For the Love of Mike

Joe - Iowa City, Iowa
Entered on February 5, 2009
Age Group: 30 - 50

You get used to the looks. Maybe you’re in the Hy Vee supermarket down on the Coralville Strip. Maybe a guy between aisle six and seven holds out a dish of cheese samples as you walk by. Maybe your kid thinks the tray is the place where he’s supposed to spit out the remnants of the Charleston Chew he stole from aisle five. Maybe you’re walking through the fruit and vegetable section holding hands with your kid. Maybe he’s walking funny. This doesn’t set off any alarms because he always walks a little bit funny. But maybe when you stop to grab a bunch of bananas and everyone seems to be staring at your kid, you are prompted step in front of him for a better look. Maybe you discover that your kid has been walking around Hy Vee with his pants pulled down to his knees for a while. Maybe this is the case.

At one time, I was mortified by these things. At one time, I thought my kid was evidence of some failing in me. I worried about the opinions of others. Those people who were so outraged by my kid’s behavior. Who might say loudly, “What’s wrong with that guy? Why doesn’t he punish his kid for taking a drink of my kid’s Coke?” But I don’t worry about these people anymore. If my kid steals a can of Coke from some other kid, I just buy the other kid a new can of Coke and say, “Here you go, big guy. Enjoy.” I don’t even feel the need explain. To tell people, “My son is a special needs kid.” Or, “My son is autistic.” Or, “My son is mentally retarded.”

I’m tired of saying, “I’m sorry.” Because I’m not sorry.

Famous people have been known to write books on how they have “saved” their autistic children. How, through piano lessons, or cranial message, or special diets, they have managed to save their children. They have returned their children to the world of communication and normalcy and not walking around Hy Vee with their pants pulled down to their knees.

Some of us, however, will fail to teach our children how to write or speak. How to couple one thought with another. Some of us will fail to save our children. Some of us, I believe, need to learn how to accept our children for who they are just as we need to accept whatever fate that has wound our lives around the lives of our special needs children. We have been given a chance not afforded to everyone after all: to claim, under great duress, a particular type of poop-stained, sleepless, humiliating, Coke-stealing grace.