“The Salutation of Slapping Palms”

No one taught Hope the art of the ABA discrete trial or the use of repetition to facilitate learning. Nor has she yet learned to quote that old proverb “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.” She does not know the Biblical parable of the importunate widow who continually petitioned an unjust judge until she wearied him into granting her request.

However, she, in all her 19 months of wisdom, has been employing these principles for one important ambition, that is, what the playright Daniel Kamenetz referred to as “the salutation of slapping palms.”

Rhema never stops moving.

But Hope, with her chubby, toddler legs chases Rhema day after day, week after week, month after month. With her arm raised in the air, Hope calls out imploringly,

“High five? High five?”

According to Wikipedia, “If one initiates a high five by raising a hand into the air and no one consummates the celebration by slapping the raised hand, the initiator is said to be “left hanging.”” (For more on High Five Ettiquette, click here).

Until today, Hope had always been “left hanging.”

Rhema has been a tad bit peeved with Hope, since hhhmmm, the day Hope was born. It was understandable in the beginning: all siblings go through adjustment periods when the new baby arrives. For Rhema, I had always been her means for communicating and getting what she needed or wanted. She was queen of the “autistic leading” technique. Without words, she would simply grab my hand, drag me to the desired object and thrust my hand at it. I believe my preoccupation with Hope as a baby caused Rhema to view her as an intruder and an interference, and she has tenaciously held onto that view.

Rhema’s game plan has been to basically ignore Hope’s existence until Hope has a popsicle. Then Rhema turns into Swiper and steals the popsicle. Oh man.

The response to the plaintive request for a high five has been no response… or a fast run in another direction. In the past I have felt bad for Hope – getting dissed and all – so I have offered her a high five. But she shakes her head… she doesn’t want it from me, she wants it only from Rhema. I have attempted to tackle Rhema and force her hand to slap Hope’s, but it always reeks of phoniness.

Nevertheless, Hope possesses that defiant boldness and strong devotion that embodies hope. She insists on sharing something with Rhema – not her popsicle, not her toys – no way! – but a connection, a greeting, an acknowledgement. Her determination reminds me of the Dreamgirls hit “And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going” sang by Jennifer Hudson.

And I am telling you
I’m not going,
Even though the rough times are showing.
There’s just no way, there’s no way!
We’re part of the same place,
We’re part of the same time.
We both share the same blood.
We both have the same mind.
….
I’m staying, I’m staying,
And you, and you, and you, you’re gonna love me.
Ooh, you’re gonna love me.
You’re gonna love me!

Today, finally today, Hope got her breakthrough. She was in hot pursuit when Rhema stopped abruptly, causing Hope to crash into her. Hope stepped back and raised her hand in the air.

“High five?”

Rhema awkwardly, all the while grinning and avoiding eye contact, slapped the palm of her sister.

What word suffices here? Momentous? Stupendous? I cheered like the Red Sox had won another World Series.

Hope, of course, couldn’t get enough and requested high-fives all afternoon. And Rhema obliged her every time.

Sistas at last.

“A high-five is done when two people congratulate each other after they achieve success.”

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12 thoughts on ““The Salutation of Slapping Palms”

  1. clapping! soaring! high fiving! right there with you .. BEAUTIFUL! just beautiful!

    love breaks through .. every time . it may be patient and kind, but it is also HOPE-FULL

    thank you for sharing your miracle

    p.s. kendall would appreciate the dora reference!

  2. go rhema go! go hope go! i love how God puts families together. it can seem so trying at times–who we’re related to–but so good to remember it’s for a reason. we sharpen and push and stretch one another. wow… amazing. keep the breakthroughs coming!

  3. love the dora and dream girls references! the girls are so funny and beautiful in their natures – thank you for this vivid, awesome story!

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  5. Words cannot express the joy I have for you and your girls! Your wording in sharing the story made it as if I was there with you. What a journey you are on! What amazing blessings are stored just for you and your family. Hope couldn’t have been a more appropriate name for your little girl and Rhema has so much more to offer than I think we can ever truly grasp. My prayers and thoughts for you have multiplied.

  6. Your daughters are gorgeous and the post about the letter from your husband totally made me cry! We are also a military family (navy) with a 3 year old son with autism. I’m glad I found your blog! :)

  7. I understand a little of how Hope must feel. I have felt like I have chased you, my amazing big sis my whole life. How could I do anything less? I am in awe of you-complete and absolute awe. Are we really part of the same blood? Are we really part of the same mind? Oh dear God let it be so. Because my sister’s amazingness overwhelms and humbles me….Everyday, Everyday. Mom, sister, writer, woman of God-can I get a high five?!

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