Peggy (to Sam, dressing for the wedding): Your suit is hanging in the closet.
Teresa: What shoes are you wearing?
Some dreams aren’t nightmares, but they leave you feeling unsettled in the morning. For me, the best remedy is to get them out of my head and move on. Recently, we discovered that works for Sam, too.
Like his mother, Sam is not really a morning person, although I’m not sure what a morning person is. We both feel fine when we’ve had enough sleep. However, we don’t feel like we’ve had enough sleep if we have to wake up before first light, even when we go to bed early.
Sam rarely talks about his dreams, unless they are nightmares. But he struggled and complained about that “morning funk” this fall, so a few weeks back, I asked him if he’d had a bad dream and what it was about.
He said it wasn’t really a bad dream, but he didn’t like it. He dreamt he was driving and that, in his dream, when it came time to stop, he somehow wasn’t able to move his foot from the gas pedal to the brake. He worried it could happen in real life.
I didn’t want to tell him it would never happen, because it’s important to tell the people you love the truth. And the truth is, just before a wreck, you are keenly aware how fast things are happening in front of you and how your car isn’t doing what you wish it would.
So I told him I had my own version of that dream, a recurring one. In my dream I am riding in the back seat of a car, careening somewhere fast, when I look up and realize that no one is driving. From the back seat, I struggle first to get my hands on the steering wheel, and then try to get up front to get to the pedals, but I never seem to make it.
Sam laughed and said my dream was really funny. I told him that the reason my dream was funny was because it was both relatable and ridiculous. I asked him if it made him think about his dream differently, and he said, yes, it made his dream kind of funny, too.
Then I asked whether he thought the dreams could be a metaphor for something.
And this is where I am so very, very grateful for Sally Fogarty and the other teachers who were on Sam’s special education team when he was in middle and high school. Sally announced at one of the annual planning meetings that Sam’s speech had come along enough that he would pass the usual tests meant to detect deficiencies. But, she added, we all knew that Sam’s language skills still needed work. She suggested that she administer another diagnostic test and develop a plan that would help him with more abstract language skills–analogies, idioms, metaphors and the like.
A few years later, Sam and I happened to be driving into Fort Worth and a billboard in Spanish caught our eyes. I read the billboard and understood the words, but I didn’t understand what the billboard was saying. I asked Sam, who was also studying Spanish, if he understood the billboard, because I couldn’t. And he said, “Well, that’s because it’s an idiom.” And then he told me what it meant. That was 15 years ago, and it still makes me tear up.
Sam agreed dream driving could just be the general way we feel about how our life is going, and maybe we don’t need to worry that we can’t always steer, and honestly, we don’t want to stop.
As part of their initial job training two years ago, Sam and his cohort at the WinCo warehouse received important information about when, or whether, to disclose their disability to others.
We didn’t give a lot of thought to this issue before sending Sam out into the world. We had always treated it as a need-to-know basis. Not surprisingly, outside of school and the workplace, most people don’t need to know.
The Texas Legislature passed a law effective this month that lets people with autism and other disabilities who drive to privately disclose their disability so the information comes up with their license plate. That way, a police officer or highway patrol officer knows there may be some communication challenges ahead and to take their time.
Other public encounters can benefit from some level of disclosure. On both of our cycling vacations, we didn’t lead our ice-breakers with any kind of disclosure. But our tour leaders and fellow cyclists soon figured out Sam’s autism. They watched what we did to accommodate him and followed suit. In Germany, it became a running joke with one woman that Sam tried more new foods than her persnickety husband did. We fielded a few questions on the side, but our travel companions were simply curious about our family; they weren’t prying.
One of the lessons Sam and his cohort learned during initial training was that disclosing your disability often isn’t necessary and that it also comes with some risk. “People can take advantage of you,” Sam told me. Sam’s rather risk-averse, so he’s not inclined to disclose and we’re happy to follow his lead.
The other night, I shared a travel horror story from one of my recent trips, in hopes that he might benefit from my experience. I thought if he ever got patted down, he should disclose his disability to the TSA agents.
In my latest travels, the screening machine flagged my underwire bra. I was upset that they intended to pat down my side. I insisted on a private screening, which really bugged them and the passengers behind me. The twenty-something girl behind me was obviously panicked about missing her flight. Magically, they flagged her every limb, and her crotch, and she let them pat her down everywhere, all the while she fussed at me for not complying. I was sad for her.
Sam said he’s never been patted down at the airport. (I’m patted down Every. Single. Time. Don’t tell me it’s random.) But he had one of his own air travel horror stories that he had not told me about before.
