November 9, 2011

Love Thy Neighbor

Posted in Life's Little Moments tagged , , , , at 10:46 am by autismmommytherapist

I adore Halloween. The truth is, like my birthday, the revelry surrounding this holiday endures for an entire month, and if I could, I’d extend it all year (once again, much like my birthday). The love and reverence I feel for All Saints Day extends all the way back to the early days of my childhood. My devotion was ramped up considerably by my voracious reading about ghosts, goblins, and all manner of haunts, usually conducted with a contraband flashlight in my bedroom. It culminated with the excitement of wearing my mother’s homemade costumes in our town’s Halloween parade, the memory of which shames me, as my kids’ spooky-wear always hails from a plastic bag (thank God I scrapbook, otherwise he guilt would consume me). In short, I’m a groupie.

Last year, I even dubbed myself the Halloqueen. I am that serious.

I don’t think it’s possible for me to devote just one blog entry to this fabulous holiday, so I’m going to give you a bit of a preview here (I know, I’m such a tease), and I promise to regale you with the entire month’s events shortly. Today, I’m just going to focus on the grand denouement of the day itself, and a realization I came to as we paraded throughout our neighborhood, me and my mother, each with a boy in hand.

In addition to loving Halloween (and who doesn’t?!), I really love my neighbors.

It will be six years ago this January that Jeff, Justin and I left Washington, DC for the suburbs of Jersey, and I will say that the relocation did not occur without some trepidation on both of our parts. My husband and I had lived within the shadow of the White House for over fifteen years. Our social lives, and most of our friends, were encapsulated within the confines of the beltway. We’d both gone to grad school there, had taken our first stabs at “real” employment in our nation’s capital. For some odd reason, I never got lost while driving throughout the city (which frankly was another reason I mourned leaving the area). Fortunately, our family had the luxury of choosing where we lived, and Jeff and I both knew moving back to the Garden State would afford Justin more educational opportunities, as well as more access to family. We were grateful we had a choice.

But in some ways, for me, returning to where I grew up felt like a step backwards.

I quickly got over it, in part because I was insanely lucky my spouse could move two hundred miles away and keep his job, and in part because this was the best thing for my kid, and really, it’s supposed to be (at least in part) about him. Our first few days in our new residence were literally spent digging out from the mountain of paper our moving company had wrapped our treasures in (I recall thinking that if Justin hadn’t been at my mother’s, we would have lost him in the house). I’d had ambitious plans of getting out to introduce myself to the neighbors, but there was always another box to unpack, and since our son would be returning to us in seventy-hours, organizing became our priority.

I need not have worried, because our across-the-street neighbors came by with their lovely children and chocolate donuts (I immediately liked them), and the hopes that we had a child close to their kids’ ages. I remember my heart clenching a little as I realized our sons were in the womb at the same time, but knowing that unless my neighbors’ boy liked to spin things, he and Justin probably wouldn’t be playing together. I didn’t divulge our situation then, just thanked them for much-needed carbs, and a promise to visit soon.

Then Justin came back, six therapists from Early Intervention started working with him, and I barely left the house again until February.

It finally occurred to me after a month of hibernation that the families surrounding us might be curious as to why we only came outside to get the mail. One day, when I noticed a few of the locals were gathered across the street, I gathered a bundled Justin up in my arms, grabbed a few brownies from a box I’d managed to throw together, and took the plunge. We walked over hand-in-hand, and I introduced both of us to the gals. I explained that we weren’t in the Witness Protection Program, and that the cars constantly rotating outside our abode were from Early Intervention. I divulged that Justin had autism, and waited to see what their response would be.

Honestly, they couldn’t have been more kind.

The initial precedent that was set has endured for the past six years, and has ultimately included Zachary as well. The women in our corner constantly ask how the boys are doing, and genuinely want to know the answer. I know, without having been told, that the people in closest proximity to us have discussed autism with their kids, and told them to remain respectful to my boys, to always say “hi” when they come int contact with them. I’m also confident that if anyone ever spoke in a derogatory manner about my progeny, these same children would defend them to the hilt. I happen to have the great fortune to live in a community where children are still taught to have compassion.

Believe me, I’m lucky on that front too.

I realized that lately I’ve begun to take this universal compassion a bit for granted, and I shouldn’t. My Mom reminded me of how fortunate we are on Halloween, after running into the neighborhood clan on our trick-or-treat extravaganza, as ballerinas, witches, and monsters paraded past us with the sole intent of satisfying that devilish sugar fix. The woman who had initially welcomed us made a point of stopping, complimenting the boys on their costumes, and wishing them a happy holiday. She made mention of what a good boy Justin was at the last house, looking people in the eye, standing patiently, and taking only one candy when the bowl was proffered. She also noticed how happy he was to participate. These are all things he and I have been working on for years, small goals that have finally come to fruition. The other moms noticed too.

Validation and chocolate, hand-in-hand. Why wouldn’t I love this holiday?

I’ve been extremely lucky these past eight years in terms of Justin’s progress, and the community at large. There haven’t been more than one or two stares or comments directed at my boy, which I attribute to the work of the autism advocates who came before me. That universal acceptance has helped, given me one less burden to bear. The fact that I live on a street where my boys are not only tolerated, but welcomed, has meant the world to me.

And now, as Halloween comes to a close (sigh!), I just want to say thanks.


  1. M said,

    Loved this!

    We too feel welcomed by our community & still work to help new people understand our son’s Autism but we feel the acceptance & the belonging. It actually occured to me how lucky we were when we attended a birthday party of our dear friend’s daughter who lives an hour away from us with her mom. Our son & our friend’s son were both in attendance and are both affected….both also were made fun of by some less than compassionate party attendees. 😦

    The two big sisters of the boys felt sad but happily our friend’s daughter quickly spoke up that the boys were her friends too. She then told her peers to stop making fun of them. It inspires me to have my daughter’s Principal call to tell me my courageous daughter has leaped to the defense of yet another special needs child being mainstreamed on her bus. It warms my heart to see how my son and his peers slowly but surely help more & more kids (like our friend’s daughter) learn to accept them, love them and tolerate them just as we all do everyday. Who says you have to be able to talk to be a good friend right?

  2. Chad said,


    :O) Lucky you and lucky them! Great post!

  3. Louise van der Meulen said,

    I am so happy for you and them:-)

  4. Dawn said,

    We are one of the neighbors mentioned in the blog and we are so glad you are one of our across the street neighbors! Our children are fortunate to see first hand that not all children’s needs are the same and because of this I feel they are more compassionate children. Both of you go above and beyond and I know the bond your family holds will always be special! You have both earned your gold stars and the boys couldn’t have asked for a better mom and dad and we couldn’t have asked for better neighbors!!!!

  5. Shivon said,

    Sounds like heaven….your family deserves all of the kindness and understanding in the world 🙂

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