Wednesday, August 14, 2013

I'll Be There For You

It happens at the strangest times. You start a new school for your son and things are working well. And then you see it. You drop off your daughter at pre-school, have a quick chat with her teacher. Smile graciously and accept the compliments about how great she's doing. You remember how hard it was for Jack at this same pre-school. You remember the time the teachers came to you and said "we know his 3 year-old check-up is coming soon... here's a list of concerns" and presented you with a list of behaviors and quirks to pass on to his pediatrician.

I remember how angry I was at first, then how amazingly grateful I was.

You wave good-bye to your baby girl. She says "I love you, daddy. Keep it real (yes, I taught her that one)". You remember that you picked up coffee for you and your wife at home, and it's waiting in the car. You look forward to lazing on the couch at home and slowly caffeinating yourself toward your day. Even the thought warms you.

And then you hear it. A child crying. A little girl standing in the doorway between the 2 and 3 year-old class. She must miss her mommy. But the wail continues as you walk by and smile. It gets louder, more hysterical, and you look for a teacher. Then you notice the hand-flapping... and the tippy-toe walking... and the lack of vocabulary... and your smile fades.

As you walk to the lobby to sign in your child you see the teacher talking to a mother. This was Jack's teacher when he was two. She shoots you a look. A look you've seen before. A look that simply says "help me".

You slow your pace to eavesdrop a bit.

"It's only her second day. She's never been away from me before. This is normal, right? She doesn't like to be touched. She doesn't talk much. Her pediatrician described her as 'Universally Delayed', but it's not Autism"

You feel a little guilty as you sign your child in and you say to yourself "yet".

But this isn't your child. This isn't your problem. This isn't your journey. I'm not a physician, what could I possibly do? I'm sure there are enough busy-bodies in the mother's life that this child is being assessed already... she said a pediatrician described the child as universally delayed... she must be on the road already. What can I possibly do?

As these thoughts cloud your head you realize you have already instinctively gone back to your car. You start your car and wait for the car in front of you to leave the circular driveway. It belongs to the mother, who is climbing into the driver's side quickly.

She doesn't start her car. As you get ready to tap your horn you look again. Her face buried in her hands, crying.

Her journey has just begun. You remember those mornings. I remember rushing away from drop-offs and appointments to hide in my car... and simply cry.

I open my car door and walk over to her window... yep, she's a mess. She hastily and tearfully rolls down her window and starts to apologize for not leaving.

I cut off her apology and hand her the coffee I had bought for my wife (she can get another). And it all came back to me. And I remembered something someone said to me at a birthday party when we still weren't sure where Jack's journey was going. A party where my wife and I had taken turns all afternoon following/directing Jack's maladaptive behaviors. The grandfather of the child who's birthday we were attending introduced himself as a psychologist (when he wasn't drinking beer at a birthday party). And he said to me perhaps the most important and heavy words I've ever received about my son... and I took a deep breath and repeated them to this mother:

"You deserve to be here. She deserves to be here"

I went back to my car. She smiled and waved back as she drove off.

And I placed my face in my hands and cried for her.

I'll be there for you.


  1. While reading this, I can feel what was in your gut and what was in that mom's gut at the exact same time. We know when we see it...but we never really know the right thing to say. We know what we want to say but it's not always appropriate. This was fantastic and I bet that mom is thankful for you even if she's not sure why yet. Fantastic post.

  2. I think you did an amazing thing! I wish someone would have come along and done something similar for me. I did not receive such encouragement, just having another parent share a few words of understanding is a truly wonderful thing.

  3. I'm glad you spoke to her and offered her the coffee and a kind word. Kindess is never wasted and often never forgotten.

  4. Incredible. My journey was quite different and very lonely, which is why I now reach out the way I do.

  5. Remember very clearly, I had little support even from my husband at the time ,I reach out in every way possible and my daughter is the best teacher for compassion,understanding and excepting differences,and she's the one with autism.....

  6. Of course this made me tear. Our children teach and change us in ways we cannot imagine. You used the golden rule... to make yourself happy, you must first make others happy. Thanks for sharing! MS

  7. Awesome post. Thank you for sharing that. I remember fear and sadness that I felt the day that my son's pre-school teacher told me that my son had the hallmark signs of autism. Thank goodness that she did. I was able to get very early intervention. There were many times that I cried alone in my car. I wish that someone like you had happened along with a glimmer of hope. You did a good thing. :)

  8. I was feeling for her just as I bet you were. That moment where you don't know what to do and say because you've been there but at the same time are stuck...I am teary eyed now, but for a good reason - because you were there for her, just like someone was there for you.

  9. Almost every blog makes my eyes swell with tears but I can't seem to stop reading them. I have had this experience with a few parents and it can be very awkward. Yet we know it when we see it and feel almost compelled to reach out and help.