Last week my mother called me from Toys R Us for clarification on the size bicycle that Jonas needed. Little Jonas (who is not so little, but rather really big) had long ago outgrown his age-appropriate bicycle, so I had been pricing them out, trying to find the very best deal, knowing that he would soon outgrow the new one too. So, I was surprised, but not really to receive the phone call from my mom, as she is occasionally wont to go out and do big things for my kids without notice. It is her way, and I love her for it.
I would hang up the phone after our conversation and continue preparing dinner. My children would continue to play, and my mom would purchase a brand spanking new red, Nascar bicycle complete with racing stripes and neon yellow tires.
Jonas would love it. Initially he would show excitement in that Jonas way of his, which doesn’t really look like excitement at all, but is through and through. Later, he would scriptedly tell me about the “suhpize” in the living room. He would flap and shudder, awkwardly hopping from one foot to the other as we ogled the Nascar racing bicycle and once again tried it on for size. Perfect!
Later my mom would tell me about the bicycle purchasing experience. She would tell me about how she got a really great deal on it after using a coupon and discount. She would be quite pleased with the fact that she saved so much. I would be pleased too, and the bit of guilt that I would harbor would lift ever so slightly. But it would be the next part of her story that would stop me in my tracks and linger with me for days after, coloring my dreams at night, churning my stomach periodically throughout the day.
You see, April is Autism Awareness Month across our nation and in many places across the globe, and like many non-profit organizations that serve in the name of those with autism, Autism Speaks found a partner in Toys R Us to raise funds for their organization, for research projects, advocacy efforts, 100 day kits and more. So, when the clerk at the check out counter asked my mom if she would like to donate to Autism Speaks just days before April, my mom would say yes. And when the clerk asked her in turn how much she would like to donate and she would reply $10, and then a woman in line behind her would scoff at her gesture…loudly.
“Ten dollars?” she would sneer with a roll of the eyes and that guttural mocking noise that people make in judgment of others.
My mom being a woman with far more restraint than I would say nothing to this woman, though she may have been throwing daggers in her mind. She would carry on with the transaction. She would walk through the exit awkwardly crouching as she guided the Nascar bike to her car with her head held high.
Yes, ten dollars.
My mom would share the story of this exchange with me later, and it would haunt me for days as I tried to process it.
I would wonder repeatedly why someone would scoff at such a gesture. Was it the amount of money…too much or too little? Was it the organization? Did this woman have issue with Autism Speaks? Was it her ignorance or something else?
Obviously I will never know why her judgment came down as it did, but I can’t help but feel the heavy irony, the weighted meaning that envelops the entire exchange.
She could never have possibly known that the bicycle that was being purchased by my mother was for my beautiful cherub who has autism. She could not have known (I hope) how deeply her remark would cut through the air, marring a moment of levity, of pride, of potential that my boy may possibly learn to pedal, not even ride, but pedal this bicycle, training wheels and all. She couldn’t have known.
But she did say something. She did suck the air out of the experience to a certain degree. She did display her ignorance, her judgment, her rudeness, and poor social skills…her obvious lack of autism awareness.
This year, I had been pondering and planning and prepping something a little bit stronger, a little bit beyond the reaches of simple awareness into the realm of education for Autism Awareness Month, but now after this moment fell into my lap, I can see that for many autism awareness hasn’t yet dug in, rooted, and taken up residence in their hearts and minds. Indeed for some awareness has yet to be even a zygote of an idea.
So, this year, I will be taking a multi-faceted approach to raising awareness. I will once again be Lighting It Up Blue. I will once again wear a different autism awareness t-shirt every day of the month. I will once again wear my puzzle piece pin every single day. I will once again brainstorm with my older children about how they want to raise awareness with their peers. I will once again have conversations. I will once again share our story. And…for those who are ready, who are open, and for those that are neither ready nor open, I will educate from the heart and the mind and the soul in the name of my beautiful baby boy and the 1 in 88 who deserve nothing less than understanding, and acceptance, and love.