She had shattered the glass ceiling,
ending up scarred.
She had not done it for herself
but for those who would come after her.
She had sacrificed her desires to make history—
a history that would not give her the future she wanted.
Her education had taught her the art of self-expression,
the science of self-suppression,
but it was her parents who taught her
how to do both in a way that bridged good citizenship
She lived a life of authenticity & restraint,
for she knew when & how to express herself
& when & how not to.
She knew when she had met her limitations,
when she could exceed them,
& whether or not she wanted to exceed them.
As a mother of a child with autism, I have realized how broad the spectrum is. I was in elementary school the first time I heard of autism. I was reading The Baby-Sitter’s Club series (back in the eighties), where one of the girls babysat an autistic girl—a piano prodigy. Though some autistic children have special abilities, keeping in mind that not all do (nor should they have to, as if they need to justify their autism) is vital to not only accept them but appreciate them.
Ultimately, autistic children are just children who want to be loved, have fun, and may know more than they can communicate.
As a homeschooling mom, I’ve learned that part of teaching is not to make my daughter learn how I learned or teach how I was taught but to learn how she learns and then teach accordingly. I’ve learned that autistic children often express themselves differently, even from other autistic children. My daughter may not always tell me she loves me (at least without prompting), but I have recognized that when she asks for a hug, that, to me, is her way of telling me she loves me. I’ve learned to be more precise when asking questions. For example, when we were studying Galileo, and I asked her what Jupiter had four of, instead of moons, she said, “Consonants.” (She might have outsmarted me there!) I’ve learned that I need to understand that she sometimes has reasons for doing what she does. For example, as soon as we entered the accessible stall in a library bathroom, she tried to elope by crawling under the door; it took some strength to keep her with me. At the time, I just thought she was being disobedient. It wasn’t until weeks later, when we visited another public bathroom, that I figured out the hand dryer terrified her due to her sensory issues.
When you have a child with autism, you learn to be more intuitive and know when to extend that extra grace. We learn from them as much as they learn from us.
Learning about autism (and the terminology surrounding it) is ongoing. Some children don’t want to be labeled autistic, while others see their autism as making them unique, but one thing is for certain: We don’t need to fix autistic children because they are not broken.
that last semester,
was spent in a sleepless blur.
Like a shimmer above hot asphalt
was the filter through which she saw
the endlessness of her life as it was—
as if God Himself had slowed down time
to make it last,
fortifying her to make her last.
She relished the days,
having passed the exhaustion stage,
by knowing that if she could do this much
for so long,
she could do almost as much
for the rest of her life.
She was 30 when she began her teaching ministry—
of life after infertility & divorce with
18 undocumented years “about her mother’s business”—
finding herself resurrected through the youthful hope
of her student disciples.
She was a woman of 20-dollar dresses
& 5-dollar lipstick,
who loved fried chicken & cheap wine.
She checked out novels & rented movies,
her ideal date night a shared pizza
& fresh breath.
Her favorite painter was Norman Rockwell,
her favorite book, Confessions of a Chocoholic.
She was more fiddle than violin,
more Encyclopedia Brown than Murphy Brown.
To her, any meat below well done
was positively revolting—
no matter what the TV chefs said.
(They ate bull balls, after all, so
though they had the latter,
they were still full of the former.)
She didn’t need a big house—
just a bit enough house.
Even if she won the jack of all pots,
she would still come stamped
with a certificate of authenticity.
The frazzled, second-time mama,
whose nerve endings were frayed,
grieved for the time she robbed from Penny to spend on Polly,
for the times she snapped at Penny because of Polly,
& for the times she did not even hear Penny because of Polly,
whose color of hangry ranged from tomato red to beet purple.
As the principal of Sally Jane Richards’ Homeschool for the Housebound
(& wife of the dean)
cradled her colicky cuddlebug,
her other hand reached out to reassure her doodlebug—
this shiny new piece of change who had come into her life
without a heads-up & put her into a temporary tailspin—
that Book Club & Reading Club,
Math with Monopoly Money,
A.M. & P.M. Bingo,
Wheel of Fortune-inspired Hangman,
& Alphabet Soup & Word Salad with Bananagrams,
had to wait for the not-so-secret formula
to do its disappearing noise magic trick.
The little blind child,
who cannot touch Santa’s beard;
the little deaf child,
who cannot read Santa’s lips;
the unborn child,
who exists because two people
were under lockdown
but who may never see
his or her grandparents
except through a screen or glass;
the lonely child,
from whom kindness and touch
is denied him—
like the Romanian babies of Communism;
the poor child,
whose needs remain at the bottom of the pyramid;
the special needs child,
isolated from others like her
but loved without pre-existing conditions—
who sees Santa in a way no one else does,
sensing his spirit in her parents,
if not his presence in strangers.
She’d graduated without laude
but with writing awards,
with friendships, experiences,
& a confidence she’d lacked before.
She learned that it was okay to be an introvert,
even as she tried to perform exemplary work
to make up for it;
she learned that it was okay to be a team player
rather than a leader—
to follow what worked & fix what didn’t.
And, in her new, post-graduate life,
she stayed on where she had learned so much,
but when her last article
for the college newspaper
came into print,
a “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” moment.
She learned that no one could hold the presses,
no matter how much they had or
chose to give away,
& she was reminded
of a wise little girl named Pollyanna
who had said that “Nobody could own a church,”
for there was no place for censorship
at a school where critical thinking
was a prerequisite
Because she believed
that she wasn’t smart enough for college,
toiling away in dead-end restaurant & retail work,
soaking up life experience,
which was often greasy.
When a little bun was placed in her oven,
she found it in herself
to believe in herself
or maybe even for the first time,
for being little more than the miller’s daughter
who turned words into gold.