A lot of times people write and tell me they cry when they read my posts.
I never cry when I read my own work. I think this is mostly because I have some kind of emotional problem and I hate to cry. Also it’s probably because by the time I publish a piece, I’ve read it and re-read it so many times, looking for typos and clunky sentences, that the phrases have become as familiar to me as the back of my hand.
I started this week’s post way before an Ivy League athlete and a 23-year girl swam to the surface of our news feeds. I started it before we started talking about how we live in a rape culture, and how boys and girls need to understand exactly what consent means.
I started this post because cherries were on sale for $3.99 a pound in the grocery store.
Three of my five kids love cherries, so when I saw Hannaford’s was running a special, I bought a bag. One afternoon I watched Rose take them out of the refrigerator. Then I watched her open the cabinet and take out a paper plate and a small pink cup. Carefully, she sat at the kitchen counter and after she ate each cherry, she placed the pit inside the cup.
Watching her eat, I was overcome with tenderness for my careful, practical girl, and I started to make notes for this essay.
I have to admit, my eyes did well with tears a few times.
This girl is eight-almost-nine.
Her father calls her Roses.
Her four brothers call her Rosie.
As for me, I just call her Rose.
She loves red meat. She loves to read. She is one of the tallest kids in her class and she has the longest legs you’ve ever seen.
She talks of becoming a dentist like her father one day, a primatologist like Jane Goodall the next.
She is everything I am not; quick to soothe and slow to anger. Coordinated, kind, cautious, serious.
This is the girl who struck out three times at her softball game and when I told her I thought she did great, she said, “Mom, I hear other parents sprinkle lies into the things they tell their kids. You don’t have to do that for me. It’s okay.”
At eight-almost-nine, she is a child of no excuses.
I have yet to come across an article or piece of research that adequately describes what autism does to a family—the small changes it makes to us as we rotate like planets orbiting a hot, thrashing sun.
I would go as far to say that the experts don’t know, but I do. Autism makes a young girl worry. It makes her watchful.
Since she could talk she has watched her beloved big brother—her Jackie–and praised his successes and mourned his setbacks.
I can tell his diagnosis is always fluttering around the edge of her subconscious the way it is mine—some days a lovely butterfly, other times a nocturnal moth.
This is the girl who reached up to massage his shoulder in a restaurant when he started to scream and hit his head because his milkshake was not right.
“Jackie, take a breath with me. Take a breath like mine.”
This is the girl to whom he talks in the quiet hush of the morning light.
“For today. In school. Is the field trip.”
“I know, to the amusement park, right?”
“Yes. I will do. The laser tag. And go-carts.”
This girl, she is like an earnest, tender flower rising from the fresh spring soil. I am always fearful someone will misstep before she has a chance to bloom.
Parenting her in almost too easy. She always has her homework done and her snack packed and an extra sweatshirt in case she gets cold. She makes her bed, and combs the tangles from her hair, and sets the table when I ask.
Yet it’s also really hard. In some ways, it is harder than raising a boy with autism.
See, there is delicate infrastructure to the spectrum phenomenon. There are behavioralists. There are specialists, and developmental pediatricians, and psychologists, and more books than I could read in a year.
When it comes to this girl, the road is unmapped; meandering. My worries are vague and intangible.
I worry about passing my own insecurities down to her the way some mothers pass down a family diamond, or a handmade quilt.
I worry she aims to please others too much, with little thought to herself.
I worry about what living alongside the autism spectrum disorder is ultimately going to cost her.
I worry her having too many drinks at a party one night and leaving alone and waking up in a hospital room with no memory of someone looming above her, taking what they have no right to take.
This girl. She is my daughter. She is your daughter. She is everyone’s daughter.
She is a dancer, and a steak-eater, and a third strike at home plate.
She is vulnerability and cultural norms and societal expectations all twisted together in one big enigmatic knot.
Last week I read news articles about the assault on a 23-year girl and the convicted Stanford student. I clicked on every headline that showed up in my news feed, gobbling them up like bitter candy.
People say we live in a rape culture. This means we live in a time and space where women are sexually assaulted so often that it has started to feel normal, expected.
I am raising my daughter in a rape culture. What do I tell her? What do I teach her?
I want her to feel comfortable and confident with her body, but I don’t want her waltzing around in booty shorts.
I want her to understand the concept of consent and permission, but not be so tightly bound to the rules that she never has the chance to feel the heady rush of a surprise kiss.
I want to teach my exotic bird to fly, but make sure no one crushes her wings.
Jack’s field day did not go well. Even though we prepared him with a schedule and a bunch of social stories and a behavior plan, still he unraveled halfway through the day. Like so many other times this sixth-grade year, I raced to pick him up early, and he cried the entire way home.
When Rose walked in the door several hours later, he was sitting at the kitchen counter. It was as though she knew how the day had unfolded, even though she wasn’t there and I didn’t tell her.
“Jackie. What happened?”
I watched her put her hand on his arm and he turned to her and started to cry all over again and watching the two of them together, I thought about what I will do.
I will praise her body for its strength and ability, and nudge her away from the short-shorts in the mall.
I will continue to tell her the truth about softball, and alcohol, and boys who don’t take no for an answer.
I will remind her she is loved.
I don’t know if that is enough to keep her safe, but for now, it is what I will do.