“Cannon, stop please!”
He keeps running, hard and fast down the dirt row lined with blueberry bushes.
“Cannon,” I raise my voice, “stop now!”
His little legs pick up their pace, as if my words are sideline encouragement from a proud mama rather than the desperate plea of a weary one that I mean them to be. But I follow up with one last effort: “Cannon Lee, STOP!”
At this point, I realize the futility and start running after him, leaving my other two children behind with my mom and friend, and hoping I can catch him before I can’t see what row his little head turned down. As soon as I turn the corner there he is, totally still and turned to face me with a big smile on his face. He had stopped, just like I told him to.
“Cannon, mommy needs you to stay near me while we pick blueberries, ok?”
He tilts his head with his precious grin still beaming, his acknowledgement of my words even though we both know they were not understood. He was playing a game: a clear dirt path signaled to him the freedom to make his way down it the only way he knows how—running. He grabbed my hand and walked back to the group with me.
We got in line to grab our fruit picking baskets, and as we waited our turn I held tightly to his little hand as he pulled and pulled, willing us both back to the dirt path. This is fairly standard in unfamiliar places; Cannon’s little body is overcome with the urge to explore and understand and run around in every inch of new territory, and his little ears seem deaf to anything his own little mind is not telling him to do.
When it was our turn for the farm’s director to tell us how to properly secure our blueberries from the bush, she looked down at Cannon, who was reaching down for handfuls of bark with his free hand.
“Is this the one who was running?”
“Yes, this is him,” I replied with a smile. “He gets excited.”
“Hmm. Well, he’s not a very good listener is he? Young man, don’t pick that up.”
Cannon grabbed another handful.
“Young man, don’t touch that. We don’t do that.”
He continues to look at the ground, spotting his next grab.
“Excuse me,” she responded with irritation in her voice, “do you need to go inside the farm and learn to be obedient, young man?”
In moments like these, I usually just focus on Cannon, try to distract him from the behavior that he shouldn’t be doing and give him a positive one instead. I was short on options for those in the moment, so I did something I rarely do.
“Ma’am, he is autistic. I am not sure how much sense this all makes to him. Don’t worry, I will watch him very closely out here.”
“Oh.” A pause. “There was an 18-year-old like that out here yesterday. Her mother couldn’t do anything with her.”
'Like that?' Deep breath, mama, deep breath. Adding this to the list of unhelpful things people tend to say without really thinking about them.
A year ago, that comment would have made me break out in a sob right then and there. Six months ago, I would have been frustrated, stomped my way through the rest of our time and then vented about it to a few trusted friends, toying with the idea of writing a pithy “open letter to the rude farm owner,” but my husband would have talked me down from that place. But last week, I just smiled back, emotionally numb to her insensitivity because that’s really all it was, an insensitive comment from someone who doesn’t understand.
But today, a week later, what I wish I would have said is this:
A mom came out here with her 18 year old autistic daughter? Wow, how cool! You know, she’s a brave mama. Autism is so unpredictable and all we want for our kids is to be able to participate in great things like this, like picking blueberries on a beautiful summer day, so the fact that she came out here and tried, that’s amazing, and I’m sure it wasn’t easy for her. Yes, brave mama indeed. If you see her or anyone like her again, you should tell her that. Sounds like she’s doing a great job.
I missed the chance to say that last week, but I won’t next time.
Cannon has a defender much great than me, and that’s God. But God made me his mama and therefore his advocate, and I think I am finally strong enough to be just that. I don’t plan on arguing and I certainly don’t plan on crying; most comments come from ignorance, not maliciousness, and they are simply part of the journey of special needs—I think in particular a special need that on the outside doesn’t look like a special need. But I am so very ready to tell the next person who just doesn’t understand what she is seeing one very true thing: we, special needs mamas, are a brave, brave crew.
We brought home almost 4 pounds of blueberries that day, and even though the owner told me not to I kept sneaking Cannon a few as we picked. I believe in that boy, and I believe in the story God is writing in all of us, because His stories are always heading toward what is good, toward our forever home. They are not always easy, but always good. Moments like that just remind to not be afraid to tell it.