Two Short Hours
James and I made it as far as the front door, and then he collapsed and did his fish-out-of-water routine. I sat with him on the pavement, which was just warm enough. Three little girls came outside, “James!” they squealed with excitement. He covered his ears and buried his head between his legs. I started telling the girls all the reasons why his Down syndrome and/or Autism made him not want to enter the birthday party. They listened for a few seconds, seemed concerned, and went back inside to play. Tears welled in my eyes. And then, I buried my head. A mother came out and said, “Look, it’s okay. Would you like a pillow to sit on?”
I finally lured James inside and we took a seat. The energy of twenty little girls in flowered dresses and hot pink leggings filled the room. They danced around with such vigor and joy. I wondered why and when as humans we loose the freedom and excitement to live out loud? I wanted to be seven again, or at least twenty-seven. As I was told before hand, there would be two other special needs kids at the party; a little girl in a wheel chair and a little boy who had autism. The four of us and our differences stuck out just enough. James sat on my lap, focused only on Handy Manny playing on his ipad and I struggled to keep the damn from breaking. “I knew it,” I said under my breath, “I just knew it. This was a bad idea. This is horrible.”
Not wanting to make more of a skeptical by leaving, I figured we’d just sit for as long as James could stand it, and then make a quiet exit. I smiled on the outside, but was so sad inside. Jealous, actually. I wanted to be one of those mothers, stringing brightly colored beads with their daughters and having conversation about the movie Frozen. I watched the clock and watched my jealousy turn to anger.
The party was being held at the Turnip Green Creative Reuse in downtown Nashville. Their mission is to foster creativity and sustainability through reuse, to keep materials out of our landfills. They partner with artists, schools, and businesses to breath new life into old, unwanted or damaged items that would normally be thrown away. “Not necessarily my thing,” I thought, “but a cool idea and passion!”
James was now completely engrossed in an episode of Little Einstein’s that he let me get up for a moment so I checked out the items for sale. There was a backpack made from old seat belts, wall art made out of recycled books and garden décor made from vinyl records. (I wondered if any of those records used to be polka records and how Frankie Yankovic would feel about his music becoming a garden flower?) But slowly, with every piece I touched and admired, I began to see it’s real beauty. New life that emerged from the ashes. Ironic and timely since we are nearing Easter. And then, the nudge from God’s big toe.
I sat back down next to James and instead of being closed off and pissed off, I made the conscience effort to open my heart. To see if transformation of a bad attitude was possible. And, as it always does when we are open instead of closed, the flow of energy changed. I got grateful. I introduced myself to the other mom’s. They kindly asked about James and I told them a few stories. One mom said, “I don’t know how you do it?” with a ton of relief on her face that my life wasn’t hers. And I told her, “I bet I have it easier than you do some days, and then other days maybe not.” We agreed to continue the conversation another time over an enormous amount of pasta and wine. Another mom commented on her daughters obsession for the movie Frozen and that if she had to hear that soundtrack one more time she was gonna loose it. (I guess we all have our crosses to bear?) And then, somehow I ended up in a conversation with a woman about my struggles with depression and she said, “Wow, it’s like you got a second chance.” Indeed.
When everyone gathered around the table for cake, several little girls came to sit close to James. They cared for him the only way seven-year-old hearts know how to care – unconditionally. And they offered to help him with his juice box.
Aidyn, the birthday girl, opened her presents, which included all things Frozen. I put a box of sidewalk chalk in a brightly colored bag with a note that read, “I like to write words, maybe you can use this to write words too! Love, James”. Not as glamorous as her other presents, but I hope that this summer, when the pavement is hot and she is out on her front walk writing, she might think of James.
I took my cue to leave when it was time for a pull-up change. James perked up knowing that the safety and comfort of his bedroom was coming soon. He hugged Aidyn multiple times and said, “awppy tirthday”. (I know deep down he was truly thankful to be included and was ‘as present’ as he is able to be at this time.) Or maybe I was just happy to be included and given the opportunity to be present?
As I drove home and reflected on all that transpired in just two short hours, I wondered what made something that started out poorly end up so good? And it was then that I realized that the first mom I encountered offered me a pillow. A pillow. She didn’t try to help me up, or push me in. She met me right were I was, outside, sad and with dirty pants. I was so amazed and reminded that this is right where we need to meet hurting people. Where they are. And if we do, we give them hope to go inside, to look inside, to be present in their moment and to possibly be transformed into something better than what they were when they arrived.