Behold, dueling breakfast sites!
On the left are the stark, haunting Sangre de Cristo mountains, where a couple of guys I know are on a Boy Scout camping trip with their sons. I don’t know all the details, but I’m imagining a campfire, scrambled eggs and bacon in a skillet, and a very basic cup of coffee. There may be some gnats or mosquitoes around. And just a few minutes earlier, a gorgeous red-and-purple streaked sunrise had colored the sky. Paradise with bugs.
On the right is my kitchen in suburban Maryland. A custom table topped with giallo napoleon granite sits under a ceiling fan. The view off the Trex deck consists of my backyard, fenced off against my neighbors’ yards, and a glimpse of the low-slung Catoctin mountains, home of Camp David. Breakfast was a bowl of Honey Nut Cheerios and a cup of freshly ground coffee straight from the Keurig. Oh, and pills. Lots of pills. Sertraline. Adderall. Methylphenidate. Dexmethylphenidate. Fluoxetine. And a few others. Eighteen in all.
Quite the contrast, don’t you think? In many ways, it encapsulates the difference between my two friends and me. Not only do these guys have their kids in Boy Scouts, but their kids also do soccer, karate, basketball, music lessons, and a few other activities. They are typically developing kids who lead well-rounded lives in typically upper middle class neighborhoods. They’re so clean cut they make the Brady Bunch look like degenerates.
Me? Well, I live in an upper middle class neighborhood, too. But where these guys’ free time is spent shuttling their kids to Scouts, etc., my time is spent shuttling my kids to therapy appointments and shuttling myself back and forth to the pharmacy to pick up the latest prescriptions. Where these guys, who have been friends for more than twenty years, seem to know everyone in Frederick, I am a relative recluse.
Okay, there are two directions this post can take at this point. I could talk about how hard life can be with special-need kids. You don’t get out much. You don’t have the regular dad experiences of Scouts, sports, and big birthday parties. You look wistfully at typical families, knowing that will never be your experience. Subtly but steadily, you end up circling the wagons and avoiding social situations.
But everyone goes in that direction, and I don’t have much to say that hasn’t already been said. Plus, it’s not a fun place to go. So I’ll go in a different direction:
Did you notice that I called these two dads “friends”? That may not sound so earth-shattering, but it is for me. Of course, I already have friends—a few awesome, stand-up guys whom I have known since before I was married. These guys know me better than anyone else, except Katie, and I am blessed to have them in my life. Then there are the online friendships I have developed, mostly from autism parenting support groups on Facebook. These, too, are wonderful folks and traveling companions. The fact that some live in England and The Netherlands and Saskatchewan and Australia makes them all the more enjoyable, but also remote.
But these two dads are new friends, they are local friends, and they are not autism dads. And there’s something deeply gratifying about that.
You see, it’s been quite a while since I have made any new friends. The last time it happened, two of the friendships crashed and burned, each one because of an ASD-related situation. That was five years ago, and I had all but resigned myself to a certain degree of aloneness and isolation. “What’s the point of trying to find new friends? Sooner or later, something’s going to go wrong; some misunderstanding will occur; some fear or prejudice or judgment about special-needs kids will scuttle the whole thing. Just like it happened before.” So I locked myself up in a sort of shell and focused all my attention on Katie and the kids.
A Positive Trajectory.
But that all changed when my pastor suggested that I get involved somehow, as a way to keep me from imploding. So I decided to help out with our parish’s religious education program. I told the director I didn’t particularly want to teach but I would be happy offering occasional theological guidance to the teachers. I didn’t want to get too committed or put myself out there too much. So she paired me with these two fellows, who were in charge of the middle school class. I met with them a couple of times before classes started, and we hit it off right away.
The more time the three of us spent together, the more we enjoyed each other. I agreed to sit in on the first couple of classes, ostensibly to see how things were going, but really because I was beginning to have fun. I ended up not missing a single class and giving some of the lessons myself. We also started meeting every week to plan the next class. We could have done this quickly and via e-mail, but we were having too good of a time interacting.
Religious education classes ended a few months ago, but we still get together every couple of weeks. We talk about our families. We talk about our prayer lives. We keep up on happenings in the parish. We just plain enjoy each other.
Now here’s the most surprising part. These guys know about my kids’ ASD profile, and it doesn’t bother them one bit. Yeah, I had to spend some time describing what it’s like at first, but not a lot. There’s an ease in our relating such that I don’t feel I have to keep hashing over how each of the kids is doing. ASD is just one part of my life that is folded in with everything else. Again, I’m not accustomed to that.
A New Beginning.
It may be hard for some of you to get how refreshing and encouraging this is. It’s like God has given me a new beginning. It may sound melodramatic, but I feel like I belong in a way I had not for quite some time. I’m more than an ASD dad, as awesome as that title is. I don’t have to spend all of my time thinking about and worrying about and dealing with autism. The kids are getting older. They’re adjusting to this quirky, neurotypical world better than I had ever hoped they would. I can exhale every now and then. I don’t have to feel as if I’m being selfish if I meet one of my friends for coffee on a Saturday morning. I don’t have to bow out of every invitation to hang out or every opportunity to spend time outside of the house.
So here I am, counting out pills and sipping gourmet coffee while my friends are dousing the fire and finishing off their bacon-flavored eggs. And we’re texting breakfast pictures to each other, throwing Scripture passages back and forth, and laughing at the way God has brought us together.