I Love Being Fat

by Emily Smith

I’ve never told anyone that before. In fact, I’m not even sure I believed it myself until recently. Now that the holidays are behind us, weight-loss resolutions and new diets crowd our collective consciousness like Thanksgiving leftovers in an overwhelmed refrigerator. But why? Is it really so important for one’s silhouette to lack its occasional lumps and bumps? Is it worth the dinner dates missed, sweets unwrapped, Christmas teacakes uneaten? Is all that effort and worry really worth a physique that’s never even seen as “good enough” once it gets there? What kind of a way to live is that?!

If your answer is different from mine, please don’t worry about it. You’re entitled to your own feelings. But at least in my own experience, the answer to that question is “totally not worth the commitment. Being fat is awesome.” For real. Putting away all the holiday candy and ornaments never makes me think “oh shit, I’m super flabby now and that’s AWFUL.” I mean, I am super flabby now, even by my lax personal standards. Happens to me every single year, actually. But what of it? During the holidays, everyone cooks and eats and laughs together. We indulge in gift-giving and booze and eating red-and-green peanut butter cups whenever we damn well please. It’s the most wonderful time of the year.

Granted, I don’t want my fatness to get in the way of living. I don’t want to be inconvenienced by excess bulk; I don’t want to die before my time. I’m not even opposed to getting into better shape. There are just two things that everyone in my life needs to know, and will not change.

One: I absolutely, unequivocally, do not want to be thin. That’s not a knock on anyone who is, and it’s not a value judgment on body shapes of any kind. Thin is not my shape. “Stocky” is the thinnest I get. And that’s fine.

Two: In fact, it’s better than fine. See title. “I Love Being Fat”! That’s a true statement, and I don’t even have to justify it. I will anyway, though, because I live in a world where mere neutrality towards fat is considered subversive, and unless you’re reading this article in the very distant future, you probably live there too. So fasten your seatbelt. I’m warping us somewhere else.

I wouldn’t really be me if I weren’t fat. I wouldn’t relate to the world in the same way. I’d hardly understand my own body. There’s supposed to be a nice protective slab of fat all over it, and while other people might value me less for that characteristic, I don’t actually want my body to be that different. More muscular, perhaps, or more flexible. But skinny? Never.

Fat is for comfort. It lets a person lie comfortably in most any position. It’s perfect for long hours of idle chats with friends, tabletop gaming, and giving lots of excellent hugs. Fat is for loving and snuggling. Fat is for satisfaction and fun. Ever heard the phrase “fat and happy”? It’s mostly true. Because fat is for happiness.

I genuinely feel like my personality is conducive to fatness. I’m an accomplished cook, a lifelong gamer, and a family loyalist. I eat what I like, play when I can, and love whom I want. I prefer Sunday morning to Friday night. For me, all that is improved by a little extra give in the waistband. It’s here to stay.

I love being fat. If you let yourself find out, maybe you’d love it, too.

Forbidden Fruits

by Emily Smith

I’d like to take a detour from our usual program and call attention to the insights of another young artist, Lily Myers. She wrote an amazing slam poem earlier this year, one that any female/feminine listener must hear and understand with such immediacy; in three and a half minutes, Ms. Myers describes virtually all the accumulated hurts of our gendered lives. Even the third-party title of this link lays bare that stricken nerve: “Watch A Student Totally Nail Something About Women That I’ve Been Trying to Articulate For 37 Years.”

I cannot do it justice alone. Here it is.

Lily Myers Slam Poem worth spending 3 1/2 minutes of your life watching.

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If you identify as masculine, as a boy or man, I won’t exclude you in addressing this piece. In fact, it seems even more important for women to share this with you, the men in our lives. We love you to bits, but it hurts us when you don’t notice our frailties. Sometimes we need to hear that it’s okay to try for bigness. That permission can make a world of difference.

We feel small in our skins because men fail to notice our suffering, but also because other women don’t corroborate our feelings. Shrinkage is a hard problem to articulate; by its nature, it makes itself unseen. Despite the commonness of the struggle, nobody shares it. I doubt most women could have unearthed the raw emotion that Lily Myers exposes here, let alone denounce it as she has so bravely done.

We all face demons when occupying physical space, and I am no exception. Emotional eating is my ceaseless plague; all told, I’ve yo-yo’ed through sixty full pounds between June of 2009 and today. I currently weigh 190 pounds, nowhere close to ideal for my 5’3″ frame. However taboo or artless that may sound, my honesty feels right.

More taboo and artless honesties still to come, in what I hope will evolve as a series on gender and the autism spectrum. Today it seemed more important to cover a neurotypical base, a sort of default or control group for later contrast. Despite that, Asperger’s remains relevant. Stay tuned.

I never forget that my non-Aspergian female friends and family members understand demons, too. I count the following, nameless yet identified, among them:

  • A gluten-free vegan who does daily battle with both Crohn’s Disease and anorexia nervosa, quite the courageous “true, young and pure girl-woman” as she once wrote
  • A strong, fit teen who still went from designer sample size to an 8 within the space of a year (since grown womanly dimensions have this tendency to occupy more space, now don’t they?)
  • A gender-fluid female who resents her tiny hourglass waist — she would feel far more at home with a svelte, boyish cut of the body
  • My über-feminine high school gal pal whose body mismatches her indelible sense of self as a woman, and who makes a classier lady than most who are born to it

These women have so much more to offer the world than only their insecurities. Yet over the years, I’ve found I can best understand other women by considering them as self/self-image paired units. I confess to feeling awful about this; the women I know and love are full and dynamic characters. They make brilliant discoveries, speak vivaciously in many languages, seize control of their creative projects and build their own lives. Surely such positive traits should serve to identify them.

