It isn’t lost on this sign-seeking girl that Autism Awareness Month begins on a day dedicated to pranks. Joke’s on me; I get it- I’m the fool. Twenty-four hours later, the punchline to the gut persists as World Autism Awareness DAY commences. Ha!
Over the years I’ve gone from praying for those poor families living with autism, to realizing I was one of those families, to hiding out, to speaking out, to finally…selling out. You heard me, autism. This year, you’re nothing but a lame hoax to me.
Today, and for the whole goddamned month for that matter, I choose to ignore you. I refuse to become any more “aware” of you and I certainly won’t be “celebrating” you. I will wake up on April 2 to my beautiful son knocking on my forehead, exclaiming “It’s Saturday, mom. It’s my day.” It will be 6:00 a.m. Who needs beauty rest in our house? Have you not seen what we look like?
J.R. will stand over me, wearing a pajama top that’s a size too small (he never took the hint when I asked him why he adores a belly shirt) along with non matching, severe high-waters. I receive him, donning my husband’s XL tee and sweatpant cutoffs that are way, way too short. Because neither J.R. nor I are very self aware. He’ll want McDonald’s for breakfast, and not because he’s an autistic junk food junkie, but because McDonald’s is fantastic. And you know it.
J.R.’s hotcakes are presented on a styrofoam platter sans the typical accompaniments. Because the cashier knows a boy with discriminating taste when she sees one- certainly not because he’s said to her “GROSS! I do NOT like butter or syrup, dummy” a few trips (or 19) before. J.R. thanks her by name, the gentleman he is, and pivots tray in hand to stand over a police officer, who just so happens to be plopped in J.R.’s usual spot. It’s not as if he craves the familiar or is obsessive in any shape or form. J.R. just has a knack for scoping out the finest of seating, wherever we go. His future in luxury branding is secure.
The officer certainly doesn’t suspect we’re a “special” family. His eleven year-old stalker stands frozen in front of him, stiffly saluting. Our eight year old is screaming “He is not military, STUPID!” and I am not sure if my husband is rolling his eyes at his kids or the fact that I am still sporting the same crotch cutting shorts I’d slept in. All the officer can do is smile, in recognition of the fact that we’re obviously living the American dream. And before J.R. can ask him a third opinion question concerning the worldwide smash, Free Willy 4, the officer quietly slips away. I secretly wish J.R. closed with the usual “Try not to shoot at too many criminals today,” because I enjoy an inappropriate comment just as much as the next girl. Now if we were only at Dunkin Donuts…
Breakfast is normally followed by a trip to the park. Here, J.R. displays his penchant for avoiding all typical types of play- he’s so creative, that kid! Who needs swings and who gives a crap about kicking a soccer ball around when you can scale the rock wall meant to keep children inside the confines of the park? It must feel wonderful to be ten feet tall. And pacing (okay racing) its perimeter, over and over, has honed an agility in J.R. I’ve never seen in any other child. And calluses you’d have to shave with a belt sander. The best part? His little brother is right at his heels. J.R. cuts his leg but does not care because in his mind, band-aid application is a fate worse than death. Boys!
My husband’s and my idea of when we need to leave the park is not at all in sync with J.R.’s timeline. A tantrum ensues. A list of demands, then threats are screamed toward us that often include, but are certainly not limited to: I’m going to call the police on you, You’re the worst parents alive, I don’t want to live under your roof anymore, and You can die now. My husband and I laugh, because we are allowed. He’s acting like a fool just as we surely did when we were kids, not wanting the fun to end. Are the surrounding parents mortified at all of the behaviors the Vannattas are displaying? Probably. Then they may not want to follow us over to the grocery store.
I look to my husband and nod, as to agree with him that our world is complete. We could dwell on all of the things our family won’t have, compliments of autism, but we choose not to. Not on this day, not this month, and not this century. Life is about perception, and we stopped wondering years ago if God had “punked” us. J.R. is simply a unique individual with unique challenges, not to mention with a unique idea of what he wants out of life. You know, just like everyone else.
If we can’t love and accept our son and our LIFE with our son (high jinks included), nobody will. And that is no joke.