Thursday, November 14, 2013

Standing out

Dear one,

While you were at school, I opened up the box labeled Photos this week. The really old box, duct-taped and dented. And I spent some time remembering this:

I'm the overexposed one near the left.

It takes my breath away to see just how much I stood out in photos from my junior high years in Jamaica. I remember how different I was in every way--race, language, culture--heck, even height--and how much I hated that sticking out for so long.

I remember feeling like I was always the focal point of schoolmates, random kids in the neighborhood, catcalling men on minibuses. ("'Ay, whitey." "Psst, white girl.") And at eleven or twelve, all I wanted to do was fit in, to be anonymous.

And even when we came back to the United States, I couldn't shake that compulsion to become invisible. I was so sick of being the focus of attention. I watched others like an anthropologist; I knew just what to wear, to say, to do to fit in. There was even that sophomore year when I tried to physically waste away, the better to fit in and to take up less attention and space.

What I didn't know then that I know now was that I was conflating standing out with negativity, judgment, even danger. I believed standing out was bad.

Soren, I need to confess that when you first started to display some autistic characteristics, I was so embarrassed. My discomfort with sticking out was oh-so-familiar. The stares, the double-takes, the whispers among adults. I covered for you at the playground when you were echolalic. Then I started avoiding the playground with you altogether. Your standing out was negative, a threat. Here I was again with nowhere to hide. And again, I was being judged, I thought.

Oh dear. I'm embarrassed by how much this autism journey was really about me and my baggage. Please forgive me.

Luckily, you have taught me along this journey. Slowly, the standing out stopped being such a big deal for me. Frankly, we have some other things on our plate, and whether people are looking at us and what they might be thinking are not priorities anymore. I think this acceptance started when you suffered so acutely from anxiety. Holding out for your brief spells of calm and happiness was my only priority. So what if you were flapping and babbling and prancing while I was checking your pull-up at the zoo? Who cares, when you were deliciously happy?

I can honestly say that the reactions of others just roll off my back now. I'm not angry, either. I don't want to pick fights with the ignorant strangers who stare or lecture them on autism--I just don't care. And that is such a relief (from myself).

I will always protect you from those who want to make your standing out a negative. But I also hope that you will never think that your standing out, which I believe you're aware of, is something to avoid or fear. I hope to show you that standing out isn't always coupled with judgment and embarrassment and danger. Sometimes standing out is just standing out. And your mom is just fine with both of us standing out now.

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