30: Lost

30: Lost

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Raising Kids on the Spectrum

Lost

The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still be able to function.

~F. Scott Fitzgerald

The bracelet arrived in the mail, small and shiny. I put it on my four-year-old son’s wrist, fumbling with the clasp. For a few days, we both were acutely aware of its presence. When I tried to put it on him in the morning, Wesley would squirm. I’d curse under my breath as I struggled to take it off at bath time. His wrist was pink where he tried to bite it.

I thought of the kids who wore this type of medical jewelry when I was young. The kid with the peanut allergy. “You can’t even use the same spoon as the batch with the nuts,” my mom would tell me, “or he could die.” The diabetic kid at camp — the one I pretended not to stare at whenever he took out his kit. My friend with epilepsy.

But Wesley doesn’t have any of those things. In fact, Wesley doesn’t have anything. My son wears a bracelet because of what he is, and what he might do.

Wesley is autistic.

Wesley doesn’t speak. He is unlikely to respond to his name. And he loves to run.

Like many kids on the autism spectrum, Wesley attends a special-education day class. My husband drops him off in the morning, and six hours later, I pick him up, chatting with the other moms as we wait for the teachers to bring out our kids.

Every day, I spy my little Wesley, with his blue eyes and curly blond hair, walking hand in hand with one of the people I entrust with his education and his care. Every day they bring him back to me.

Except one day, when they didn’t.

I wasn’t worried at first. Wesley’s class is often last to appear, as they are the smallest bunch, preschoolers slowed down by oversized backpacks and the frequent need to investigate some bug or crack in the sidewalk. But when the rest of the class had arrived and I signaled to his teacher, she made an excuse about a forgotten backpack. I saw her run back toward the classroom, and I knew.

They had lost my little boy.

For a few minutes, I waited there, the still center of a time-lapse photo. The other parents left. Teachers went back to their classrooms. The bus came and went. And I stood there waiting.

During those seven or eight minutes, I thought of Wesley’s bracelet — the one that had finally become part of his morning routine, the one he still fiddled with but no longer fought against. Why had I put so much faith in that thin piece of metal? It couldn’t keep him safe from the creek running behind the school, or getting hit by a car, or lost in the sea of children leaving school.

I still don’t know who found Wesley, who had slipped into an empty classroom. His teacher brought him to me like nothing had happened. I cried on the drive home.

Later that day, Wesley was wild. He ran maniacally around the house, screeching and crashing into the walls. I dodged his attempts to bite me as I wrestled him to the floor for a diaper change. His nails, overgrown because he refused to let me cut them, scratched red marks into my neck.

No more than an hour before, I thought my sweet boy was in danger. I thought I would never take another moment for granted, no matter how challenging his behavior. And yet, there I was, red-faced and bursting with rage. Why couldn’t Wesley just control himself? Why did everything have to be so difficult? And why wasn’t I strong enough to handle it with grace and good humor?

Perhaps I was the one who was truly lost. Or maybe just human.

F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote that the test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas at the same time, yet still retain the ability to function. To be able to see, for example, that things are hopeless and yet be determined to make them otherwise.

By that definition, I must be a genius.

We parents of special needs kids face overwhelming joy and sadness, intense love and frustration, breathtaking wonder and fear — often in the course of a single day. We work tirelessly to help our kids succeed in the world, even when we have no idea what that success will look like. We are given so much reason to be hopeless, and yet, sometimes hope alone propels us forward.

And so it is that I send Wesley out into the world every day, offering the only protection I can give him: hope, a hug, and a small silver bracelet.

~Jennifer Bush

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