I was coming down the stairs in my house when I heard a familiar noise. It was the rustling of heavy plastic objects as if someone was rummaging through empty drawers.
The sound was a common one when my son, Lucas, had been left alone downstairs for more than a minute. My non-verbal little guy loved food and, although he has the capabilities to ask and get denied extra meals through communication devices and PECs, he also has the capabilities to be a mischievous little bugger. Many a time, I’ve descended the stairs to find footprints of frosting all over the hard wood floors.
This, I told myself, was another one of those moments. I sighed out a half-exhausted “Lucas” as soon as I mentally identified the sound. It wasn’t said loud enough for him to hear, but loud enough for me to digest what I was surely about to see. I had been upstairs for less than a minute.
Then, I heard a woman’s voice. There was no one else in house but me and him. It freaked me out.
She didn’t speak in a whisper, but in a deliberate tone. I could faintly make out her words. I could have sworn she said something about a cow.
In that minute, I went through a whole world of possibilities. Was I tripping? Did he open a portal to another dimension? Was there a farm-themed home invasion awaiting me? What the hell was going on?
Before I could make a course of attack, Lucas came walking past me…with his hard plastic see-and-see toy in his hand.
The cow says…Mooo!
He held it up to his hear as he danced past, smiling with joy. It was an unexpected sight as he rarely would get himself a toy like that, especially one that had been buried deep in his toy bin.
As I rounded the corner to the kitchen, I saw that the fridge was closed. Had he gone through it, the door would have been ajar with a warning beep blaring from it. I would have to do what I always do in that situation. I’d call him back to close it, which he’d do while keeping his eyes locked on me like we were in an old west duel.
But, that didn’t happen because, as I mentioned, he didn’t go through the fridge. Instead, he had gone through his toys, found one that he wanted, and nicely carried it back to the sitting room. It was there that he sat, angelically, in his little Poison shirt, watching Raffi projected on the wall before him. He hadn’t been naughty. He had been perfect.
Suddenly, I felt terrible. I had assumed the worst because, as a dad, it’s easy to have the worst sneak up on you. It’s the thought that spilled water on a bed is almost definitely pee or the sound of a crash has to be something my kids are doing wrong, as opposed to something outside. It’s almost better to hope for the best, prepare for the worst, and wash out somewhere in between.
His non-verbal autism isn’t the reason for these assumptions either. He has a 13 year old sister who is neurotypical, as they say. I have sat next to her in the car as she silently laughs to herself and quickly types on her phone. Often, she will do so as I’m talking to her and my paranoia makes me think she’s texting mocking things about me. I conjure up images of texts that call me all sorts of names.
So I lean over, slickly, and look over her shoulder to find her sending her friends Tik Toks of kids lip syncing or trying to win the latest round of Cookie Kingdom. It has nothing to do with me.
They’re good kids. I know that in my heart, but after a lifetime of shoes dropping, I sometimes forget in the moment. We all do. I’ve been with groups of moms and dads when, from another room, there’s a loud bang. Inevitably, one (or all) of them say:
What is that? Ugh. It’s probably my kid.
People don’t even laugh at it because we all have the same thought. In many cases, they’re right. In many others, they’re not. It’s just easier to prepare for that to be the case.
Do I feel guilty for those false assumptions? Sometimes I do. I watched that day as my little angel boy sat on the Sitting Room couch and listened to his see-and-say. I chastised myself for expecting something terrible to have happened. Then, as I did, I felt the wetness on my toes.
And I looked down to find his cup of water, spilled all over the floor.
He looked up at me, see-and-say to his ear, and smiled a huge grin. I sighed and got a towel. I didn’t get mad.
I also, however, didn’t feel guilty anymore.
My kids are good. My kids are bad. My kids are everything. Any assumptions I make about them – good or bad – will eventually be true anyway.
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