Pi and Phi are 5 now. They attend Kindergarten (two different classes so they can both shine their stars individually as bright as possible). They both insisted that they are old enough to ride the bus to school, and because the bus is actually available to them now that they are in Kinder, I agreed. So they ride the bus to school every school day morning.
I drop them off and watch them interact at the bus stop with the other kids. They’re the only Kinder kids in our little neighborhood, so mostly the big kids are leaving them alone and letting them run around like animals waiting for the bus.
Run around they do, too. Every single day, they drop their packs in the bus shelter and then have races from one sign to the other. About 200 feet of a race they do over and over until the bus gets there. Squealing, rambunctious, and overall dorky. Phi runs with his hands clutched high to his sides, a bit like a T-Rex. A smile of pure happiness. His feet hit the ground with the strange, awkward, delicate gait so familiar to other parents who have children on the spectrum. Toes pointed down, still somewhat clompy somehow. Like an elephant doing ballet. So happy.
Pi’s arms are thrown back and her clomping hits whole foot down, her face also has the same smile. So happy. She is a gazelle.
The other kids are mostly silent while Pi and Phi enact these daily races. Pi and Phi encircle them, run between them, around them, near them. You can see the other kids pull back, stare at them. I want to tell Pi and Phi to chill. Be cool. The kids are judging them. I keep my mouth shut. One kid does a mock tiptoe of Phi to his other friends, and they cover their mouths to smile behind their hands. They know better than to laugh where parents can see them. Phi doesn’t notice, just keeps running. Keeps being happy.
I want to scream at these kids. You think it’s awesome that you can run better than him? Running is hard for him. He’s a different animal. You are gazelles, and he is an elephant. His squealing trumpet of glee comes from a differently shaped throat than your own. Is it such a point of pride that yours was shaped different? Do you work for hours to make your gazelle throat shape the sounds that all the other gazelles make?
No he does not have grace. What he has, instead, is hard work. He has perseverance. Thank goodness that’s part of the package with Autism. The same thing that makes him line up puzzles for hours is what makes it possible for him to make words that others understand. He works past the point of wanting to stop. I am furiously proud of his words.
I remember his testing, and them asking us for a list of his words. For a week we tried to put together even ten words that he said at the age of 18 months. Duck. Ball. … Umm.. Daddy? We struggled to find any words that he had actually said. Now, at age 5, his vocabulary is huge. He inherits the wide breadth of spoken word that his father and I use daily, and it shows.
But the kids at the bus stop don’t see that he is a hard working elephant stuck in the land of the graceful gazelles. They see that he is not part of their herd. They close ranks.
So he runs with Pi. Pi who doesn’t care, yet, about gazelles and elephants. All animals are different to her. She takes it in stride.
I want the other kids at the bus stop to see what she sees. I want them to feel the pure joy that he feels.
I’m proud of my mismatched animals, and so furious at the herd that closes them both out. I know that in their classes there are other mismatched animals, and they find them and befriend them. The herd at the bus stop is not their whole world of experience, but only a small window onto it.
I also know that the herd at the bus stop is going to grow. That as they get bigger, it will become more and more evident how different they both are to the herds they encounter. Him for his everything, and her for her acceptance of these things and for her own differences. That the ruthlessness of peers will run their world for the next fifteen some odd years. There is not a thing I can do to change it.
I know that they are going to spend their lives collecting their own herds of mismatched animals. I hope they do not spend too long trying to assimilate into herds that are not their own and do not accept them. I also feel sad for the limited scope of the herd of gazelles at the bus stop. They have not yet learned the value of the different animals. I hope they learn it someday.