Editor’s Note: This could also be known as “The Day I was not smarter than an 8 year-old”.
I am carpooling with the neighbor family again. Their nanny takes the kids to school, and I pick them up. Tate takes the bus to school, though, so he isn’t in the mix. I pick him up early, so he’s not in the car on the ride home.
Jake and Sis are 3rd graders. They’ve known our routine for a while. They know Tate is a little different. Sis likes to asks several questions about Tate. I know she listens quite attentively when I talk to her mom about Tate and his progress/therapy/delays. I know my neighbor has told her daughter that Tate has Autism.
Bro is a kindergartener. He is new to our pick-up routine. He asked, again, where Tate was when I picked the kids up from school. I told him that Tate was home doing therapy.
Bro: What’s therapy?
Me: Oh, um, it’s skills-building activities for Tate because he needs some extra help with learning.
Jake: It’s like going to a class or something. You learn stuff.
Bro: Oh, ok.
Sis: Bro, Tate has, has, um Aw…AWT-ISM. You know what that is, right?
Sis: Well, Tate was born different than us. He’s different.
Gaahhh!! Yes, he’s different…I can’t dispute that..but, er, well…I don’t need these kids going around talking about how “different” my kid is….and then again, I guess that’s just something I need to get used to, isn’t it? Tate is different. It’s not bad. Just…different.
Me: Well, his brain works a little differently from ours. Tate is like us in many ways, but he is also different, too. It’s kind of like a mini-van and a car. They are similar, but different. Like, a van has sliding doors and a rear-lift, and requires some different maintenance than a car that has 4 doors that swing open and shut and a trunk.
Sis: I guess. You know, we all think differently.
Me: Yes, we do think differently…we all have our own opinions and thoughts. But it’s more than that. It’s just that Tate’s brain works in a way unlike the rest of us. Not bad.
Bro: Oh, ok. I think having Autism would be cool. Cuz, well, you can punch Tate in the stomach and he doesn’t cry.
Me: Uhhh….(How the hell do I respond to THAT?!)
And with that, Bro & Sis jumped out of our car and into their driveway. Fail. Fail. Fail…..I failed my kids. I failed at a great opportunity to make these kids aware of autism and how it affects us..how it affects Tate.
The larger part of this issue is that I am absolutely frustrated with Sis. I bristle at many things she says lately. I am probably taking things wayyyyy too personally from an EIGHT YEAR OLD…but she is an 8-year-old who is very smart and very clever…and knows too much for her own good. The past few mornings as we wait for Tate’s bus, she comes out with her brother and waits with us…but it becomes a running commentary on her part about how weird/different/awkward my kids are. Jake is still using training wheels?! I can’t even get on a bike with those anymore! Can’t he balance on a bike? Does Tate ride a bike? Your boys don’t really like riding bikes. They only ride scooters. Jake has the “easy” teacher for 3rd grade. I don’t know how to cut it off other than to say “that’s enough” and move along to attend to my weird/different/awkward kids. I KNOW my kids are weird/different/awkward…I don’t need one of their peers constantly making remarks about it.
Well, I need to go figure out a better way to explain Autism to the kids we know…I can see that we’re finally to the age where I will need to start giving the “elevator” speech about this life of ours….and how weird/different/awkward it is.
The key, though, is to also share the beauty, upside, and unique nature of our life. How we can enjoy the little things more..because the little things aren’t so little. How we have all become more accepting, more forgiving, more understanding….