I’ve been finding that lately I’ve been in a bit of a funk.
I seemed to be mired in all things autism lately. So much of what I read and write is about my son and his issues caused by his autism, and how it affects him and our family. There are some days that it feels like it’s all I talk about or read. Many of blogs I read are autism-related, and 90% of the people I follow on Twitter are involved in some aspect of autism education or awareness (the other 10% are the cast members of Glee). It’s not surprising that this is my focus, considering this is my life 24 hours a day, and I learn a tremendous amount from all the information I read.
Sometimes, though, I need a break. And I’m guessing that people reading this might need one too. Sometimes I just need to pull myself out of that world and into another one, even if for a moment.
So I decided that I would start a series of posts here called “The B Sides”. I may be dating myself here, but “B Sides” were the flip side of record singles when they were released on 45s. They were usually the songs that the artists were attached to, but the record companies didn’t think were as radio friendly as the A side. Famous B sides include “Ruby Tuesday” by The Rolling Stones and “Rock Around the Clock” by Bill Haley and His Comets.
My B Sides are going to be stories about my favorite memories, ones that have had a lasting impact on my life. I’m going to try to write a “B Side” at least once a month. It may be more if I need it.
So for my first B Side: Squirrels In My Pants.
It’s 1994 and my family is at the Grand Canyon. My sister, brother and I had never been there before, so while on a family vacation to Las Vegas, we decided to take a side trip to this amazing place. It had been quite a journey to get there, complete with my father sitting in the front of the tiny 8 passenger plane to balance out the weight and my sister vomiting into a sock halfway through the flight.
I remember standing near the rail of the canyon with my family along side several other tourists who had been smart enough to take a bus there. There were a few other families walking around, snapping pictures of each other with this unbelievable wonder of the world behind them. And because we were outside there was plenty of wildlife around. In particular, squirrels.
As we were all admiring the view from the rim of the canyon, a family near us caught my mother’s eye. She was watching them intently with this worried look on her face. The kids were crouched down on the ground with little bits of food in their hands trying to feed the squirrels. Their parents were watching, laughing and encouraging them.
My mom was standing there saying under her breath: “Don’t do that. Squirrels Bite”.
She was dying to go over there and say something to the parents. The words would have been nicer (because she’s a nice person) but she wanted to tell them something like “How could you let your kids do that? Are you crazy?”
We stopped her.
We all convinced her that it wasn’t her place to say anything. The squirrels weren’t really going over to the kids, and it just wasn’t her business to butt in. And of course, we laughed, because while it was just like my mom to want to go over and protect those kids, the only words she could get out were:
“But squirrels bite!”
“Squirrels bite” became a catch phrase for our family from that point on, and still is. We use it as a reminder whenever one of us wants to butt in to someone else’s business. And after almost 15 years as a member of our family, my husband says it now too. It’s just part of our language now. It’s also a reminder of one of our last family vacations together, before we became adults and before my dad passed away.
Last week, I had a conversation with two friends that reminded me of this memory. Both of these two friends have older kids on the spectrum. We were talking about Howie and one of them asked me when I started to really notice that things were different with him. I went back and forth a bit and I said that even though I knew early on that his sensory stuff was out of whack, I didn’t start to see other things until he was about two. These friends have known Howie since he was little, and they said they saw it, maybe even before I really knew. I asked them why neither of them said anything to me about. They said they didn’t think it was their place to come out and say it. They didn’t know how I would react, and they both saw that I was already doing the things necessary to figure it all out. Independently, they decided that the best thing for them to do was to help guide me and answer my questions, but never come out and say “hey – I think your kid is autistic.”
And they are right. I’m not sure how I would have reacted at that time to hearing that, even though I probably knew in the back of my head that it was true. It was something that we had to find out for ourselves.
Classic “squirrels bite”. They were both dying to say something, wanting to comfort me and let me know I wasn’t alone. But it wasn’t their place to say it. Just like those kids at the Grand Canyon, I had to put the food in my hands and get bit.
I find myself in that same situation every now and again. I see a child at the playground or the baseball field and I recognize the behaviors and mannerisms. I see the dark circles under eyes of his parents. But I don’t say anything. It’s not my place.
But you might see me on the bench at the playground whispering “squirrels bite”. Because they do, you know. Just ask my mom.
(and I know I said I was getting away from all things autism here on The B Sides, but it still seeped in, just like in my real life. I’ll try harder next month.)
“There are squirrels in my pants!
Tell me what’s makin’ you jump like that!
S-I-M-P, Squirrels in my pants!
Ain’t got no chickens,
Ain’t got no rats…
Squirrels in my pants!” – Squirrels In My Pants by Phineas and Ferb