As I was walking to my car, a bumper sticker on a car in the next row caught my eye.
“My kid has autism. What’s your excuse?”
I found myself thinking how incredibly handy that bumper sticker would have been when Max was between the ages of four and twelve. Man, did that ever sum it up.
Intrigued, I peeked into the car. There was a woman in the driver’s seat, on the phone. Without analyzing my behavior, I walked over to the passenger side, leaned down and caught her eye, making the universal “roll down your window” sign. She did.
“I just had to tell you that I love your bumper sticker.” I began, continuing “I have an almost-21 year old son on the spectrum.” Unexpectedly, I choked up and tears filled my eyes. “So many years, so many struggles, so much progress,” I continued as she smiled and nodded knowingly. Then she pointed behind her to a boy, seven or eight years old, in his booster seat.
“This is mine,” she said proudly. “Max, can you say hello?”
The little boy smiled through missing teeth, waved and said “He-llo!” in a high, singsong voice. I said hello in return, telling them MY son was named Max, too. He was blonde like your Max and mine, Chris; had those eyes, Terry, that we have always said are so recognizeable.
We said goodbye and I returned to my car. I can’t find the words for what I was feeling: a combination of familiarity, nostalgia, sadness, and a sense of inevitability, too. So many Maxes. So many children, born every day into families who together will find themselves walking a road they never knew was on the map. All to experience so much misunderstanding from others – misunderstanding that calls for a bumper sticker.