crazy lady from down the street

A few weeks ago I was hanging out at home one morning, with Julian playing in the backyard, when a lady rang the doorbell.

The conversation went something like this:

Her: “Hi. I live down the street and I’ve seen your son riding his bike in the street in the last few weeks.”

Me: “Yes…”

Her: “Clearly, he has some problems.”

Me: “His name is Julian and he is autistic, yes.”

Her: “Well, I have two sons and I just want you to know that I don’t want him to interact with my sons.”

Me: “OK. Did he come into your driveway?”

Her: “No.”

Me:  “Did he approach your children or speak to them?”

Her: “No.”

Me: “Ok well riding his bike around our circle is something we have just started allowing him to do and he’s been told not to go into anyone’s driveways or stop and talk to anyone he doesn’t know.”

Her: “My sons are younger and they ride bikes in the street in front of our house and I don’t want him interacting with them.”

Me: “OK”


To say I was a little caught off guard by this ambush is the understatement of the year.  Julian got a new bike a few weeks ago and yes, we have been letting him ride around our neighborhood—with some trepidation. Julian is 16 years old and has the body of a fully grown person. However, developmentally, he’s about 10. He has almost zero ability to anticipate the consequences of his actions. He has no concept of time management. As most people can probably imagine, both of these limitations make sending him out into the big neighborhood a little off-putting for his parents. Which is why we haven't done it until now.

 Mind you, we didn't just unleash him willy nilly upon the neighborhood. He was given a-l-o-t of guidance. We have instructed him to only ride on our street and one other circular connecting street. He is to never remove his helmet. He is to pull over when a car comes to pass, and of course, he’s not supposed to stop and engage with people he doesn’t know. That’s a difficult one because Julian has never met a stranger--he likes people and he’s wildly curious to talk to people.

(We live in a quiet, mostly peaceful neighborhood. Many people walk and bike the streets. There are alot of houses with kids and pets. The neighbors we know, we call friends. It's a really nice place to live.)

I was ambushed by this woman on my own porch and her “clearly he has problems” opening statement. Gees, lady. How nice of you to notice…and what a tactful way you have of putting things. How nice it is of you to let me know that you want to shield your sons from anything that doesn’t quite fit your mold of normal, for whatever reason. What are your reasons again? How very healthy for them. Gosh, I hope you never know what it means to have a child who’s not entirely “normal”.

I’m still confused as to why I needed this “warning” or whatever it was supposed to be. She said he hadn’t entered her driveway or approached her children so I’m confused. If there’s been no interaction, and he hasn’t, apparently, done anything inappropriate, why did she feel the need to preemptively strike at the mother of the boy who hadn't done anything wrong?

Later, after some non-accusatory questions, I learned that Julian had (one time) stopped his bike in the street near her house and sat there for a minute adjusting his iPod earphones and helmet. Her children were riding their bikes in the (public) street. He didn’t talk to them. He didn’t even get off his bike. (Good boy.) But apparently, this alarmed her and merited a visit.

I think about this ambush every time I ride her way down our street. I didn’t know how to react that day because, frankly, it takes me a few minutes to get over that kind of confrontational assault. When I opened the door, I had no idea what she wanted…or even who she was. I still don't, although I did google her and find out a few things. That was my mistake.

Frankly, I think she has a screw loose and is perhaps completely clueless—but whatever. In a roundabout way, she let me know that Julian had been doing appropriate things and not doing things we had told him not to do, even if her delivery left a lot to be desired. I hope she never has to deal with being ambushed by some stranger who starts their conversation with “clearly your child has problems”.  When you have a child with problems, you tend to already know this and you don’t need it announced to you by a stranger. If I had been a little quicker witted, perhaps  when she said "clearly your son has problems", I would have said "He does?"

Then again that probably wouldn't have been helpful.

If she stepped up on my porch today, she would get a very different answer to her pronouncement.

For some reason, even though I have tried to be diligent in my role as protector and shield to my not-so-little-anymore son, I have been through this more times than I care to recount.  People who don’t understand that not all of us function on the same plane and that looks can be deceptive seem to think I need their take on the situation. Sincerely, I don’t.

Just because his body functions (mostly) properly and he’s 6’1”, doesn’t mean his brain has developed the same way yours and mine has. (It's insanely difficult to *see* a damaged brain.) No, he can’t, in fact, tie his own boot strings, despite years of trying to teach him. Yes, he raises his voice to get his point across at inappropriate times. Yes, I help him wipe his mouth after lunch because he doesn’t have the spacial awareness to know or care that there is ketchup on his chin. No, he can’t tell you what grade he’s in.

It’s a special kind of brutal for a parent to endure these encounters with ignorant strangers who feel the need to inject themselves onto your life. (Just ask some of my friends who have adopted children who don't look like them.) I spend much of my life running interference between Julian and the world at large. It’s exhausting. How much more exhausted is this poor woman going to be if she tries to constantly run interference between her children and all the abnormal in the world? And these  bonus incidents, where an unknown and unknowing person heaps  another generous helping of “let’s point out how dysfunctional you are” on me is getting old. I’m sincerely tired of being nice in the face of stupidity. I wish there was a warning system.

Beep Beep. Crazy opinionated person coming at 3 o'clock.

Then I could at least be prepared.

Dear rude lady from down the street.

If you are going to let your sons ride their bikes in the public street, you need to be prepared to have them see other people, who might also be using the public street in our neighborhood for exactly what it’s intended to be used for.  There might even be interaction. (Gasp.) If you can’t handle that…here’s a newsflash…maybe they aren’t ready to ride in the street.

Part of me just wishes I could understand what motivated her...because clearly, I don't. What's she so afraid of? What did she really expect me to say or do? What was the point? Did she get what she wanted out of the short weird conversation?

Now I'm the one who might be clueless. :)



Anonymous said...

Sarah, clearly she has problems! Julian warms my heart every time I see him abd he is a blessing. I'm sorry you have to endure stupidity from strangers more than we will ever know. She, and sadly her sons, are missing out!

Rutledge 7 said...

Wow, I think ignorant does hit the nail on the head. Amazing how some people live in a bubble (their "perfect" world) not to be corrupted by others of us! Not that praying is what you feel like doing right now BUT she does need her eyes opened and her heart softened. I would hope we would not just be a tolerant society but an accepting one... still shocked after reading this!

Anita said...

I love my Julian....and my friend.

KnitterPam said...

I can't believe your neighbor was so rude. I agree - her kids will be shocked if they have no interaction at all with people with any kind of disability, visible or not. We need to be growing our kids up to understand and be sympathetic to people with special needs of any kind.

tnscrapper said...

Invite her to worship service! Sounds like she might need some Jesus right about now. :)

Marilyn C.