Just a few days ago our family experienced “a day” or “one of those days.” It might be the never-ending summer, businesses opening and then closing, again, or the general anxiety of COVID-19. However, as a mom I believe our day was attributed to the in-and-out of the car, ABA therapy, errands to the pet store and gas station, finding new shoes for my very opinionated 7-years young daughter, and helping my mom to sort through memorabilia in preparation for a down-sizing move. When I look at this day, there is a lot of things to do – and very little joy. There are lots of things to attend to – and no time for play. And, honestly, I wasn’t unhappy or dissatisfied on this day. Yet, on this day, I learned a little bit more about love and compassion.
Between looking at the clock and timing my attempt to go into the pet store while leaving a popsicle in the car and dashing to the ABA therapy location so I wasn’t “that” parent that showed up a few minutes after pick-up,” I now know that I didn’t take enough time to pause. To breathe. To recognize that, “s*it, this day is over-the-top busy and I’m exhausted!” Instead, allowed my energy and emotions to control the outcomes of my day. And, that they did.
So, here it is. After all of the errands and running to-and-from appointments, my daughter sat at the piano bench at my mom’s house on the hill. She oohed and ahhed over the small treasures that her Grammie no longer wanted – and was generously giving to her. Her eyes bubbled with excitement when she saw the vintage 1960’s Barbie music box. The perfect porcelain figure wore a long royal blue dress and white gloves that touched the elbows. A satin, royal blue cape draped over the figure’s shoulders and tickled her neck with a snowy fur. Alas, the best part of the porcelain Barbie figure, was her hair, according to Sissy. Her hair, blonde and long, swirled perfectly to the right side of her head into a small bun. I watched as my daughter caressed the hair on the figure and announced, “She is so beautiful, Grammie! I love her! I really do love her.” And with that giggle of pleasure, my daughter and her Grammie carefully wrapped the porcelain figure (along with a teacup, saucer plate, cookie platter and ceramic chickens) in paper and placed it securely in a box with the other treasures being sent home with us.
Then we piled into my car, placing the box of porcelain and treasures in the back of my SUV. We turned on the radio and just listened to the music while we drove away from Grammie’s home in pursuit of our final destination – my son’s ABA therapy appointment. During this drive Sissy said, “Mom, where can I put my new doll?” and “Can we hang a special shelf for her somewhere?” and “I want to listen to her tonight when I go to sleep.” I smiled to my daughter through my driver’s side window. She returned the smile with a wink – an affirmative for, “Yes!.”
And our trek continued. … We picked-up Buddy from his ABA therapy, we snail-crawled through traffic to get to the west-end of town where we lived, and we listened to Pirates of the Caribbean’s My Name is Barbossa musical composition not just once, but thrice. And then, at last, we pulled into our driveway.
Before the engine turned off, doors flew open as if we were arriving to our final destination spot after a 12-hour drive. I popped the hatch of my car knowing I needed to haul in a box of treasures into our home. And then I heard it …
a pile-up of fragility
scattered on our front drive
pieces and shards of glass everywhere
“Oh, Sissy,” I declared as I looked at the pile of broken treasures on our driveway. “I’m so sorry that your treasures are broken!”
“It’s okay, Mom,” she said with calm confidence.
“No, really, it is okay to be a little upset because I know how much you liked the doll with the blue cape. She made you smile.” I said.
“It’s okay, Mom, really. It is just a thing. All of these are things.”
“Oh, Sissy, I love your heart! Thank you for being so understanding.” I responded.
Buddy interjected with a broom and dustpan, announcing to the entire neighborhood that we needed to STEP. AWAY. FROM. THE. GLASS. And, we did just that. Buddy carefully swept all the pieces into his dust pan and then let them fall into a plastic bag, making clanging and clashing sounds.
“Hey, Mom! Look, this one survived!” pointed Buddy to a small teacup and saucer set that had somehow rolled onto the grass parallel to the driveway. The delicate white porcelain held painted lilies on it. The cup itself was no larger than a tangerine – the perfect proportion for my daughter’s young hands.
“Sissy – look! You still have something from Grammie’s treasure collection! Look – the teacup and saucer survived!” I proclaimed.
She gently, and protectively, held the small cup and saucer in her hands and walked into our home. She smiled at the small set and started to talk about her doll, Mary Ellen, who now wanted some blueberry tea with a spoonful of sugar. She announced that Mary Ellen needed to change her clothes into something more comfy – because having tea is relaxing she implied. Then, as she placed the cup and saucer on the counter, Buddy rolled into the room with his pirate-ship and crocodile.
And, then, another crash.
Now, looking at the floor, the three of us remained speechless for a few seconds. Five-hundred-and-two thoughts ran through my head: it wasn’t meant to be, all things happen for a reason, there are more treasures to be found, I hope she isn’t too upset, and on. … During my few seconds of processing time, Sissy noticed a subtle shift in her brother’s behavior. Suddenly, his head drooped down and chin touched his collar bone. Boogerd sniffles snarled through his nose and then tears started to crawl down his face. And before I could respond to my child’s sadness, my daughter stepped to her brother and wrapped her arms around his body. She spoke soothing words, “It’s okay Buddy. I’m not mad. It’s just a thing. Things can always go away. It’s okay. It’s okay Buddy.”
In this moment, I could only hug both of my children who also embraced each other. I relished in the compassion my daughter showed for toward her brother. I delighted in knowing that she chose love over a thing. I leaped for joy inside because she understood life.
I share this story with you because so often our neurotypical children stand tall and strong without us recognizing it. Sissy is compassionate beyond her years and I attribute this to her heart – and her brother who has taught her the art of patience.
Do you find this valuable? Do you know someone who might also enjoy this? Please share so we can collaboratively create a more empathic understanding of autism.