You told us something the other day, something that broke our hearts. Mom pulled out the paper and pencil and sat you down in your room. She asked you how you were feeling. You said “sad,” and that you didn’t want to go to school. She kept prodding you, and you said the word “awkward.” Then she helped you find more words: “Mater the Tow Truck.” You said you were awkward like Mater. Then, you did something you almost never do: you spoke a full, clear sentence out loud. You said, “Kids laugh at me.”
Moments like this make us sad because you are sad. They make us a little angry, because people should be more kind. And they make us hopeful too, because you were able to use your words in a very special kind of way, letting us know about a tender thing happening inside you. That is what we long for more than anything, son. We want to know what is happening deep inside you. And now that we know you are hurting, it brings us back to sadness.
I think I know why you feel awkward.
It’s because you have movies playing inside your head, and you can’t make them stop. You start reciting lines from the beginning of Cars 2, where Finn McMissile is on the boat. Then you continue on through Radiator Springs. We hear the voice of Larry the Cable Guy and Owen Wilson. We hear Weezer singing that old song, “You might Think I’m Foolish,” only it isn’t Weezer, it’s you. On a trip to Portland last month, I think you made it through the whole movie.
There is a word we use for this. We call it “scripting.” Lots of people with autism do it. And it’s okay. It really is. We like it, because you can make your voice sound like the characters you are quoting and it makes us smile.
But I know, sometimes it can be embarrassing because not everybody knows you, and not everybody likes it. Sometimes they get irritated with you. Sometimes they laugh. They don’t understand how those predictable movie quotes help you to calm down in such a scary, unpredictable world. They just think you’re talking to yourself, and they can’t tell what you’re saying.
They don’t know you.
They don’t know how gentle you are when the little babies come over. They haven’t seen you bring a tissue to a crying little girl. They don’t know how much you get distressed when your brother gets hurt, or how you smile big when someone in your family comes back after being gone a few days. They don’t know that you love dance parties, or that you carry the electric salt shaker all around the house in case a waffle shows up.
No. They don’t know you, son.
But here’s the thing: there are many of us who do know you, and in our opinion, you are easily one of the top ten eleven year olds that ever was. Your heart is kind, your smile is infectious, and your Timon and Pumba impressions are straight fire. What’s more? You work so hard to communicate with us. I know it’s not easy, but you don’t ever quit.
When you let us into your world like you did on Friday, you know what it does? It actually makes you stronger. I know, that sounds silly, but it’s true. When you tell us how you hurt, it means you don’t have to hurt alone anymore. It lets us come close to you, to hug you, to cry with you, and to help you carry those heavy feelings that weigh you down. And then, we get to remind you how valuable you are, for you bear the image of God himself, and nothing—-neither seizures nor scripting nor children who laugh—-will ever separate you from His affection or ours. You are our son. Our delight.
I wish I could say life will get easier as you grow up. It won’t. Growing up means there will be more hard mornings, more mean kids, and more afternoons where your head aches because your little brother is screaming about absolutely nothing. While I can’t protect you from things that make you cry, I can promise you that you won’t have to cry by yourself. We will go through it all together, and we’ll make it, because that’s what families do. They hold each other, then they turn on Cars 2 music and dance around the living room until the laughter comes back.
Today, as you turn eleven, I want to ask you if you will let us in even more. We count it a privilege to share all the happy scenes with you, and to help you shoulder the sad ones. Indeed, it is our joy.
Happy birthday, son. I am so proud of you. We all are.
Images graciously provided by Anne Nunn Photographers. You really should go like Anne’s page.