Sunday, August 23, 2009


At church, we sit in front of the widows' pew. I'm not sure how we got to sitting there every week (or, for that matter, why there is a pew where all the widows sit). But now it's our weekly spot. While most of these women are lovely people, there is one who is a bit grumpy. I'll call her Julia. In different settings, I have heard her complain about the way young people don't go to church and that things are not as they once were. She has a tendency to steer conversation away from the topic at hand. She also goes on and on. For these reasons, folks at church get a little impatient with Julia. I'll admit that I have gotten a little irked with many non-sequiturs.

Julia has every reason to be grumpy. She grew up in Holland and was run out of her home during World War II. After coming to America, getting married, and starting a family, her husband did some thing awful. It's still whispered about in this small community. I honestly don't know what it was. But it must have been bad on his part and devastating for Julia. Really, I can't blame her for being grumpy. She hasn't had an easy life. Now, she lives in a retirement community not far from our house.

Sometimes, Martin's tutor takes him to visit some of the widows at the nursing home. Martin and his tutor draw a bunch of pictures and deliver them to the older women. Martin has visited Julia on several occasions. Last week, on their visit to the widows, Martin asked if he could take Julia out for ice cream. Martin, the tutor, and Julia all went out together.

In my experience as a parent of an autistic child, I have found that older people can be the most unforgiving of bad social behavior and the most likely to think that Martin is simply retarded. Maybe autism is too new and strange for them to get used to? I'm not sure. But I have had moments where older people look at Martin and me, silently seething at the loud child with a mother who can't or won't control him. I have had times when old people ask me if Martin is "just slow."

This morning, Julia tapped Martin on the shoulder. "I have something for you," she said. She reached deep into her humongous purse and pulled out a big plastic ruler. On it were pictures of the presidents from Washington to Clinton. "I found it in the thrift store," she said.

I couldn't believe that this. I'm always thought of her as the grumpy old lady who you talk to and wonder if she is capable of listening. But this woman remembered that Martin liked presidents and picked up a gift especially for him. I underestimated her capacity to pay attention and express caring for others. In the end, I guess I'm the grumpy and insensitive one.

I guess I'm gonna have to try to change that.


  1. It was just mentioned at our church this morning that taking childern to visit the elderly in nursing homes is a great idea...even if you think your child will be bored or not want to go...Kudos to Martin for bringing out the best in an old woman who is probably grumpy partly because she is lonely! And kudos to her for seeing in Martin a great kid! (even though I think it is quite easy to see that great kid...and I can't imagine why anyone would think I might be a bit prejudiced!)

    Love, Martin's Aunt Jeanine

  2. Post, after post, after post ends up resonating, stretching or helping me in some way or another. You and Martin are such wonderful teachers. You have given me a window into the daily struggles of a friend... but you and Martin have also taught me so much more. Thank you.