Twelve years and eleven days after my son was born my cell phone rang. A mom two houses over asked if Sebastian would like to go to the movies the next day. She and her husband were taking their 11-year-old son to see the latest animated flick. I immediately marked the moment. It was Sebastian’s first major unsolicited invitation. It wasn’t a come over to my house to play, or a birthday party type of thing. He’s had a taste of that, but those invitations were a result of my relationship with the parents. This was different. Sebastian had built this connection, one short neighborly conversation at a time, and now this family wanted to bring him out. In public. Without me.
Sebastian’s social calendar has been wide open his entire life. I have struggled to help him make friends. Everyone else’s children seem to lead over-scheduled lives. It has always been difficult to insert him in their mix. As the years move on, it grows harder. Sebastian isn’t overly concerned about this. He doesn’t understand what a friend truly is. The difference between an acquaintance and a BFF is beyond him. I ache at even the thought of every missed social cue. Children could easily make fun of him, and he wouldn’t notice. Autism is his curse and his protector.
Autism guides Sebastian’s thoughts. If I allowed him to go with my neighbors he might say the wrong thing. Our neighbors are a mixed race couple. The father-white, the mother-fair skinned African American, their son-dark brown. Sebastian has been known to question their differences, “What kind of mother is she?” This mom has always been understanding and gracious in response to such questions, but I’m still embarrassed. My husband and I have tried to instill our beliefs. Autism doesn’t care about our convictions.
So I’m afraid, but I wouldn’t let my fear stand in the way of Sebastian’s need to have this experience. I let him go. I didn’t over-think it. I reminded him, “Every family is different and that’s ok. Skin color doesn’t matter and doesn’t need to be discussed.”
“I know, I know, Mom.”
I hoped so.
The next day I walked my son to the neighbor’s. Sebastian shook my hand good-bye, but then kissed it like a true gentleman. “I love you Mom.” He leaned over so I could kiss the top of his head. He said, “Let’s do that again.” Handshake, chivalrous kiss, obvious lean so I could plant one on his head. “I love you Mom.” I heard the neighbor’s “Awww.” Yes, I’m still allowed to kiss him in public and exchange I love yous. I’m lucky like that.
I waved good-bye, and waited at home. I watched the clock. The phone didn’t ring once. I hoped Sebastian was on his best polite behavior. Come on Joanne. Have faith that he can be out in the world without you. Think about how loved he’s always been at school.
Three hours later the mom sent a text. We’re on our way back. Ok. The moment of truth was about to be upon me. I’d know how it went by the look on her face. No matter what she tells me I’ll grill Sebastian all about what he did or didn’t say. I’ll have to ask the right questions to get all the details, but he won’t lie. I can thank autism for that.
The car pulled into the driveway. I swallowed hard, and took a deep breath. Sebastian bounced towards me with a half empty bag of popcorn. “The movie was great Mom.” By the look on the neighbor’s face I could see the truth.
I couldn’t have been more proud.
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