Evaluator in Chief, by blogger Ann Kilter is a post about a journal entry she wrote on December 23, 1991. On December 23, 1991, while my thoughts were filled with my infant son Teddy celebrating his first Christmas, Ann was watching her two young children participate in a Christmas program and was consumed by the concern she had about her then undiagnosed autistic children’s behavior.
After I read her post I began thinking about how my son’s childhood now too belongs to the past and how time gives us the gift of looking back on our lives, and the lives of our children, with the emotion of the moment safely tucked away in a place where it can no longer hurt. From the relative security of this vantage point, I can see the events that have marked my life in a more rational way.
And I have come to appreciate the reflecting on life that has come with this blog. Writing about Asperger’s and my decades of parenting, has allowed me to sit down to tea with the past. I have pulled out my journals, my notebooks filed with records, reports, evaluations and photos. I have revisited all those long ago items stored in the recesses of both my bookcases and my brain. Those memories have ripened with age, and now the cork has popped and the past pours out like a Burgundy aged to perfection.
My thoughts have led me back to one very particular photograph, the one at the top of this post. For this photo represents, to me, the question I have been pondering this morning.
Does life deliberately let us see only a portion of what is right before us?
Do we see only what we must, what is required at the moment, and then does life let us see more of the details only after the passing of that moment?
What action must I take right now? That is what fills your head when you are raising your child. Any child requires such concentration. I have learned though with an autistic child there are just so many more of those decision-making, action needed moments. Many, many more. A mother of a special needs child is almost always asking herself, “Is there something I can be doing right now?”
So, when you are in the thick of it does micro vision work as a cropping tool for the sake of focus, even survival?
Does life have built-in filters to protect us?
The above photo is of Teddy’s kindergarten class the day they walked the block from school to our house for a backyard Easter Egg hunt. April 1998. I was not there and I don’t remember who took the photograph. I think it must have been one of the moms who chaperoned. I wasn’t there because I was serving as a parent representative for the State Department of Education’s Special Education Grant Committee and on that day I was attending a meeting. (Oh, now that experience is a post waiting to be written.)
I imagine I thanked the mother who gave me this photo, glanced at it and then with no further thought diligently put it away in an album just as I did with all my other photos. Never did I notice, well, not for 15 years, something very striking about this photo.
Imagine you are autistic and at a party, a kind of party you haven’t ever been to before, with kids running around, excited, and making lots of noise. Imagine what seems like an infinite amount of unstructured time and not knowing what’s coming next. Imagine a day very different from the day at school you are used to and even then barely make it through.
Here’s the photo again…
Yep. Teddy is the boy sitting in front of the french door. By himself.
I don’t remember seeing Teddy alone when I first looked at this picture. I may not have seen Teddy at all. Rather, I think I probably just saw his teacher and classmates enjoying themselves on our patio and was glad we could host the event. I am not even sure I could have seen Teddy sitting there by himself and not participating. I think my filter blocked it out because I probably would have been upset to see him alone because I would have thought alone means unhappy.
My mother bear instinct would have wanted to roar into action to protect my child. But what action could I have taken? And from what would I have protected Teddy?
Did my filter save me that concern?
Because 15 years has brought a change to my interpretation of this photo and I now see Teddy in an entirely different light.
I now know alone does not equal unhappy.
And not participating the same way everyone else is does not mean you are not enjoying yourself.
Ted has taught me that.
What I see in this photo is not a sad, pathetic, lonely, isolated child.
What I now see is a photo of a child taking care of himself.
This is a photo of a six-year-old that might have instinctively known he needed some time away and honored that instinct despite what everyone else was doing.
Maybe he needed to calm himself. Collect himself.
Maybe he needed a break from the chaos.
Maybe what is captured in this photo is a brave child.
Teddy sitting there quietly by himself is a much more wonderful photo than one of Teddy having a meltdown in the middle of the party and having to be removed and isolated because he lost control.
Perhaps without a single word spoken my kindergartener knew what he needed and saw to it that he got it and had the ability to do so in a way that preserved his dignity.
Now that is an awesome picture and is well worth a post and these thousand words.