WHY DO WE KISS?
Submitted by John Roedel
There are perfect moments every day. I pray that I look for them more….
I am typing this feeling better than I have in a very long time. I am sitting on the porch of our cabin with only the moon lighting the woods in front of me. I am a little freaked out that Bigfoot might come bounding out of the dark and play the popular monster game called “Make The Little Man Wear His Lungs Like A Hat”. Other then that fear I am as peaceful as my soul has been since before Scott Baio was a reality star.
In many ways I worry way to much. I am not just a “glass half empty guy“. I am a “glass half empty, and the other half is filled with anthrax” kind of guy. I jump to the worst case scenario quicker then Sean Hannity goes through hair gel. I make mountain ranges out of Mole hills….
THE CHECK ENGINE LIGHT MEANS THE CAR IS ABOUT TO EXPLODE LIKE THE DEATH STAR.
THE PERSON WHO IS COUGHING BEHIND ME AT THE MOVIES HAS A MUTANT STRAIN OF GORILLA POX THAT HAS ALREADY ATTACHED ITSELF TO MY LYMPH NODES.
WHENEVER I DRIVE UP TO THE ATM TO GET MONEY OUT I BEGIN TO WONDER IF SOMEONE HAS BROKEN INTO MY ACCOUNT AND WITHDRAWN ALL THE LIMITED MONIES I HAVE.
WHEN A TEACHER CALLS OUR HOME I IMMEDIALTLY ASSUME ONE OF MY CHILDREN HAS STARTED A HARD CORE GRADE SCHOOL GANG WHO HAS TAKEN OVER THE SCHOOL.
WHEN I GO TO BED AT NIGHT I WONDER IF HOW MANY SPIDERS WILL TREAT MY SLUMBERED BODY LIKE DISNEYLAND.
I live my life with too many unfounded worries. The calmness of my experience this week has reminded me that there are enough real things to concern myself with that I don’t need to make up stuff to worry about. In fact the one thing I worry about now…is…will I go back to worry so much when I get back home.
I hope not. Because that would ruin the lesson I learned on Wednesday. I learned a new lesson on why we kiss people. Let me explain:
One of the constant and real worries I have had is that my autistic son will never experience life to it’s fullest. Sure he might have a quality of life that my wife and I can provide for him until the day our souls call it a day. But will he know joy? Will he feel accomplishment? Will he experience the painful lessons of failure? Will he love? Simply put…will he live?
This year has been an incredible leap forward for him. Thanks to so many people who help him all over the country he has started to be able to reveal the amazing child who is trapped down in the autism well. Our family has had so much support from selfless people who have prayed, counseled, tested, tapped, and loved out son that I will never be able to fully ever say enough “thank you’s” for. However, most of his growth this year has been cognitive…his reading, math, and comprehension skills have shot way past any goal we could have ever had for him. The one place it seems where autism still has it’s icy hold on his has been socially.
I always worry about how lonely he must feel. Autistic children in many ways live in their own little world. Human contact for most of us is essential and natural, for autistic people social contact is sometimes as foreign as Tim Allen in a movie that is watchable.
Last year for Noah he was in first grade I began to notice the other children forming friendships and bonds with one another. They had sleepovers, birthday parties, and play dates. Noah had very few invitations for these….and I felt crushed by this. It was not that the other kids were mean to him in anyway, in fact every indication is that he is extremely well liked by his peers. The problem is that the other children just have not been able to really connect with him. I know for me some of my closets friends were the ones I met in early grade school, and I desperately worry that he will not ever make life long friends.
I don’t want him to be alone. I want him to connect with others. To share his feelings, to empathize, to have his heart broken, to be invited to the sleepover.
I guess I want him to be a kid. I worry he will never be able to have a childhood he will remember as a good one. Heck…I worry that he will never have any memories worth a salt.
Which made me feel very very guilty. A couple years ago I would have killed for having this set of problems. A couple years ago he could not really speak, or function independently at all. Now he has progressed so far that now I worry about these abstract concepts. I feel guilty because I should not be so ungrateful for what he has already gained…. I am a greedy daddy.
So with this attitude I brought him to Adam's Camp. (A camp for children with autism.) We wanted the many wonderful people who work with him to focus on helping him break through the social bubble he has formed around himself. They have done amazing work, and I have already in just a couple days have seen results!
In fact just last night I saw for the first time my brave little boy pull himself out of the well long enough to share a moment with a child his age. It was a moment that I will forever be thankful that I got to be a part of, and it is a moment that reminded me that I need to stop worrying about.
Last night we had a sing-a-long bonfire. It was a chance for many of the younger autistic kids and their families to gather round a camp fire and sing some classic camping songs. It was a blast! No, really if you ever have a chance to be surrounded by ten autistic children all under nine years old in a sing a long then be a part of it! Each of the children had such an energy and innocence about them that it just made you feel happy to be singing next to them. They were all so thrilled to be belting out “She’ll be coming round the mountain” that it was infectious! There were even a couple little boys who are absolutely non-verbal who obviously could not sing…but dance they did. It was a celebration of life. Nobody cared who anyone was, what they looked like, what disabilities they had, or if they could even speak. It was just parents, special children, and typical siblings connecting in song and dance.
