Yesterday was a teenage day.
It started when I left Matthew sitting in the truck for a moment while I helped a friend. He was sitting in the drive, and I was about ten feet from him and was focused elsewhere for all of about four minutes.
When I turned back, he was still in the truck, but he had decided it would be a good idea to lock the doors . . . with dad’s keys in the driver’s seat. Cause sometimes dad needs to be reminded that he’s an idiot.
This led to about 15 minutes of dad tapping on the door, on the window, on the windshield, shouting “open the door, Matthew,” and “roll down the window, Matthew,” and pantomiming every action I could think that would get him to understand what I wanted.
He was doing an excellent job of mimicking my motions and words, but he wouldn’t open the door. It was fun, at first. But because I was making lunch even later than I had made it already, and because it was hot, and because I was worried and feeling stupidly careless, I began to get agitated before he opened the door.
It wasn’t bad. I’ve long since learned that I have to keep my emotions in check with him. I’ve rarely been a yeller, and we had glass and a headphones separating us, but he knew.
He knew I was upset, and this upset him.
You know that moment when you just know you’ve failed as a parent? When despite all the juggling, the balls come crashing?
And then he was upset, too. And the shouting started.
Thankfully, his being upset led to him opening the door, so he could push me in the chest to let me know just how upset he was.
This led to about 30 minutes of yelling, hitting, and grabbing my hands while we were driving to lunch to make me replicate the tapping sound I had been making on the window.
It led to a stubborn refusal to get out of the car to go in for lunch.
It led to much stemming and pushing at Target when “DAD SAID NO!” to buying yet another five pound bag of sweet potatoes to mash into his sheets at home.
It led to him running back to the produce when he realized that the, red apples, green apples, bananas, onions, grapes, lemons, and oranges that he had wanted me to buy didn’t include the sweet potatoes that a kind woman had volunteered to put away for me.
It led to the family behind me in the line at Target to roll her eyes and sign heavily that we were causing her to wait an extra 90 seconds while I ran down my boy.
It led to the cashier to smile at me and tell me she thought I was doing a fantastic job as I struggled with Matthew to get him to sit back down on the Caroline’s Cart that Target makes available to us.
If only she knew that all of this was because I had gotten frustrated two hours earlier.
That pattern continued off and on for the rest of the day.
These kids today . . .
There’s an idea that kids on the Autism Spectrum are less empathic than kids who aren’t. I know the source of this thought. Kids on the spectrum tend to not make eye contact easily, and we who aren’t on the spectrum tend to think if you’re not looking at me that you’re not aware of me.
Kids on the spectrum often don’t respond when spoken to. We who aren’t on the spectrum tend to think that if you don’t respond to me, you’re not aware of me.
And so kids on the spectrum get labeled as lacking empathy.
This is not so with Matthew. If anything, he feels more deeply than others. He avoids eye contact because he feels things too deeply. It’s often painful for him to look at someone in the eyes. The connection is just too strong.
Now this is just him, and if you’ve met one kid on the spectrum, you’ve met one kid on the spectrum. So isn’t true of others, but for Matthew, he may be one of the most empathetic people on the planet.
And I wish we had more people like him.
If there is one thing that living with Matthew has taught me above all else, it’s that we’re all connected with one another. Even as a toddler when we weren’t sure if he was ever going to speak, he was teaching me empathy. We had to basically read his mind to know if he wanted some milk.
It was hard. He was frustrated. We were frustrated. Nothing was right in the world. We were living on a razor’s edge, and the slightest breeze could send us spiraling out of control for a long time.
But we adapted. We learned to read each other. He added a few words to his vocabulary. Like Helen Keller, learning the word “Water” was a huge day in our house.
He’s taught me the importance of being empathetic and connected with others emotions and moods.
And this has made our lives better.
I wish our world were filled with more people like Matthew who could lead us into first trying to understand rather than fight. We need this after the confirmation hearings this week.
We need to learn to listen to each other and to find ways of not allowing our own emotions to spill over and disrupt what we need to get done.
We need to learn to listen to each other and help meet each others basic needs for water or juice or hugs.
We need to learn to identify with the weak, the silenced, the women, the children because they are far too often left out. We ignore those who don’t make eye contact to our peril.
Empathy with the silenced and standing up for those others scream at is the only way we’ll survive this.
The Magic of the Dance
Before everything went crazy yesterday, I was walking on the greenway and feeling rather good about life in general. As I was heading back, I looked up and noticed three teenagers walking together at a slow pace, two girls and a guy.
It’s unusual to see teens on the greenway. It’s usually filled with old people like me either walking or running or biking. Teens are, again to our peril, often excluded: their music is too loud, they are too focused on their phones, they’re rude, or worse hooligans out looking for trouble.
By the way, you know that you’re officially old when you lose the ability to say that word sarcastically. Kids are absolutely no worse than we were when we were kids. In fact, if you look at nearly any objective standard, people are actually far better today than they were when we were kids. We live longer, we’re less violent, we’re less criminally inclined, we’re more inclusive today than we were 30 years ago.
These kids today . . .
I’m sure these three left the greenway shortly after I passed them, and I doubt that I will see them again, but that’s okay cause for just a moment, they gave me insight into how life really is, if we’re willing to see it.
You see, I was listening to one of my playlists while I walked, and the song “Wagon Wheel” by Darius Rucker came on. And when Darius got to the chorus:
I made it down the coast in seventeen hours
Pickin’ me a bouquet of dogwood flowers
And I’m a-hopin’ for Raleigh, I can see my baby tonight
So, rock me mama like a wagon wheel . . .
One of the girls in front of me, who was probably unaware I was close enough to even notice, began dancing.
Really, these kids today are just the worse aren’t they?
She was dancing, I imagine, because she was happy. It was beautiful morning, and it was perfect for dancing.
So she danced.
And every move, every motion was perfectly in time with the song I was listening to in my AirPods.
It was beautiful.
And just for a moment, it reminded me that no matter how many barriers we try and throw up between ourselves and others, we are all connected.
We all walk. We all have friends. We all enjoy a warm morning (even though, come on, it’s OCTOBER already.)
And we all dance as if no one is looking.
And sometimes if we’re good, we fall in sync with one another and life is truly magical.
We need to nurture the magical. These kids today are going to be our salvation if we can manage not to screw them up too much.