I have never once sat in the bleachers and rooted for you to hit a homerun.
I have never sat in a stuffy middle-school gym and rooted for you to spell the word paragraph into a microphone.
That’s the tricky thing about autism. It makes me consider how we don’t root for the same things as most.
I resent this.
Yet I am grateful for it.
Around and around my mind goes—resentment, gratitude, resentment, gratitude—two tigers eyeing and circling one another for space, until each are too tired to move.
It’s easy to assume rooting for someone is akin to being a cheerleader—all sparkly pom-poms and glittery applause.
It’s not though. It’s more like the proverbial root, beneath a tree. There you are, deep underground in the damp earth, pushing and listening and learning and urging your young seedling to break through the soil, and tentatively reach to the sky.
This is not easy work, my Jack-a-boo. Pushing and listening and learning and urging is often camouflaged beneath tears, and defeat, and grief.
I root for the underdog. I root for the boy who spoke late and ran first.
Sometimes I wonder if I should have moved on by now.
The problem is moving on implies skipping over all that is ordinary/sad/good when it comes to the hard business of growing a tree.
If autism has taught me anything, it’s there are no shortcuts. I resent this more than you know.
But autism is a long road—the marathon before the sprint. Progress is in the details.
It’s easy to root for the soccer star, or the champion of the spelling bee.
It is easy to rise to our feet and clap for a touchdown, or quietly applaud the one who crosses the finish line first.
When it comes to regulation, and improved executive functioning, and learning how to simply shake someone’s hand, the applause is scarce. In fact, it is absent.
I have not moved on, I have moved forward.
I root for you.
I don’t know why, but the other day I remembered about the first time we watched The Wizard of Oz. You were about eight, I think.
At the end of the movie you said the Lion had autism.
I asked why.
Because. He is afraid. All the time.
I don’t know what made me think of that. But I did, and I felt a piercing hole inside my heart.
You are nineteen now. And still, you are afraid.
Not monsters-under-the bed afraid, or spiders-on-the-ceiling afraid.
More like flight-or-fight-deep-unease afraid.
I root for you, as you wake up every single morning and you face your afraid-ness, and you put one foot in front of the other and you toast waffles.
Sometimes I wonder what it would be like if you didn’t have a diagnosis.
I’d probably be mad a lot, to tell you the truth. Mad, and frustrated.
Maybe I’d be mad because you didn’t want to try out for soccer, or invite friends over, or get a part in the school play.
Maybe I’d compare you to other kids your age and say things like, “Why can’t you be more like that boy Trevor? He doesn’t need to stack up DVD’s all day long!”
This would be would be terrible. It would make you feel bad.
I never, ever want to make you feel bad.
In many ways, your diagnosis has saved us from bad feelings, and unfair expectations.
I root for you, diagnosis and all.
I root for your sleep, and your happiness, and your peace.
You are unlike anyone I have ever known.
Autism weighs you down—it is your own force of gravity pulling you toward isolation, and loneliness, and struggle. Constantly, it winds its vines around your soul, and beckons you back underground.
You fight against it. I see it. I see the way you push against the pull, and try your hardest to fly toward the sun.
I root for you, my son. I do. I’ve simply learned to root for different things.
I root for exactly who you are, and the person you may become.
Jack-a-boo, I don’t know what the finish line looks like, or if there even is one.
I do know that in your way, and your own time, you will do good things.
Perhaps even great things.
Who knows? Maybe you’ll defy gravity, and fly great heights against the yellow sun.
I’ll stand on the ground while you soar above me. I’ll look to the sky and wave, even if you don’t look down long enough to notice.