I was a pretty messed up teenager. I quickly developed into a very messed up twenty something, who progressed into an even more messed up thirty something. Taking a breath. Whoooo. I’ll spare you the gory details, suffice it to say, I was a mess. Another breath. I don’t think I’ll get a great deal of argument from those who knew me then. In fact, it took me until I was 36 to realize I was far too old to be so confused and such an utter mess. I found people who had also once been where I now found myself, some worse, some not as bad, but they reached out and pulled me up. Because of them I learned how to reach out to others. I learned how to ask for support. I learned to take suggestions. I learned how to make amends, not apologies, amends. I learned that in order to feel better I had to behave better. I learned that the most important thing I would ever do in my life was to become the type of person I admired and those people all had one thing in common. They were kind.
Becoming that person meant learning to do small thoughtful acts. Remember I was a mess. Doing the obvious, was not my strong suit. I couldn’t suddenly transform myself into someone else, I had to learn to look for things that I could do to help others. In the beginning it was things like holding the door for someone, giving up my subway seat to someone else, holding the elevator doors open for someone just entering the building instead of madly jamming my index finger at the “close door” button. I had to learn how to refrain from letting out an exasperated and audible sigh when someone annoyed me, (still working on that one) I had to learn that sometimes saying nothing was better than saying something. This may sound like common courtesy, but I live in New York City, where holding the elevator doors for someone or relinquishing your subway seat brands you as crazy, (exaggeration) in addition I was a mess, remember, which automatically trumps being polite, thoughtful or kind. By behaving in a way that engendered smiles and utterances of gratitude I gradually began to feel better about myself. By helping others, mentoring other people younger than me who were also having a tough time, but who now saw a person they wanted to emulate, I began to feel I was worthy and living a life of value. I learned how to be a part of a larger group and that while I often craved solitude, I found I needed community.
About two years after I was hit with the realization that I was far too old to be such a mess, I met Richard. We decided we wanted children, had Nic, got married, had Emma and suddenly there we were, five years later, after I had that moment of dawning awareness that there must be more to life than what I’d been living. So yeah, I’m not a great role model in how to graciously and elegantly enter adulthood, easily taking small manageable steps until one day there you are with an infant, a toddler, and a husband. But I had a little road map, a kind of guide-book with rules and suggestions, not literally, but figuratively and I was continuing to work on how best to behave in any given situation. I had phone numbers and emails of people who helped me and of the people I helped too, so I felt fairly certain I could handle whatever might come my way. But parenting is unlike anything else.
Despite what some people might think, okay strike that, no one is thinking this, but it works as the beginning to the next sentence, I was not given a super hero’s cape along with matching Lycra body suit with the word MOM in dayglo colors emblazoned across the chest when my son was born. I did not, after 38 hours of natural child-birth suddenly find I could dash into arbitrary enclosed structures, don my supermom costume and reappear in all my lycraed, daygloed glory with powers of insight, lightening quick reflexes and the infallible ability to intuit what my son needed and wanted at any given moment of the day or night. Ditto when my daughter, Emma was born. No handbook came with either child, carefully guiding me through their very specific needs and issues. Nic cried and held his small hands over his ears when a siren went by or the subway came to a screeching halt in front of us, Emma screamed from internal discomforts none of us could see for the first few months of her life. Who knew? We certainly didn’t.
We humans, we come with baggage. Some have more than others. Me, I came with a couple of steamer trunks, but I also had that well-worn guide-book from when I was such a mess and couldn’t figure out whether it was better to keep sleeping or wake up and do something. It was and is my lifeline. It’s expanded to include lists of blogs, twitter contacts and Facebook friends all of whom I can reach out to. You see, I now have hundreds of people I can interact with and these people are my community, my tribe. Sometimes we behave badly, sometimes we don’t agree. But I know hiding is no longer an option. Checking out doesn’t work. The only way out is by staying in. I know I’m not alone. I’ve learned that it’s perfectly reasonable to not know or understand something and this is something I have learned from my Autistic friends, the beauty in asking for clarification. It’s okay to not understand as long as you are willing and want to understand.
There is a great deal of talk about Autistic children. There is a tremendous amount of fear that if we miss that critical period of our child’s first five years, all is lost. But we humans have a tendency to grow and progress throughout our lives. Some perhaps more than others. I cannot speak for others, but I can speak for myself. I am not the person I was in my teens, my twenties or even my thirties. I figure as long as I keep my mind curious, my ideas open to alternate views and continually engage in conversation I will not stop progressing. There is always hope.