When my kids were little still, my eyes would always be drawn to the boy apart, walking the perimeter of the playground, hand bumping along each link of the chain link fence, on his toes, eyes cast down; to the girl tearing her dress off, rolling in and eating sand, screeching one octave higher and louder than any other kid in the playground but seeming deaf to her mothers words.
I saw, I knew, but I always wondered: "Did the mothers know?" Wondered if I could say something, connect, or if they were pre-diagnosis, living in their little bubble of denial. I had lost a friend opening my mouth before the mother was ready to hear. Some days I would hesitate, others I would venture a question, a comment. Connections were made. Or not.
Now I barely notice the young ones, my time in playgrounds having come nearly to an end. Instead I am pulled to the really big ones, older a bit than my tweenie ten year-old Jacob, the mothers all middle aged like me, holding the hand of a son who is clearly too hold to still be holding his mother's hand. Except, well, for THAT.
Sometimes we smile at each other, acknowledge our unasked for kinship. Other times I silently observe, wondering, "Will that be us in a few years time?"
And then, sometimes, we end up needing each other.
This past summer I took the boys to a WNBA basketball game, the NY Liberty playing in nearby Newark. We had a great time, and after the game lined up for one the large family / disabled bathrooms, thankfully present at the arena.
After I got on line, I noticed the woman who came on right behind was one of "us" with a son: older teenage or young man, clearly on the spectrum, less verbal than my son Jacob. She was desperately in need of a bathroom sooner than later, I could see it in her eyes as I watched her look at the short line we were on and grimace.
I offered to let her cut in front of us, as ours was just a routine "go before you go" visit, but she didn't even have that moment to wait. I could see her weighing the alternatives.
She needed to go herself. Needed to keep her son safe. Couldn't really take him into the women's room with her, which was about 50 feet further along. There was a TV on the wall right next to us, and her son was definitely interested in it, watching rapt as we stood in line.
Seeing that her son was much more likely to wait in front of a TV than outside the boring women's room door, she told him to stand RIGHT THERE and watch TV and wait for her return. He agreed, and she ran off down the hall.
The boy was still dutifully waiting when we popped into the bathroom, but by the time we came out, he was no longer in front of the TV. I assumed the mom had come back, but just in case she hadn't I scanned the area to make sure her son had not wandered off, and yes, there he was - about 20 feet away in the opposite direction, in front of a large window, looking out onto the street below.
I looked up to see the mother barreling down the the hall towards us, moving fast as she could to get back to her boy, panic setting in as she sees her son is not where she left him. I ran up to intercept her "He's in font of a window, over here, this way!" and I lead her to him.
She went back and forth between thanking me and gently admonishing her son to not DO that again, please. We chatted briefly about our kids, our challenges, parted with mutual smiles
And then, as we headed off in opposite directions to find our ways home, I found myself sincerely hoping that if that is ever ME some day, frantically searching for Jake, another mother will step in to help; will understand, without having to be told, how important it is.
Community is all around us, everywhere, every day, if we only look, connect and respond.
Varda writes about "birth, death and all the messy stuff in the middle" on her blog "The Squashed Bologna: a slice of life in the sandwich generation" She also tweets as @Squashedmom. Varda is proud to be a Hopeful Parent.