I Know You Saw Us
I really enjoyed chatting with you tonight. This resort is beautiful isn’t it? Our kids just love it.
Yes, we have five. Yep, only one girl. She recently decided to cut her hair short and in the airport someone thought she was a boy. She wasn’t too happy about that.
I know you saw us this morning. Yes, we were the family standing in front of the restaurant with the buffet breakfast downstairs, and a sit-down restaurant upstairs where you can order your bacon and eggs and pancakes from a menu.
We told the kids we’d do the buffet this morning, so we could eat quickly and get to the beach. But when we walked in, the wait was really long. People were standing around in groups, waiting for the tables to clear.
I know you saw my husband and my son waving their hands and screaming at each other.
To be fair, only my son Jack was screaming. My husband was waving his hands in the air, trying to get him to calm down so he could explain that there’d been a change in plans.
You said you said you said the buffet.
I know, Jack, I know, but the buffet line is too long, we can eat faster if we go upstairs.
You LIED to me. LIAR LIAR LIAR—
JACK! Stop it now!
I know you saw us, and I know what you saw. You saw a taller-than-average boy clenching his fists and stomping his feet and screaming in his father’s face.
You saw a dark-haired man trying to stay calm while his son called him names and made a big scene.
The boy is named Jack. He is my son. He has autism.
The father is named Joe. He is my husband. They were arguing about eggs.
Jack loves buffets. If he could, he would eat every meal this way. He would slide his plate down the line and spoon his food from a tray. For breakfast, he likes to pile three–exactly three, never two and certainly not five—pancakes in the center of his dish and then carefully scoop one scoop of scrambled eggs on top.
Please do not ask me why he does this because I have no answer for you.
I know, I know–at first glance Jack looks like a big, lanky spoiled brat, demanding eggs like that.
And my husband seems stubborn, and unyielding.
But it wasn’t about the eggs. It never is.
You see, beneath the argument’s fragile white shell, something much bigger, and darker, and more vague looms. Through the shouts, I hear their tortured whispers.
You said one thing and now you are changing it too fast I can’t keep up I cannot do it.
But this is better Jack this will make you happy I only want to make you happy I worry about you every minute of every day and I am trying to teach you so many things.
I love you and I’m scared.
I love you and I’m scared.
I know what you saw. It was tense. It was ugly. Jack was pissed as hell and neither would back down and I wasn’t sure what to do.
You’d think I’d know by now, seeing as this morning was hardly the first time they’ve locked horns like two bulls competing for first place and it certainly won’t be the last, but still.
I didn’t know what to do.
There is an unwritten script in moments like this, and I knew that if I interfered and tried to convince Joe that really, we can wait for the buffet, it’s no big deal, we’re on vacation after all, let’s all just relax, well, it looks like I’m undermining him.
And if I put my hand on Jack’s shoulder and leaned in close and whispered that upstairs is better, he can still get his pancakes and we’ll ask the server to put a scoop of scrambled eggs on top just like the buffet, well, that won’t work either.
He will spin and screech how we all hate him and no one understands him and he wants eggs if he doesn’t get eggs he will die.
Familial allegiances are won and lost in the darndest of places, aren’t they? Loyalties are tested over whether you order your scrambled eggs from a server in a black vest or you spoon them out yourself. This is where a family divides.
It’s depressing, really. Eggs.
Father and son. It is a relationship I neither know nor understand; a man with hopes and dreams and a boy with autism in the throes of prepubescent hostility.
This is not a great combination.
He is a good man. He is a good father.
He is a good boy. He is a complicated son.
And both are trying, each in their own way, to understand each other.
Joe was so sweet with him when he was a baby. I wish you could have seen it. We had this hideous tan couch and when Jack had ear infections—which was a lot—Joe would pull out the bed part of the couch and sleep downstairs with him all night. He would rock him and walk him and soothe him and sing.
When he was a toddler he showed him how to move the pedals on a tricycle, and the way worms crawl out onto the driveway after a long, cool rain.
And when he was in third grade he taught him how to tie his shoes so he could finally, finally start wearing sneakers with laces like everyone else in his class.
Jack, buddy, loop it around, that’s right! Now pull it tight.
Now, they make breakfast together on Saturday mornings–carefully arranging strips of bacon in the pan so it cooks evenly.
Dad. For Dad.
Who teached you. For to make bacon.
I don’t know, buddy. I guess I learned it myself.
I love them both. I hurt for them both.
I hurt for the lost dreams and the new hopes and the long, stringy laces that forever bind them together.
He is my husband.
And Jack, my son.
We are like no family.
We are like every family.
We are different.
We are the same.
He is a boy who loves his father.
And he, a father who adores his son.
I did a new thing this time. I pretended I didn’t know them. I rounded up the other four kids and we walked upstairs and sat down. We studied the menu, and pointed out things we thought looked good.
After a minute, Joe and Jack walked up together holding hands. The storm had subsided.
The server–a young man named Ernie–came to take our order, and Jack asked for his three pancakes and scrambled eggs and after a second, added a side of bacon. Just before Ernie walked away, Jack made an announcement.
I know how. To make bacon. My dad taught me.
March 6, 2017 @ 9:10 am
Carrie – it is as if you have a birds eye view into my family. You are always able to put things into words that I just can’t. This story about father and son really touches me, it is just like my husband and 10 year old son. They both try so hard but they butt heads all the time and I never know quite how to respond because it means I’m choosing a side. Thank you for your stories and your honesty.
March 6, 2017 @ 10:15 am
In case this makes your daughter feel better:
We just gave our 7yo daughter a short haircut and used your daughter’s picture to show the stylist what we wanted.
I specifically chose her picture (the one where she’s wearing the dress with the flowers) because she must definitely looks like a girl and not at all boyish (which my daughter was so afraid would happen).
March 6, 2017 @ 11:24 am
I love that style! I bet your daughter looks lovely. Rose asked to go EVEN shorter right before we left for vacation….so she kind of did blend in with the boys. 😉
March 6, 2017 @ 12:52 pm
Yeah, so much history behind these scenes, isn’t there? Again, you capture the feelings so well. Thanks again.
March 6, 2017 @ 6:32 pm
I am learning about autism – working in a school affords me access to hands on scenes – but since my grandson was diagnosed and I watch him from time to time – it has been a trying time. But the past 12 years have been a learning experience in what to do and what not to do, When it is time to go to school and he asks for two more minutes – I wait – because I found this works better than insisting we leave NOW. But he is the love of my life and I find I just have to use a different way of taking care of him….
Stephs Two Girls
March 11, 2017 @ 5:42 pm
Oh I love this post so much. And I get it. The treading on eggshells, needing everything to be just so… am wondering if you’ve heard of PDA, Pathological Demand Avoidance? Love how you’ve explained their relationship, and how you did what I may well have done in that situation, something which takes even more strength and is not necessarily the easy way out. I get it. x