I found that sentence – “Helen is not a milkshake” – written on a yellow post-it note stuck to our dining room wall by our twelve year old daughter, Helen, who has autism. And, it captured for me all that is miraculous and heartbreaking about being her mom.
She leaves these notes about our house, on index cards, post-it pads, loose-leaf pages. Lists, declarations of spare facts, pieces of stories, bits of curious dialogue, commands, instructions. Written, as she might say, in her “awfully ever so good” penmanship.
They are funny, original, odd, exact . . . true, but indecipherable.
We have no other children so I don’t know very much about what it might be like to parent a more typical girl. I imagine to myself that as a parent of a child who communicates in such maddeningly obtuse ways, that I have a heightened sense of how difficult it is to know a child on her own terms, to reach her where she stands, and to understand her as she understands herself, as she would like to be understood. Then again, maybe when I am feeling a bit less sorry for myself, I wager that this is one of the challenges all parents face, indeed maybe all people face, each of us to the other. Helen’s little squibs are a window into who she is, but one with a shade drawn. And they are a reminder of how much of what we know and understand about one and other, is taken on faith and embraced by love. I see her, I hear her, I love her and I know, she is not a milkshake – this I believe.
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