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Day One

we were ferocious because it counted for everything

All small children are weathermen. They may not know much but they know good and bad, scary and safe, and when they're checking the weather of their world the sky they look into is their parent's face. If you're the parent, no matter what kind of tornado is coming, it's your job to act like everything is okay.

The day of our appointment, nothing was okay, but I was pretending like it was. We took a bus there, my son sitting beside me, and an aging hippie sat in front of us. He turned around, studied my four year old for a minute, and this ponytailed man told me he had a gift: he could see auras. He said my son's aura was amazing--blues and purples, which were very good, and that he was going to be an extraordinary person. Then he looked at a spot just over my head and his smile disappeared and he shuddered, and said nothing, and turned back around in his seat.

Apparently whatever color my aura was, it was bad. That didn't surprise me. We were on our way to get my son tested for Autism, a possible diagnosis which had gone undetected by the dozen or so doctors who had pronounced my son perfectly healthy but spoiled. Several of these medical professionals had advised hitting him, advice I had not taken.

The certainty he had Autism had come, not from a doctor, but from a preschool director. She had told me this after spending less than five minutes with my child.

At the testing center, I checked my son in and then waited for what seemed like a long time. Then I saw the blonde clinician coming down the hall toward me with my son, and she was smiling, which I took as a good sign. When she got closer, her smile got bigger and then she said, with relief, "Good news!" I smiled back at her and then she finished her sentence: "We can rule out brain tumor."

For a minute, I forgot how to breathe. I stood, frozen, as she described how they had all thought brain tumor right away but of course they didn't want to say 'brain tumor' unless they were sure because it would have sounded so scary. But the good news was, no brain tumor.

She gave me my son's hand, gave me a big smile and then said, "But yes, it's Autism," and with that she turned and walked off down the hall. I thought: she just used a technique on me. Then I looked down at my son and saw him peering up at me, his blue eyes searching my face, checking the weather.

I made my mouth smile like things were still okay. We walked home and the sidewalk was scattered with autumn leaves. My son delighted in trying to crunch the loudest ones. I told myself: let this be important too.

Somehow, that afternoon, I kept on pretending. I asked him about the games he had played at the place and if they were fun and he said Yes and I said Great. And somehow we had dinner and watched a Disney movie and there were a thousand fears waiting for me and I didn't let myself think of them.

Bedtime and the favorite story (both his and mine): Maurice Sendak's Where The Wild Things Are. My son was tired and struggled to keep his eyes open as I read about Max and his journey to the land of the wild things.

And my son was asleep by the time Max had decided to leave that island, but I kept on reading and as I did, the day was catching up with me. I was thinking: those wild things, they are the Autism. That island, that's where he might go: a place so far away I wouldn't be able to see him and he wouldn't be able to see me.

I kept reading and, as they always do, the wild things cried "Oh please don't go. We'll eat you up, we love you so". And tears were running down my face and that was okay because my son was fast asleep and couldn't see them.

And then, the next page, blank white with only the black typed words: 'And Max said, No! '

I sat there staring at that page, blinking back tears so I could see it clearly. And then I did something I'd told my son to never do: I tore the page out of that book. I put it carefully into a frame. I hung it in the hallway where I'd be sure to see it several times every day. Whenever I needed to check the weather, I'd look there.

He said No to those wild things and so did I. Sometimes we said No and sometimes we shouted it and we were ferocious because it counted for everything.

This spring my son will walk across a stage and receive his college diploma. He'll be patient as we take too many photos. He'll beam as he accepts the compliments. He'll hug me and then, just when I need it, he'll hug me extra tight.

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