News Flash! Being the parent of a child with autism can be stressful! You know what I’m talking about. Sometimes you just need to lighten up. My story…
Matthew started making signs when he was 13.
When it was my turn to host the Book Club meeting, he would tape a “welcome book club” sign to the mantle of the fireplace, and my friends smiled politely. When we ordered pizza, the delivery boy would find a sign on the door that read “large cheese pizza welcome.”
During this same period, I hired a college student, Chad, to hang out with Matthew after school. Chad was a good-looking ex-Marine with a big heart who liked to look in the mirror a lot. When he picked Matthew up at school, the eighth-grade girls would swoon.
“He is, like, totally good-looking!” I heard one of them say as the two sauntered off.
I had instructed Chad to take Matthew out into the community, help him learn safety rules, conduct appropriate interactions with store clerks, and work on table manners at the pizza parlor. The program didn’t always go as I envisioned, but most programs don’t, do they?
I knew Matthew was connecting with Chad when signs started showing up. “go away chad.” “chad you’re a girl.” Matthew was exhilarated, downright joyful, about Chad’s reaction to his signs, ripping them down dramatically and then running after Matthew with a squirt gun.
Matthew’s primary method of connecting with people continued to be this kind of teasing, and I told Chad it might not be good to allow it to continue.
“Lighten up,” Chad laughed in return. “We’re having fun, that’s all.”
One day, while I was getting the kids ready for school, my husband Peter and I had some sort of argument. I don’t remember what it was about, but it was one of those arguments not settled before he left for work, leaving feelings of anger to fester all day. By noon I was in such a state that I felt the need to call him, tell him off, and then hang up the phone before he could respond. What made me crazier was that he didn’t call right back to set things straight. I learned later that the poor guy had been in a tense meeting and couldn’t.
By three o’clock, I was psychotic. I had just picked Matthew up from school and learned from his teacher that he had had a hard day. Some students had dared him to go into the girls’ bathroom, prompting the girls to yell “Pervert!”
Matthew had a mischievous smile on his face as he asked me if Chad was coming over today. Yes, he was. Thank God.
While I waited for Chad to arrive, my friend Susie dropped by. She had called earlier, noticed I was on the edge, and wanted to check on me. Before I could tell her my story, the doorbell rang. Probably Chad, I thought, relieved. It wasn’t Chad, but the local florist with a beautiful arrangement of flowers with a sealed note and a nervous, almost frightened look on her face.
“Thanks. I deserve these!” I yelled hoarsely.
She handed me the flowers from Peter and took off before I could give her a tip. The poor thing. I must have looked as deranged as I felt. I’ll stop by the shop tomorrow and thank her, I thought, and explain my situation.
Chad showed up a few minutes later, and Matthew ran out to greet him before he could get to the door. I followed with money for pizza, and off they went. As I walked back to the front door, I saw it: a new sign taped on the front door. In dark, angry scrawl, it read “i hate you chad.”
The mystery of the terrified florist was solved. She must have concluded the flowers from Peter were from a beleaguered husband named Chad.
Susie and I laughed hard and long. We kept trying to pull ourselves together, only to convulse in laughter again, thinking of the terrorized florist.
It was such a blessed release.
Just then Matthew burst through the front door with an impish smile and pizza sauce on his face and in his hair, Chad close behind.
The day, it appeared, had not gone as Chad envisioned. Happily, mine hadn’t either.
Do you have a “lightening up” story?
This is an excerpt from my book A REGULAR GUY: GROWING UP WITH AUTISM
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