Over the holiday weekend (which I was SURE I would not survive), we received an invite from our good friends the Popritkins for a Thanksgiving leftovers luncheon. Clever idea, huh? I hope to make it a tradition, as long as it’s mostly their leftovers of course. I can’t cook to save my life.
Being with them reminded me how important it is to have friends who are on the same pilgrimage, pardon the Thanksgiving pun. They too, you see, have been “blessed” with autism. Now don’t get me wrong, it is equally important to nurture friendships with families in more “typical” situations. If I had not, I would never know that an Elmo DVD is not really what I should be showing up with to a fourth grader’s birthday party. Or that front teeth actually fall out on their own, and not just from blunt trauma to the mouth.
We arrive at the Popritkins and I am in my usual, exasperated state. We greet one another with a look of “only two more major holidays to go and 2010 is in the bag!” Both families had made concessions this Thanksgiving, compliments of autism. They decided to stay home and cook for themselves, and we decided to let our son swim in our hosts’ 65 degree pool while we ate our turkey. And this is the story of our lives. I am sure the Popritkins didn’t want to deal with the struggles of bringing their kids to someone else’s home, just as we didn’t want to deal with J.R. stimming to the point that he’d fall in the relatives’ pool with his clothes on. So we came prepared with his swim trunks.
Truth be told, Brenda (that would be Mrs. Lawrence Popritkin) was dying to try out some decadent recipes she could burn in the privacy of her own home if need be, and I was thankful I had an excuse to spend time on Tim’s cousin’s pool deck, safe from having to be on dishwashing duty.
Thanksgiving behind us, we are able to sit and talk over some yummy warmed up stuff. Brenda if you are reading this please please PLEASE make the Barefoot Contessa’s Mac & Cheese again! Everything was soo good, even the leftover cake we brought, which had fallen.
Brenda and I talked about how we wished we’d been locked in the Boca Town Center mall again, but only if we had another bottle of wine with us. Yes it’s true, Brenda and I got LOCKED IN the Boca Town Center one evening last week. We had been eating at one of the restaurants after hours, and proceeded to stay so late that we could not get out. Our husbands said they wished we would’ve stayed out all night (as long as the stores remained closed).
The Popritkins and the Vannattas wish for a lot of things. We wish that posing for holiday card photos didn’t give us all an ulcer, and that for once our kids would be excited about opening Christmas presents. We wish autism would pack up and take an extended vacation, or that we could take a family vacation for that matter. The good news is that we won’t allow autism-related longings to consume us. Luckily, hopes of becoming Michael Kors’ next muse, or seeing the Heat make the playoffs do.
Families dealing with autism require a thick skin, and an equally thick wallet-to neither of which we have easy access. There are the strangers who pay too much attention to our kids’ behaviors, and there are the family members who pay too little. And it can hurt. A lot. There are therapy centers that care more about the bottom line than our child’s success. And it can hurt. A lot. No note of how to deal with these issues in our autism manual. Kidding. We didn’t get one; that’s the point.
Right in the middle of enjoying my third helping of Honeybaked Turkey (sorry to throw you under the bus Bren, but it tastes better than homemade, even left over!) my kids run into the dining room and start screaming back and forth “You want a piece of me?” and “BRING IT!” Then begins a lame attempt to beat one another half to death employing moves learned while watching Kung Fu Panda, Madagascar 2, and the UFC. All we can do is laugh. Especially considering the three-year-old is dominating. Behind that laugh I am thanking my lucky stars that J.R. even acknowledges his little brother’s existence, and can’t wait to witness the Popritkins own children get “ready to rumble” someday soon.
The Vannattas and Popritkins laugh tons in spite of it all. Sometimes we laugh at the ridiculous things our kids do (because if not we’d cry), other times we poke fun at one another for no reason at all. My husband gets picked on because of his rednecky ways and foul mouth. He fires back with some sort of comment about the Popritkins’ heritage, and in the same breath begs Brenda to make him some of her awesome café.
The biggest laugh Brenda and I ever had was the day she admitted how happy she was to learn I was not perfect. I know that sounds weird, but hear me out. For nearly an entire year, Brenda sat behind me in the carpool line of our sons’ school. She didn’t know me, but she sure wanted to be me. And who wouldn’t? Kidding, of course.
Back to the story. Brenda would witness my daily routine of changing my baby’s diaper in the back of my SUV (now I know when I think “nobody’s looking,” that someone is most definitely “looking”) She’d see my happy, smiling face and think I didn’t have a care in the world. Here I am, enjoying my perfect baby boy while I wait to pick up (who she thinks is) my perfect(-ly typical) pre-schooler. No worries of autism on that girl’s mind. Looks (especially good looks, lol) can be deceiving.
Our actual introduction was completely serendipitous. I had no idea she had a son who attended the same school as mine, much less was parked behind me every day for eight months. I could read the relief on her face as she realized I too had a son with autism. “It’s YOU, and you’re NOT PERFECT. HOORRAAYYYYY!” she cried. In my book, laughter is the best way to start (and maintain) a friendship.
My boys are just one karate chop shy of visible bruising. This is our cue that it is time to step away from Paula Dean’s Gooey-Butter-Pumpkin Bars and head home. I leave thinking how thankful I am for friends like the Popritkins. Thankful that Larry and Tim have one another. Thankful that autism aside, I still gravitate toward those who know the key to a happy life: a wishbone, a backbone, and a funnybone.
Postscript, November 26, 2014
The Popritkins and Vannattas have come a long way these past past few years. Brenda has started sharing her dining experiences (certainly not this one) on her blog, The Whet Palette.
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Kristi Vannatta is a mom to two boys, ages seven and ten. Her blog, Write On!, focuses on her life with her ten-year-old son with autism. In her infinite spare time (ha!) she runs Puzzle Peace Now, a charity that raises money to send children with autism to summer camp.