Sunday, July 10, 2011

A Park Moment

One morning a few weeks ago, I headed to the park with the kids. We were meeting a friend and her son there, but I happily discovered upon arriving that two other moms I knew from town were there on the playground with their kids as well.

One of the moms I really didn't know well at all -- but we had chatted one day at a playgroup before Ethan started school. Somehow we ended up talking that morning about not only autism but the fact that she too has an adult brother with autism.

On this day that mom and I merely exchanged quick hellos; I spent a good deal of time gabbing with my friend. Once my friend had left, I noticed that while I'd been lost in conversation, Ethan was going down the double slide with a toddler girl racing beside him. The girl's mom was cheering her on, cheering both of them on. Ethan kept looking at this woman, straight in the eye, all smiles, calling out and talking to her.

"I'm going to do it again!" he shouted, glancing back at her as he raced up the slide.

I wandered over and felt compelled to speak up. I don't feel the need anymore to always explain Ethan's "back story," but at that moment, I did.

"You must have a special touch," I said to her admiringly. "My son's on the autism spectrum and doesn't always warm up to people so quickly."

"Really?" she said. "I have a brother with autism."

"So do I," I answered, and we spent several minutes exchanging stories, nodding as if we spoke each other's language. Her brother too was an adult with severe autism, who could not live independently. She too marveled at the broad spectrum that is autism, that there are kids today diagnosed that seem so altogether unlike the firsthand experience we had with autism, growing up.

"Your son, I wouldn't have known..." she said. "He's not what you picture..."

"So different than our brothers, I know." I felt as if we were twins, finishing each other's sentences. "That's why my parents didn't believe me at first, when I was concerned about him..."

We stood there for a moment, and Anna started playing with her little girl, who completely adored her, and Ethan was looking up at this mom again as if he'd known her forever. I had the uncanny feeling that I always had as well.

It was almost lunchtime. Five minutes later, we were all gathering our things to get going, exchanging informal promises to meet up again soon. As I grabbed the kids' water bottles and snack stuff I could only keep thinking:

Five moms at the park the morning. Three of them moms who grew up with brothers who have severe autism. What are the odds?

I thought of all the times growing up, when I felt as if I was the only one living my life.

That morning, I felt a smile and a whisper, a reminder that I didn't necessarily need at that moment, but was simultaneously grateful to have.

You're not alone. You were never alone.