Where Everyone Knows Callie’s Name

Fifth grade Field Day. Unforgettable. It was altogether HOT, draining and joyous. . . .but let’s discuss the HOT. That word doesn’t even begin to describe the roast we felt. It was 9:30 a.m. The sun was already out bright and the heat index was creeping higher, seemingly, by each passing minute. No wind. No shaded areas. Just a lot of sun. Callie always drinks “purple” juice or what most people may call grape juice, but that day, there was none. This was a major concern because he doesn’t do substitutions. But he doesn’t do well with heat either. He drank 3 bottles of water. I wanted to pass out, which is something I felt like doing anyway in that suffocating sunshine, but also because Callie didn’t drink water. Water was something to bathe in. . .to wash his hands. . .to give to plants & the grass. . .and to play in. Drinking water was something he said “Yuck” to every time, yet in an instant, that hour became a momentous photograph, forever sketched in my heart. Overwhelmed by this new accomplishment, I wanted to give him a hug too but I stopped in my tracks because he was already uncomfortable. No words needed. Just a look that would translate “Don’t touch me.”  So, I stood there thrilled beyond measure to see him do something new, something healthy and something that wasn’t different than everyone else. Callie was a tad fidgety and his sensory impulses were all over the place. Nonetheless, it blessed me to see how the kids embraced him. He touched their faces and their arms. Every now and then, you would see him give a hug. (Side note: It’s ok if he gives you a hug. The return hugs are the ones he can do without.) Anyway, his touches didn’t matter to them. They hugged him back (or at least tried to) or gave him high 5. It was absolutely fascinating to watch. He became increasingly loud, scripting lines from various cartoons, some I could follow because I had seen most, but there were a few new episodes that I wasn’t familiar with as of yet. He couldn’t sit still. Jumping. Skipping. Running. Dancing – all the things that could make a person even hotter in that smothering weather. A little worried that he would be too tired to compete, I offered him more water as well as my arm for him to pinch and press his mouth against. To this constant movement & agitation, it was some reliefThere were many relays, which I’m sure in Callie’s mind were marathons. Running in any sport or playing any game in the sun was not Callie’s cup of tea. His day of enjoyment consisted of a computer (or TV), a Pringles chip cup and purple juice. It was very apparent through his carefree participation in the warm-ups that he was not too thrilled with the outside but he tried his best to join this day of fun. He started running while laughing & scripting and then huffing & puffing like he had run a mile or more. The team sports he was a part of tended to lose because of his lack of focus and frankly, his “I don’t really care if I win or not” attitude. The individual sports – Callie always came in last and again he didn’t appear bothered because he was receiving something worth more than a ribbon or a medal. He was finally receiving acknowledgment. You see, the difference between he and a typical girl or boy in a race was the noticeable thunderous cheers that circled him as if he came in first place. I was bolted over with delight and confusion. Why did they care so much? No other class or even school had shown any interest in my sonNo one other than family had respected him. . .cherished him. . .liked him.  A downpour of tears flooded the undeniable scorcher and further began to erase the memory of all the previous years where there was no regard. All that mattered in that moment was the pureness of acceptance. This was the first year, kids wanted to be Callie’s friend. They wanted to introduce themselves and they wanted to know him, and not by the autism, but the person. Their eyes saw what we had been seeing all along —  a smart, vibrant boy who has a gift. . .who has a heart. . .who has the ability to care, to learn, to try, to succeed. They saw his dignity and self-worth beam bright just from being content with who he is and not who the world (through a diagnosis) had defined him to be. . . .and they, and I as well, found that inspiring, admirable and just plain awesome.

Thanks for listening,

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