Thanks to those who see sweetness
The woman in front of me is watching my daughter and smiling. We are in the checkout line in Wal-Mart’s Garden Center. It’s a long line so people are sharing conversations while they wait.
My adult child is sitting on one of the display chairs. The woman, who has the nicest smile, turns to me.
“She is beautiful,” she says, looking towards my daughter.” I love her red hair. How old is she?”
On behalf of my daughter, I thank her.
“She has her daddy’s hair,” I say, “and she’s 26.”
We talk a few more minutes as the line inches closer to the register. She tells me my daughter seems sweet and that she looks much younger than her age.
I tell her that my child is indeed a sweet young woman, and, yes, she seems younger than her age.
“We hear that a lot,” I say, “I guess she doesn’t look 26.”
Later driving home, I think about my encounter with this lovely woman. I consider what I wish I’d said to her before we parted.
“Thank you for seeing the beauty in my child and telling me you see it.”
“Thank you for not asking me why she is talking to herself repeating lines from commercials.”
“Thank you for not commenting or laughing when she started jumping up and down as we were leaving.”
“Thank you for making me feel like you saw her instead of her autism.”
Yes, I wish I’d said those things. I didn’t, but I thought them.
As the parent of a child with autism, one who is now an adult, I’ve had many public interactions with people who were so kind to my child and me. I wish I’d thanked those folks, too. They made what, at times, was an awkward situation feel less awkward.
Of course, not everyone is nice or understanding. For example, the borderline rude kid who took us to our table at Cracker Barrel. From the scowl he wore, I don’t think he loves his work.
The restaurant was crowded and a bit loud. This much activity and noise is a lot of stimulation and often tough for my daughter to handle. We started taking her here when she was small and now, thanks to her love of routines, it is one of the few public places she likes to eat.
Anyway, we followed the unsmiling boy to a table. My daughter kind of bounced-walked jabbering in a less-than-quiet voice. The kid turned, gave her a frowning look and kept walking. It was obvious from her behavior that she was “different.” Something he let us know he recognized with his frown.
The table he showed us to was in the middle of the room, a busy spot. There was a vacant table in a quieter place by the window. From experience, we knew that was a better location for my daughter. My husband asked the young man if we could possibly move to that table.
“No,” he replied sharply, “I’m bringing someone else to sit there.”
From his response, I knew trying to make him understand why we requested the move was a waste of time. My daughter’s comfort or discomfort was not his concern.
“Your server will be here in a minute,” he said over his shoulder as he walked away.
I spent half the meal stewing, especially when no one sat at the table we requested for at least 10 minutes. And, when a couple did arrive, another person seated them. So apparently, that young man wasn’t the person deciding who sat in that spot.
“Just let it go,” my husband said. Finally, I did.
I share these two experiences as examples of what it is like to live with and love someone with autism. It makes you both fiercely protective and grateful for kindness.
So in celebration of National Autism Awareness Month, thank you to everyone who looks at my child and sees not her autism, but her beauty and sweetness.
Nancy Blackmon is a former newspaper editor and a yoga teacher.