Saturday, January 10, 2015

"I may not be a smart man, but I know what love is."

I've watched Forrest Gump enough times to have the movie just about memorized.  I watched it before I had a child with autism, and cried at the end and knew it was undoubtedly a uniquely touching movie.  I watched it post-autism diagnosis with fresh eyes and an grew an even deeper love for the characters.  I loved how Forrest's momma knew how to explain things to him so he could understand.  I loved how Forrest tried so hard.  I loved how Jenny was his childhood friend who stood up for him.  As Tristen grew up, his dad and I often joked that Tristen would be content to mow football fields on a riding lawn mower when he grew up.  This was a fond thought for us, because of what the movie said to us when we watched it.  We marveled at his accomplishments.  Forrest Gump led an inspiring and full life.  Even though it is fiction, it gave us hope for great things for our son with autism because even with his disability, Forrest was a success.

One endearing thing about Tom Hanks' character, is that for the most part, Forrest doesn't really realize he has a disability.  He doesn't seem to fully understand the impact when kid's call him stupid; he just replies with a quick phrase his mother taught him,"Stupid is as stupid does."  It doesn't seem to hurt his feelings really, or sink in, he just continues to go about his business.

Tristen is about to turn 17, and luckily, I have not had to witness anyone saying something so cruel.  When he has become frustrated from time to time over the years because he couldn't remember something, or a task was too hard, we would simply explain to him that it was OK, some people take longer to learn than others.  We assured him he would get it with practice and patience.  We never told him he was "autistic".  We never labeled him in that way because we felt that he would take the term in a negative way and some how feel like he was "less". 

I don't ever want him to feel limited; I feel there are so many ways for him to excel in life.  I home school both my boys so I can give them a well rounded education that would go outside the norm of most public schools.  We discuss values, morals and the future.  I told the boys how infinitely important it is to me that they lead a good life, which meant being kind, generous, trustworthy and thoughtful.  I often express the important of making good life choices so that they can be happy adults.  After the short discussion, Tristen was about to leave the room, and stopped in the door way.  He glanced back at me with a solemn look and heavy eyes. 

"Mom, how long do I have to wait to have a "good life"."  (he did the air quotes appropriately)  His demeanor had changed so drastically...he was so visibly concerned...I called him over to sit by me on the bed and rubbed his back.  He stiffened up with his arms folded across his chest. 

"Tell me what you mean, honey."

He looked down at the ground...let out a long breath and said, "I mean....when am I going to be smart."

The scene played in my head: "I may not be a smart man, but I know what love is."

It was the same look that Forrest had.  It was the same despair Forrest felt.  It was the same understanding of the difference between him and others.

As my heart breaks, my eyes start to fill and my chin quivers.  I search for the words he needs to hear.

"Everyday, Tristen.  Everyday you are getting smarter and learning more and growing up.  You don't have to's happening every minute of everyday."