The sun is barely peeking over the hilltop before me and my inbox ping tells me someone was thinking of me – loves me – thinks of me when they rise. In my excitement for words and encouragement, I see it’s a meme. It’s a meme for cancer awareness. It’s a cute meme for cancer awareness that looks nothing like the cancers I’ve seen.
The awareness is what gets to me. I have an autism awareness magnet on my car. It was important to my kids, but it wasn’t my thing. Yes, I have kids with autism, and it’s important for others to learn about, but I’ve been spending years making people autism aware at restaurants with tantrums and meltdowns over textures and sitting in boredom.
We’ve had grocery trips where the casual shopper suggests a spanking might help, and I informed her you can’t spank away a disability and frankly I was bothered by her violent streak. Her compassionate suggestion to help get my kids in line turned into blatant curiosity which turned into verbal diarrhea because people rarely know where their thoughts become weapons, and the science she saw on television just insulted the gene pools of two families without the excuse of a nameless face because she was looking at mine. I remembered a good friend telling me, “we can’t be angry at someone’s ignorance. We have to give them our pity.” I was so enraged I wanted to deliver that pity with a right hook. Instead I plastered on what I hoped was a smile and tried my best to inform her that it doesn’t matter how autism ended up in my home, it’s my job to see my kids through life in a way that will release whole adults, unbroken by the world. I’ve made family aware of autism when the meltdowns and self inflicted head punching meant we had to leave early for holidays to find respite at home where the holidays are in submission to first Thomas the Tank Engine and now Minecraft. I loved watching traffic from my last job because the little cars reminded me of Hot Wheels lined up but not played with.
I’m still becoming autism aware when in my hope to be “the world’s best mom” as proclaimed by a stranger in Target, I walked in with a Playstation 4 and was greeted with a meltdown instead. I should have known that Playstation 4 doesn’t support Mario and Dad has a Wii U, why can’t we? Dad promised him two houses mean two of everything and my literal kid took that literally. Kid1 and Kid3 love it as it collects dust because they don’t actually want to play it or sell it, and being job free means telling kid2 the new 3DS he wants will have to wait even longer.
Cancer ripped through my grandfather and he didn’t win. His pride and protection would belie the pain in his body when I would call and he’d in turn call out for his Mrs. to talk to me. Later I would lose my husband’s grandfather. There was a powerful moment where we sat side by side toward the end of his life. He was on oxygen and struggled to speak. He told me how amazed he was that his generation would do what they did, and his granddaughter with dark skin would sit next to his fair skin and blue eyes and we’d openly share love and respect. This granddaughter healed a life born to regulated bigotry and gave him great grandsons whose bloodlines held his Heinz 57 and my blood line that is both Thai and Black and if you ask my dad, Choctaw, Sephardic, French, and Mexican too. I have a heritage which includes the many slave owners and illicit affairs that would mix my features until I look Samoan or Indian. I type this and still mourn the loss of the only grandfather I was able to visit when I wanted because we weren’t separated by states and his love for me resonates like his loss was just last week.
The face of cancer has also been worn by my sister and grandmother, but they fought and won. I’ve had friends lose hair and fight sickness and they not only survived, but they are thriving. They are healthy now, but they’ve faced death and emerged with an appreciation for life that is a wonder to witness. My oldest has a friend with a Dad who is sick right now. When he asked about cancer, these are the faces I tell him about. This is the awareness I share.
We live out awareness in the ways we share who we are and in the reflections of our lives and how we let our struggles color our smiles. We face each day in bravery and see grace where we look for it and the peace that we allow in our hearts gives us patience.