By: Zac Cannon
PROLOGUE:This is an old piece that I wrote a few years ago. To be honest, I wrote it when I was frustrated; one of those stubborn seasons of life when you are desperate to keep scribbling away at the story you want to write for yourself while God tries to pry the pencil clinched in your fist from you just to show you there is also an eraser on the opposite end that you need to learn to use as well.
When I picked my son up from Kindergarten today, he was clutching his little arm to his chest like a busted wing. He was smiling, but uncomfortable; tears and traces of his lunch on his face.
“He fell on the playground,” his aid told me. “I checked him, but I couldn’t really do anything else.”
Understandable. He was diagnosed with autism around two. We noticed that he had stopped meeting certain verbal and social milestones six months or so prior. In many ways, his speech and language skills had started to regress by then. He is five now and he has a three-year-old sister. Our daughter is neurotypical. Watching her development has really highlighted how different our son really is. People say things like, “Different doesn’t mean bad.” I agree, but it does often mean difficult.
As a dad, the hardest part for me is watching him in pain. When he really falls down, rough houses with friends too hard, has a stomach ache or has caught a bug, He can’t really contribute much more than, “I hurt.”
Those two words break my heart every time. I hurt too, bud.
A couple weeks ago, we had some friends over. Altogether, five kids in the house under six years old. It gets a little crazy. They were all playing in the back room. There are some couches, a TV, and the majority of our kids’ toys are kept back there. Obviously we keep an eye on them–from where we sat at the kitchen table there is a straight eye line to the door–but every now and again we found ourselves, you know, enjoying adult company for once.
From the back room, my son began to wail.
It takes a lot for him to cry, meaning he was in either physical or emotional duress. I went back there to investigate and cuddle him; trying to coax something out of him. He just cried into my shoulder. No one else contributing anything. They were probably all scared of getting in trouble.
I kind of lost it.
“Can one of you who can talk please tell me what’s going on?!”
By then, my friend – the other dad – came in and helped the situation. He could tell I was getting frazzled. In a few minutes, everything was cleared up and play recommenced as if nothing had happened. Something had happened though. Something that was not fun for my son, painful and scary, and he was unable to do anything but cry.
I will be completely honest: some days I am overwhelmed by thoughts of what life is going to be like for him. I work with junior high and high school students. I know that teenagers can be mean. I worry about his friendships. I worry about his feelings.
I worry about what his life will be like when he is my age.
With that said, none of it seems to faze him. He’s just worried about being himself. It is fascinating. He is one hundred percent his own person. I don’t even know if he knows he’s different from the other kids. If he does, I honestly don’t think he cares considering they are the ones acting funny.
In many ways, this serves as a challenge for my wife and I to take to heart. After all, what is normal? Am I normal? Are you normal? I may be able to communicate with words, but I suffer from a lot of aches and pains and worries that threaten to tumble the house of cards I’ve built my own security and happiness on. Is that normal? It seems normal. Should it be?
The world looks a lot different to my son. To him, it looks completely…well, normal. Maybe I need to try and see things with his eyes, listen with his ears, and to touch with his hands.
To feel with his heart.
One of the symbols for autism is a puzzle piece. I thought it was cool at first. You’ll find all these pithy little quotes on line about “making things fit.” Balderdash. There is no picture on a box somewhere that looks like my life, as if we’ve just got to find the right pieces to make it fit. I don’t think that is what life is about.
Life is about living right here in the spinning, flapping, jumping, crying, squealing, happy normal of the now that is our family. Families fight for each other. They fix each other. They shape each other.
Life with him is tough. It is tough emotionally, physically, and spiritually. There are days when I’m exhausted by it. At the end of it all though, I would not trade it for anything. I love being his dad.
EPILOGUE:I share this story for my own sake; to reflect on my own life, but also for you. You who may be wrestling over the pencil with God. Let God take and show you the other end. Blow that blackened rubber away and put the pencil down. Snap it in half and throw it across the room if you must. There will be letters still fading on the page, ghostlike graphitewhat-could-have-or-should-have-beens. Take a breath and watch the clock. Before you know the soft scratch across the paper will begin again. Before too long the page will be full of stories and memories of the unexpected. You will always find a way back to your story again. It is alwaysyour story. Every mistake, smudge, and erasure. You will find the words. (And he will too.)