He was in line to board the plane when the crew announced that they were going to do a bag search at the gate. Sam was caught off-guard, as I’m sure many other travelers were. (Perhaps, dear internet readers, you know what that is about and can explain in the comments below. We could only guess what it was about.) He wasn’t able to re-pack his bag quickly and other travelers were getting impatient with him. That, of course, unnerved him even more and made it harder still for him to recombobulate. A gate attendant finally had to help him.
I told him that might have been a good time to disclose his autism–not to the impatient people around him, but to the gate attendant who was helping him. I said most people might not understand why you need more time because autism is a hidden disability. They might even be embarrassed at their ignorance and impatience for not recognizing it themselves, I said, because most people are good and want to be kind to others. I told him that as you disclose to the gate attendant, the angry people would overhear it and probably change their behavior toward you, unless they are are real jerks.
Sam disagreed that it would have been a good idea to disclose, and that is his prerogative. It’s not his job to help the world not be a jerk.
Peggy (sneezes loudly)
Sam: Sa – lu – te!
Peggy (laughing): Grazie.
Sam: Prego. (pauses). I had to do that. That [sneeze] was … impressive.
Peggy (several hours after dropping the dog off at doggie day care): Gosh, I miss Fang.
Sam: When are you going to stop saying that?
Sam: After we go to Italy, I might not want to ever come back.
Peggy: That would not surprise me.
Sam: What’s an ‘old-timer’?
Peggy: I think different people might use that label to describe different things. What do you think it means, Sam?
Sam: Someone who doesn’t use new technology.
Peggy: Oh yeah?
Sam: And someone who talks about the old days.
Peggy: Then I guess I’m not an old timer.
Peggy: Do you have yellow lenses for your bike glasses?
Sam: What are those?
Peggy: Try mine and see.
Sam (squinting out the window at the overcast sky): It’s sunny.
Peggy: That box on the front seat of your car is all your old ribbons to take to Mary’s office next time you ride at Born2Be. They can reuse them.
Sam: Yeah, Mom, it takes more than a ribbon to prove your success.
Sam almost didn’t get to go to the State Fair of Texas this year. I enjoy the fair but, honestly, I wouldn’t miss it if a year or two went by without a trip.
I think Sam likes that every time we go we check out something new, but we also do some of the same things: have a Fletcher’s corn dog, ride the carousel, stop by the show barn to see a hundred different kinds of rabbits or goats or whatever is running that weekend, sit on a tractor and remember the days on the farm.
Michael and his fiancee, Holly, came up from Austin to go to the fair last weekend, so Sam had a chance to go. I told Michael to be sure to take Sam by the auto show and have him get behind the wheel of a Chevy Bolt. Mission accomplished there. Sam’s going to be buying a new car in a few years and he needs lots of opportunities to switch from abstract and into concrete ways of thinking about that.
One thing that hasn’t been predictable about going to the fair is the train ride. Sam likes taking rail to the fair. It would seem predictable, but it’s not. Denton’s A-train shuts down early on Saturdays. Dallas runs extra DART trains on unpublished schedules for fair crowds. Michael and Holly planned to drive home to Austin from the fair. They were having fun and wanted to stay past the last train home to Denton, so I agreed to pick Sam up at the end of DART’s green line in Carrollton.
Sam got on a run that wasn’t on the posted schedule. He had to get off several stations early and wait for another train. He called Michael and then called me. Michael was unnerved. He didn’t know why Sam got off the train, he just knew someone “told him” to get off. Michael called me. Was Sam in trouble? Was he being bullied? Was he ok? I got a key piece of information from Sam: it was the end of the line for that special run. Sam was ok.
On the drive back to Denton, I told Sam it’s important sometimes to tell people why something was happening. Not knowing the “why” can lead to worries.
For a while, our conversation went on a tangent about worst case scenarios for being bullied on the train, for which Sam already had a good plan. He’s been bullied enough in his life that he knows to prepare or troubleshoot, and that’s just heart-breaking.
Then we switched to talking about taking the perspective of others. Sam knows that people are sometimes scared of him because he’s different.
I asked, but he had forgotten when that had happened to him back at North Central Texas College. A female classmate befriended him over several weeks and then freaked out when he asked her if she wanted to go get some lunch. (Isn’t that what college friends do? Or have times changed that much?) A school official told Sam that the classmate came to them for help. They told him to stay away from her. I was stunned that they viewed her as more vulnerable than him. I still am.
And yet, this is what he said about riding the train, or hanging with friends, or otherwise being out in public:
“I don’t ever want someone to be afraid of me.”
America, you might work on that. You are really stupid afraid these days.