Wednesday, October 12, 2011

You Like Cherry Soda?

Everything reverts back to Seinfeld. 

So says my husband who knows every episode and each year places a Festivus pole beside our Christmas tree.

In the show, titled “The Boyfriend”, Jerry says about friendships, “When you're in your thirties it's very hard to make a new friend…you’re not interested in seeing any applications… when you were a little kid what were the qualifications?  If someone's in front of my house NOW, That's my friend… And if you have anything in common at all, You like Cherry Soda? I like Cherry Soda! We'll be best friends!”

Fast forward thirty years later and Jerry is breaking up with a woman because she eats her peas one at a time. 

Funny, yes, but not too shocking to most of us.  We loved watching the antics of Jerry and his friends because we saw a lot of them in ourselves.  Who hasn’t turned down a date for what was, in retrospect, a very shallow reason?  

Somehow once autism comes along, we forget all about the peas and the other small infractions that people bring to the table. 

I remember when we found out that James had “delays.”  I remember how alone we felt and how painful it was to look at James next to our friends’ children.  They knew about some of James “issues,” but since we weren’t completely forthcoming about what was going on, it was like the elephant in the room.  They didn’t know what to say to us, so when we pulled away they probably felt relieved.

So there we were isolated from friends and feeling sad and scared.  I’ll never forget that day I met three other women who had children like James.  We met at a social skills group when our kids were three years old.  Like me, their lives at that point were all about their children and autism.  We were back to the simple days of cherry soda. “Your child has autism?  My child has autism!  We’ll be best friends!”

It was like meeting a man and having good chemistry.  Remember when you realized you could talk to your husband for hours on the phone, the feeling you got when you realized he “got” you?  This is what it was like for us.  A two-hour conversation felt like 15 minutes.  We talked about the baby years, dissecting every moment.  What did we miss?  Was it always “there”?  When did we notice something was “different”?  Should we have noticed it earlier?  When did we get the “diagnosis”?  Comparing doctors, nutritionists, pre-schools, therapists...  And broaching the million dollar question - will they be mainstreamed?  We could dare to go there and discuss that. 

We talked only a bit about our careers, families, and backgrounds, usually as it related to our kids.  Beyond that, our ages, hobbies, or religious and political beliefs were irrelevant.  For those months, we confided in our hopes and dreams – they were usually the same.  We wanted our kids to be able to communicate, to be happy, to be able to make friends, to be able to learn, to feel good about themselves. 

That was five years ago and we have since moved on to various other therapy programs and new schools.  When we happen to run into each other, we break out the cherry soda and get right down to business, asking how each other’s kids are doing.      

This past summer James started camp.  One couple offered to give us a ride to the camp’s annual Talent Show.  I had noticed that the wife was a kind of loud, even imperious, but it was nice that she offered us a ride.  My husband, Donald, had also met her and was skeptical.  He wanted us to go on our own, but I thought it would be rude not to accept their invitation.  We actually had some fun in the car – talking about our favorite episodes of Star Trek the Next Generation.

The next day I was reflecting on how nice the day turned out and suggested to Donald that we have the family over one night.  Their son is a lot older than James but he and James seemed like they might be able cultivate a big brother/little brother dynamic.  Donald wasn’t budging.  “She’s nuts,” he said.  I didn’t bother to pursue it.  I saw his point.

That’s when I realized that I had settled into my high functioning life.  I was back to looking at peas. 

“Your child has autism?  So does mine!  We’ll be best friends!” 

“Uh…not so fast…I don’t know…you’re nice but a little bossy and I’m not taking new applications today.”

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