I know I should have apologized today for my son Jack.
I should have apologized for the way he didn’t answer when you asked him how old he is, or look up when you commented on his height.
Still you packed our bags cheerfully—the new placemats and the scented candle.
But I felt a tension settle over us like fog.
He’d been so patient. That’s the thing.
He waited quietly as I shopped. He fidgeted with his glasses a few times and rubbed the bridge of his nose, but he didn’t wander the store.
He’s been known to wander, this boy of mine.
By the time we got to the cash register, he’d had enough of the background music and the unfamiliar smells. He hates to wait in line.
I know he didn’t answer you.
It’s not because he’s rude, or he didn’t care about your questions.
He cares, deeply.
I should have apologized.
I’ve spent so much time apologizing, you wouldn’t believe it.
You don’t notice his autism right away. At first, he seems like any other tall teenager shopping with his mother—a little shy, out of place, and awkward.
He doesn’t look like he has autism, because sometimes autism doesn’t have a look.
I tried to signal you. I have several gestures and movements for the signaling.
I usually lead with the head-tilt-one-shoulder-shrug.
From there, I move to the wide-eye-bright-smile strategy.
If that doesn’t work, I mouth autism when he isn’t looking.
I have to be subtle about it, because at seventeen he gets a little cranky if I announce it. He didn’t care so much when he was little, but now he knows.
I can’t blame him. I mean, how would I feel if someone made an announcement about me?
Sad. I would feel sad. Then resentful, and bitter, and mad.
I should have apologized.
But I am tired of it.
Some days, I don’t even know what I am apologizing for—his diagnosis? The fact that his brain is wired differently? His silence, his awkwardness, his earnestness, his hope, his fear, his anxiety?
The problem is I have to do the announcing in order to clear up the confusion and spread autism awareness and help you see him for who he is.
I have to so you can stop thinking he is rude, and start understanding he is complicated.
He is a moment between the lines, a breath between notes—the space between heartbeats.
I don’t know how to be in this world with this boy and this autism and not hurt.
He is different. It’s true.
I wish we could normalize different so it is nothing more than good and right and whole and interesting.
I guess you could say I am always trying to build a bridge between the expected and the unexpected.
I want to cross that bridge with you.
Because once we meet in the middle, I can tell you my truth.
I can tell how I kiss my husband lovingly goodbye as he leaves the house most mornings. I think of him fondly off and on throughout the day. Yet by the time he walks in the door at dinnertime, I can barely turn to look at him, because autism has worn me down to a shell of a person and I am tired and a little bitter.
I can tell you how we’re staring down a new season of life—how this spring Jack will graduate high school and we’re desperately trying to figure out his next step.
I can tell you how he learned to ski last year, and the way he carefully stacks his Oreos up and one by one, dunks them in a glass of milk.
I don’t know how to find my way out of this.
But I will.
He is worth it.
Our story is ordinary.
Yet he can take your breath away.
I don’t want to apologize anymore.
I don’t want to hurt anymore.
I believe in him. I do.
Thank you for telling him about Oreo’s new Limited Edition Ultimate Chocolate flavor. We picked some up on the way home. He said they taste like happiness.