I want you to know that even though I’m old and wrinkly and my back hurts when I sit too long, run too hard and stand too much, I once was a teenage girl. I swear to God, it’s true. And I remember, how hard it was to be a teenager…even back in the old days…before the Internet…before Snapchat….before "tweeting" meant anything other than a sound a bird makes when it's happy.
Yeah, there was a time like that. I know, right?!
Even though we are decades (many, many decades) apart and the world is a very different place, I still remember how uncertain I felt going from a little girl to a young woman. I remember wanting so desperately to fit in, to be part of the crowd, to wear the right things, to say the right things, and most importantly, to do the right things. Sometimes though, the right things weren’t always so right. Sometime “right” meant cool, popular, trendy or what every other single teenage girl was doing so help me God I had to do it too. Sometimes “right” was wrong.
I can even remember when right felt wrong, but, doing it anyway. I remember there were times I was so consumed with me and what I wanted, what I needed, that I’m sure I failed to see what others wanted and needed around me. I’m sure there were kids in the lunch room, on the bus and walking the halls that were also trying to do the right thing. Kids who desperately wanted and needed to feel accepted and seen as much as I did and who longed for me (or anyone) to take the focus off myself for just one second, and look up and see them. I’d like to think that sometimes I did look up because the alternative fills me with shame.
I know that there have been plenty of times this school year that Ryan has so desperately wanted someone to look up and see past themselves and see him. To look up from their phone, to smile at him in the hallway and to offer him a place at the lunch table. Autism makes initiating connections difficult, but, he wants that connection, that feeling of belonging as much as you do, even though his actions may speak otherwise, or frankly, not speak at all.
You "ladies" (as Ryan respectfully calls you) have looked up. You have smiled. You have offered him a safe haven in a cafeteria full of people who are trying so hard to be right that they often don’t see when they are wrong. I get it, I truly do, like I said, being a teenager is hard and that’s why I am so grateful that you have taken the time to look outside yourselves, to look up and see someone else, to see him. You will never know the impact you have made on him and on me.
Ryan does not want you to see a label. He does not want you to see all the ways he may be different, he wants you to see all the ways he is the same. You have to look up to see that, and thankfully, you did.
And the best thing about you looking up, you have found a friend who will literally and figuratively always do what is right. He will never lie, he will never pretend to be someone he is not, he will never gossip about you, he will never intentionally hurt your feelings, he will respect you, protect you and most importantly, he will value your friendship in a way many others won’t because friendship is something he has worked so hard to achieve so he will never, ever take you or your friendship for granted.
So as his mother, the old lady who once was a wrinkle-free teenager who could sit, run and stand without needing Ibuprofen, words can’t express my gratitude that you ladies took the time to look beyond yourself and to see my son. I have known for a very long time all that he can offer as a friend, I’m glad that you took just a moment to look up and discover him too.