The girls and I were at the playground. Hope was making all the boys play with her – appointing one as the evil dragon, another as the ice cream man, and the tall one as her knight. (It goes without saying that she was Princess Pinky of the Play Structure.) Rhema was being Rhema, contentedly running her patterns, only stopping to examine specks in the turf.
I stood watching, enjoying the peaceful breeze and a few seconds to be still.
Then the quiet was interrupted by a loud shriek. It was a shriek of joy from a large boy as he bounded up the ramp and onto the play structure. A young man followed close behind him, chuckling as he went. Clearly the two of them were playing some sort of game.
I watched the boy closely in his baggy clothes, baseball cap turned backwards, and hightops. The way he moved, the way he let go of happy sounds as he ran, the way he seemed so out of place – too old and too big for the space, the way he did not notice or seem to care… it was all so very familiar to me.
Another mother who had only just arrived, declared it time to go and gathered her young before they were run over. She tossed me a look that seemed to say, “So much for that.”
And I realized in that moment that my girls and I were passing as a “typical” family. I looked at Rhema, and for once, she wasn’t knocking over toddlers as she ran or singing too loudly or eating dirt or attacking unsuspecting women wearing hair clips. I tried it on for size for a second, only to discover that it just didn’t fit.
A woman – obviously the boy’s mother – appeared. She tried to tell her son it was time to go. But he resisted, his shrieks growing louder in protest. So as to avoid a meltdown, she let him play longer and sat down heavily on a bench. I walked over and sat next to her, and as her son let loose a blood-curdling scream I smiled at her hoping to communicate that I loved his happy sounds.
Finally I said,
She turned to me with a curious look on her face.
She looked over at Rhema, heard her soft song, saw her repetitive loops.
“How old?” Her voice was gentle.
“Seven.” I knew that I could tell her my daughter’s age and not need to say more. I knew she understood that sometimes that’s a complicated question because people see my girl and wonder why a seven-year is acting like a two-year old. She understood how time is moving too fast, how my worries are growing just as tall as my child.
“And your son? How old is he?” I asked over the shrieking.
“Ten. He has two words. ‘Car’ and ‘Pizza’”, she said proudly.
I smiled imagining how celebrated those two words must be.
“My daughter is preverbal, too.” I realized I wasn’t apologetic or sad over that fact (how many times have I intervened on a playground explaining that my girl didn’t understand, that she didn’t have the language?). I was proud like this mama for every little, hard-won word.
We talked some more about the schools they attended, and we laughed when her son jumped and let out a new ”Whoop”. He sure knew how to have fun. I, without a doubt, loved him.
We said goodbye as Rhema took off toward a soccer field of middle-schoolers.
In our brief interaction a lifetime of words and stories had been communicated. We were strangers from very different walks of life, yet instantly bonded in our common stories of heartache and joy.
There’s a passage in the book of Hebrews that I don’t completely understand but it brings great comfort. The writer describes how Christ himself calls us brothers (and sisters). How He literally came and entered into the humanness of life. He shared, and shares in now, our joys and pains – bonded to the breast cancer survivor, strapped in with the special needs mama , joined to the single woman longing to be married. That very heart and soul connection I had with the woman at the park, I can have with Him. And how He longs to connect with us!
…That’s why he had to enter into every detail of human life. Then, when he came before God as high priest to get rid of the people’s sins, he would have already experienced it all himself—all the pain, all the testing—and would be able to help where help was needed. Hebrews 2:16-18, The Message
“All of us had made similar choices, seen beauty in the same light, endured related pangs, been patient for healing, and bear the same badge with pride. Without much explicit sharing or rolling up of any sleeves, we knew each other’s life stories–in large part …we left the beach having formed a sisterhood. Women are amazing creatures. And adversity is an amazing bonding agent. Autism is like Krazy Glue.
Autism mums can be a diverse lot. Some are angry, some are militant, some are bitter, some are divorced, some depressed.
And yet, some glow.”