We had a dear friend over for dinner a couple of nights ago. I’ve known this woman for nearly thirty-five years, and we have worked together for thirty of those years, both as teachers and in our publishing company. She’s a delightful British woman with a heart of gold. She’s involved with prison ministry, she feeds homeless AIDS victims, and she writes children’s books. She’s also very easy with the kids. Nothing fazes her. And to top it off, she even looks like Julie Andrews!
So why was I getting increasingly eager for the evening to end? And why was I so exhausted after she left?
- Because I’m unused to people visiting our home. We tend not to have people over because it can feel like so much work.
- Because Katie and I have let ourselves get so wrapped up in this autism thingy that we can lose track of how to relate to people outside of the “tribe.”
- Because I caught myself wanting to talk about the kids and their challenges, even when it wasn’t necessary or germane to the conversation, and it took energy to stay on topic.
- Because, much as Katie and I love this person, we inhabit different worlds, and I don’t know how to “be” in her world any more.
Moving Beyond “Past Performance.”
These are all viable reasons. But the more I thought about it, the more I saw that something else was going on. I saw how I’m always on edge around other people—especially when I’m with two or more of my kids. I’m always worrying about which kid is going to act up next and which unique aspect of our lives I will have to explain this time. Sensory issues? Social missteps? The “oncoming storm” of a tantrum or melt down? World-class perseveration? So I avoid these situations. I don’t look for opportunities to get together with other people or to get the kids out and about as much as I should. And that’s not good.
The thing is, even though I fear the worst, it’s not a foregone conclusion that something bad will happen. It’s true that when things do go south, they head there with a quickness that can make the head spin. But that’s not always the case.
Thinking about this, I recognized some other assumptions or expectations I have—and not just about visitors. “We can’t all go out to dinner; it’ll get too messy.” “I know that Mass is going to be a disaster this Sunday because so-and-so had a rough week at school.” “Another IEP meeting? What’s going to go wrong this time?”
See what I’m doing? In each of those situations, I’m accepting a negative narrative for our life, and I’m letting that narrative drive my decision. Of course, some of my concerns are justified. Things can get pretty challenging for us. People can (and often do) misunderstand us. School teachers and administrators still have a way of minimizing our kids’ challenges.
So yeah, we’ve got some history to draw from. But just as those investment firm commercials tell you, past performance is not necessarily an indication of future results. And the worst thing I can do is expect bad results. Sure, there are some things I know will cause immediate problems. But a lot of other events and situations inhabit that gray area where the outcome is far from predetermined. The problem is, I’ve been painting that gray area black recently, with the result that our kids aren’t getting the opportunities to develop their social skills and coping mechanisms—not to mention the fun they could be missing out on.
Make It a Good One.
So here’s to branching out. Here’s to taking steps—baby steps at first—toward exposing our kids, and ourselves, to new experiences. It’ll probably be a bumpy ride, but they’re usually the best ones. As The Doctor once told Amy Pond, “We’re all stories in the end. Just make it a good one, eh?” So here’s to changing the narrative so we can make it the best story in the world!