Toward the end of the night most of the kids became fascinated with a little stream that flowed next to the fire. Inevitably the children began to fashion boats out of leaves and sticks to see how they floated down the stream. Noah was walking the river bank by himself with a stick. I could tell that he wanted to toss it in himself but was unsure where to do it. Then this little girl in pink came next to him and whispered something to him, and immediately he chucked it into the water. At once both of then laughed together, and for the next forty minutes became inseparable.
“Wow..he found a friend!” I thought. I was not sure if I had ever been prouder of him.
They spent the rest of the night walking up and down the bank together, talking. I kept my distance because I figured the little girl was autistic too and I did not want to break the groove they were in with a nosy daddy. So I just watched for a while. I watched as they sat down on the dirt pile that hovered over the stream and how each took turns throwing rocks into the current. Even though the sun was fading behind the trees I could tell that they were still talking, but had no idea what they were talking about. Finally my curiosity took a hold and I walked over. Noah looked at me and proudly said to his new friend
“This is my daddy.” She looked at me quickly and gave me a slight wave, to which I said “You guys ok?”
Neither of them said anything but exchanged glances as if they were speaking telepathically with each other. “We’re fine” Noah said and with that the two of them got up and walked over to a six foot tree branch. Each picked up and end and carried it to the flowing water. “Will it float?” Noah asked her. “Let’s not be chicken. Lets find out!” the little girl in pink shouted. With as much effort as they could the two autistic children hoisted the thick heavy branch into the air and into the water. The branch floated down the river, and the two of them danced triumphantly!
I left the two of them to celebrate and I went back to sit by the bon fire. I kept a close eye on them, and watched as they interacted with one another. It felt so incredible to watch my little guy that I have in my heart be so worried about show me that perhaps my fears were kind of unfounded.
He had found his Winnie Cooper…and I have never been prouder of him.
A little while later it was time for the party to end. I thought this might be a potential problem for Noah as I was sure that he would not want to go. When I told them it was time to go they gave each other a quick hug and then she ran off to find her dad who was in a field down below walking with her little brother.
“What a great night Noah!” I said to him proudly while grabbing his hand.
“Mmm.” He said. I could tell his mind was racing. I could tell this because when he is over thinking something he chews on his bottom lip.
“What was her name?”
“Shauna. She is my best friend” Noah responded. Those words felt really nice in my ears. I have never heard him so excited about someone else.
“What did she say to get you to throw your stick in the water when you met her?” I pressed.
“She told me not to be chicken” He smiled.
“How old is she” I asked as we started walking toward the car.
“Dad” Noah said as let go of my hand. “I have to do something”
And with that he turned around and ran down toward the field were little Shauna was. I am semi-proud of myself because my normal overprotective reaction to this would be to tell him to wait for me. I did not tell him to stop. I just watched…and I knew what he was going to do.
She was standing next to her mom and dad and when she saw Noah she left them to run to him. I saw him say something to her in her ear. She smiled at him, and then I saw something I will never forget.
He gave her a kiss.
Sorry Little Mermaid, Spiderman, or Friends there has never been a kiss more romantic then this! It is frozen in my mind from here on out….
Once his time stopping first kiss ended he turned around and came sprinting back toward me. Shauna turned to her parents and ran excitedly into their arms. I caught the smiles on the faces of the parents…they were just as proud for her as I was for Noah. This was not pride because I think eight year olds should be “smooching,” it was pride because Noah had allowed himself to feel something.
When he came back to me I gave him a bear hug. I asked him if he had asked her for permission to kiss her. Noah said “I told her I was going to kiss her…and that I was not a chicken”. He was smiling from ear to ear and breathing heavily now.
I asked him one last question. I asked him “Why did you kiss her?”
“Because dad. I always want to remember her”. He looked at me square in the eyes as he said this with complete seriousness.
With that response the needless part of me that worries for him was smashed into pieces. One way or another he is going to be just fine. He will find a way out of this maze…and when he does the world better look out.
I won’t be chicken either anymore Noah. I will not parent out of fear anymore. I am glad you found your Winnie.
He is going to have a life filled with wonder and joy. He may have lost some early battles…but he is destined to win the war. How do I know? Because he is the wisest person in the world right now:
Why do we kiss?
We kiss to remember the person we are kissing.
What a perfect night…and how peaceful I feel.
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What a beautiful, sweet story. I work with autistic children in a public school and have been very frustrated in the way we are not allowed to tell the other children that the reason these children act the way they do is not because they are bad, even if they do have some behavior issues, but because they are special, in that God made them differently than he has made other children. But they are still, no matter what, children, they may be different than the other children but they are children that have the same wants as they all do, love, friendship, compassion and understanding no matter how they act. Most importantly, they need to be treated like every other child by their teachers, to which I see so many that do not. I want to have an assembly with my whole school and not point these kids out but talk about ALL the kids in our school that may have some kind of issue and it should not matter what it is they all need to be treated by their peers and teachers the same. God Bless You may you learn more and more about your son everyday and continue to be as proud everyday no matter what, as you were when you saw "the kiss".
What a wonderful story. I went to Walk Now for Autism Speaks walkathon in Anaheim, CA on November 14. I was so moved by it. I saw one little boy crying because he didn't want to go on the walk, but his kind mother talked to him and then he smiled and carried his sign along the route the whole way. Another little girl just looked at a camera and lifted her hand to say hi. It made me wish I could just give all of them a big hug and kiss. I know it must be hard for them. Good luck to your son in the future. All the best to him.