the library near J-Man’s preschool for my weekly “Friday Bliss and Freedom” two hours of time off (where “off” = “the rare occurrence of 120 consecutive minutes to do work for clients”), I passed a mom and her two kids where the son was screaming bloody murder. I had seen his fit begin when the mom denied him the reward of a sticker or something at the library’s front desk because of his behavior. He was screaming at levels that would have brought me running to see if someone was being attacked, if I hadn’t already been there.
I admit that before becoming a parent I likely would have judged her as being a crappy one. After long practice of finding creative ways to talk about J-Man’s quirks and behaviors and being around countless other children with similar needs and challenges, I think I’m starting know better. I’ve been on the receiving end of looks from other parents who I can tell are judging me and judging my son because he does things differently. I’ve developed a thick skin, but I still know how it feels.
A parent wiser than me once said, “Before you decide you know what’s going on, pause a moment…because you never know what their story is.” A couple of times I’ve discovered “the story” of a situation and been humbled by it.
Sure there are still parents in the playground who ignore their children and incur a wrathful stare from me. Ignoring your children while they rampage and knock other kids down still flies all over me, and I’m not likely to be so generous in giving them some latitude. Should I? I don’t know. I do know that things are often not what they seem.
In the case of the library today, the mom kept a level, calm, but firm voice. She had set the rules for his behavior and was doing something I realized I admired in that moment despite the blood-curdling screams; she was being fair to the boundaries and consistent in applying them. And she didn’t seem to give a rat’s behind what anyone around her thought about that.
She wasn’t ignoring him, but she wasn’t about to reward his tantrum either. I watched a little longer and saw something in her face that seems so familiar to me now, though I couldn’t specifically name what it was for her. I don’t think he was autistic, but I could tell they had a story – whatever it was – and in realizing that I understood just how important that phrase is to us.
We walk around in a sea of stories – many of them hard and painful – and they are stories we may never know. It didn’t take me long to realize many, many months ago that I was a parent with a story and that all I can ask of others is for patience and understanding and a little grace. In return, they have every right to expect that of me.
One thing I resolved a long time ago was to not use autism as an excuse. If he’s running around bouncing off walls and knocking other kids down, I’m not going to look at other people and say, “Oh, he’s autistic. He can’t help it.” I’m also not going to let autism be an excuse for teachers lowering their expectations of him or for him to use it as an excuse or a crutch for giving up and settling for less than what he can be. I’ve already seen his determination. His bravery and stubbornness inspire me. I want it to stay that way.
I want him to be treated like everyone else. We have expectations and rules and boundaries like every parent should, though I imagine it’ll be a bigger challenge for him to master them. Boiled down to its essence, all I want is for him to try his hardest and do the best he can. And I expect others to either do their best to help or not stand in his way, and even more importantly, not judge him before they get to know his story.
But like I said, I just ask for patience and understanding and a little grace, because after all, you may never know what our story is.