The Bloody Shirt

Routine FTW [Image Description:
Close up of young man with beige skin
& curly short brown hair, looking pensive.]
We just returned from a San Diego vacation -- essentially Camp Grandma. These visits are generally golden times, especially during the summer when we spend large parts of our days as ocean-dwelling dolphins. My mother kindly lets our crew invade her close-enough-to-the-beach-to-walk home several times each year, so we've established routines like daily morning walks to the three round trip miles Best Coffee in San Diego, where Leo's parents can get caffeinated and Leo himself can get a scone.

On our very first day, moments after this happy yellow shirt shot was taken, Leo tripped over a bump in the path. It was an accident, no one's fault. But Leo scraped his knee, elbow, and especially his palm -- the latter badly.

He was upset. And that, my friends, is a mild understatement. There was blood everywhere, and no matter how many times I cleaned his palm (I carry wipes and foaming wound cleanser everywhere, who doesn't), the blood kept coming for a good eternal five minutes. And kept covering his shirt as he kept wiping it off. And then covering my shirt as I tried to comfort him. We were halfway to the coffee shop.

And this is where I did my best to consider the matter from his perspective: He did not want to go back home, he wanted his damn scone. He did not want to change his shirt; he was so upset by his wounds that any additional stressors such as a clothing change (which I also always carry with us) were more than he could handle. Routine is routine, and disrupting routines is bad. So, once he felt able to continue on, we did. Bloody garb and all.

At the cafe, the (always kind and accepting) staff asked us if we needed anything besides caffeine and scones. We said we didn't, and they took us at our word, and we had a very pleasant breakfast. Then we walked home.

When we arrived back, my husband asked me how the walk was. I said it was rough, because it was. Leo and I were both sobbing, at the height of it.

Image description: Young man with beige skin and curly
brown hair, wearing a blue rashie shirt, sitting on the
beach and being enveloped by a crashing wave, happily.
But, upset as I was, Leo was more upset. And he was at my mercy, essentially, when it came to recognizing the actions that would de-escalate his stress (keeping his shirt on, sticking with the original café plan). I had to put my social apprehensions aside and accept that if the café-goers were dismayed because our clothes were bloody, so be it. Out of my control. My responsibility was to Leo. And it all worked out.

We spent that afternoon at the beach. Leo found the waves an excellent distraction from his injuries, though he did ask for kisses from time to time. And a friendly young sea lion paid us a visit, coming right out of the waves onto the beach as though to say "My dudes! How's it going?" The kids were delighted.

Image description: A young dark-brown
sea lion on a beach, next to brown rocks
and facing low ocean waves.
The rest of the day was uneventful. We had a lovely dinner of the grilled grunions Leo's dad and older sister had procured the night before, and I showed my kids how to pull the little fishies' heads and spines right out of their bodies, Predator-style. Mali was both intrigued and repulsed, and informed me that "You'd better hope a giant grunion never decides to eat you." Point taken.

Image description: A white bowl of long silvery-blue grunion
(fish), next to a white ramekin of yellow olive oil and a
green silicone basting brush.
Why am I telling you all this? Well, a friend who is both a Facebook Friend and an IRL Friend -- and who consequently gets to see all those friends-only FB photos of my kids doing all the mundane things I find mesmerizing but which would bore you into nodding off onto your device screen -- recently commented to me that I make autism seem like a lifestyle choice. She did not mean this as a slight.

But we do occasionally get comments on Thinking Person's Guide to Autism Facebook (which, honestly, is where I spend most of my online time these days, moderating the forum and posting curated material) accusing the moderators of making autism seem like it's all sunshine and lollipops. This is bullshit, of course. Autistic people would never claim their lives are without challenges, so I can't say that for Leo either. But even when times are rough, there are choices parents can make -- based on doing our best to understand what our autistic kids needs, as opposed to what we ourselves prefer -- that lead to much happier outcomes for everyone. And that's why I'm bothering telling you so.

And, since BlogHer 14 and its 10x10 project are coming up, I think it's important to note how I would have written about this incident ten years ago. I would have been sad for my poor sweet dude, but would also have hauled his little butt home, despite his protests, and forced him to change his clothes. And then I would have blogged about how hard it all was for me.

Learn from me, don't be me. At least, not 10-years-ago-me.


  1. May I post a link to this post on a website I'm building? It’s for parents/anyone who want to know more about autism and is a doorway to AUTISTIC voices/bloggers and neurodiversity friendly parents/professionals. The website is under construction but the facebook page (Autistikids) is up and running - full of links to the same type of posts. Thank you.

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