But no.

The body parts a woman hates, the workouts she despises but does anyway, the foods she’s convinced she absolutely must not eat— these are the facets of her character that prove as form-fitting and impossible to dismiss as her shadow.

We tell ourselves that beauty only goes skin-deep, but that hasn’t been true for a long time. Not since the summons of a seraph with a flaming sword. Not since the paradise where nakedness knew no shame. Not since two lovers sharing an apple marked the end of the world.

The Top 5 Reasons I’m Thankful To Be the Mom of an Aspie

By Jill Wilbur Smith

People sometimes ask me if I wish there were a cure for Asperger’s. It’s a tough question, and, for me, not one that has a yes or no answer.* Do I wish that I could magically eliminate Emily’s challenges? Of course. But I have the same wish for her neurotypical sister.  In some ways, wishing I could cure Emily’s autism is like wishing I could “cure” her blue eyes.

Emily has many gifts that I believe she wouldn’t possess if she weren’t on the autism spectrum. If she didn’t have Asperger’s, she wouldn’t be the uniquely talented person she is. If I weren’t her mom, I wouldn’t be the woman I am, either.

This season of Thanksgiving reminds me to take time to reflect on the wonderful things I’ve experienced as Emily’s mom. Here are five things that make me thankful for my beautiful Aspie.

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1. I’m thankful for the unique lens through which I get to view the world. Living with Emily, I’m often reminded that the way I experience life isn’t the same as the way others do. I’m grateful for the moments of clarity that illuminate those differences. Emily challenges me to expand my way of thinking. Some of the most rewarding experiences as a her parent have been those times when, instead of me pushing her to conform to social norms, she’s forced me to let go of my conventional way of thinking.

2. I’m thankful that Emily possesses a staggering intellect.

When Emily was 5, she told my sister, “Did you know that an elephant’s trunk can hold 10 quarts of water.”

“How do you know that, Emily?” her aunt asked.

Emily sighed and said, “Oh, Aunt Terri, I have a lot of knowledge.”

She, indeed, has a lot of knowledge. She fascinates me with the things she remembers and the insightful way she connects disparate facts. I truly believe that it positions her to be able to change the world.

3. I’m thankful for every moment of frustration I’ve experienced as Emily’s mom. Every time I’ve been exasperated that she couldn’t tie her shoes/ride a bike/pick up her toys/trick-or-treat/drive a car/join in a conversation, has helped me grow as a mother—and as a human being. I’ve come to understand that my frustration during these times pales in comparison to how frustrating life can be for her.

My co-workers often marvel at how calmly I manage office drama and challenging situations. “You’re so patient,” they say. I want to answer that I’m not patient, I’m accepting. Patience implies to me that I’m willing to wait for the other person to “come around,” to see things my way. What I hope Emily has taught me instead is to be empathetic.

4. I’m thankful for Emily’s amazing creative talent. At 9, Emily decided to play the piano. Within two years, she’d outgrown her piano teacher. She plays the euphonium with an unexpected tone and quality and more emotion than you would think possible from a large brass instrument. She has perfect pitch and a pure singing voice that often brings me to tears. She’s a great cook. And, at 22, she writes with a voice and in a style that I’m not sure I’ve achieved at more than twice her age.
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5. I’m thankful for how often I’m surprised by my quirky, nerdy, talented, beautiful girl. Life is always interesting with Emily. We sometimes face challenges that others might never encounter. But we also have many moments of great wonder and joy. I wouldn’t trade my life with Emily for anything in the world.

(*I know we’re lucky. Emily’s place on the spectrum is far from the most challenging. I’m grateful for that and I know that our experience isn’t that of others.)

 

Each Day Thereafter

by Emily Smith

It’s Tuesday, like lots of other Tuesdays, and my old-lady pillbox needs filling again. You know the kind. Garish translucent plastic you can’t misplace, white large-print letters you won’t misread. Days of the week, pills of the day. I feel like I’m far too young to have one. Still, I have one. And today is Tuesday, like lots of other Tuesdays, which means it needs filling.

Seems simple, really. Take the bottles out of their plastic bin, cart them five feet to the bathroom, and pour out twenty-one tablets and capsules— seven of the former, fourteen of the latter. But at twenty-two, I balk at the idea that foreign agents serve as my body’s stopgap measures. I’m no bedridden invalid. Not to put too fine a point on it, but taking pills sucks. It means you’re old.

The pink progestin tabs, dressed to kill in their slim teal pack, soothe my singed pride a little. After all, they’re as tiny and rosy and round as the babies I’d rather not have. Every twenty-something’s best friend. Young people’s medicine. The pack suits them just fine. My other pills, the ones I think of as old-people pills, are not like that. They remedy more serious ailments.

The grainy beige wafers are Singulair, seven of them. The label says take it at bedtime, but I prefer morning. They’re for asthma; they provide a small but consistent baseline of control. My inhaler’s effect is more dramatic than it is lasting, and in truly senescent fashion, I often forget to use it. Hence, beige pills.

The capsules are smooth, green glass with miniscule black lettering: E 88. They might as well read “fulfillment,” “optimism,” or even “discipline.” They’re fluoxetene, generic Prozac. The label instructs me to take one for the first seven days, and two each day thereafter. A week into the full dosage, I feel like myself again. For the first time since last February, the me in the bathroom mirror looks happy by default. Given the last three fiascoes, I’d started to wonder.

I still have some half-empty bottles, and whenever I refill my pillbox I end up looking at them. I should probably throw them out. They’re half-expired and it’s bad form to keep random drugs around. Regardless, there they sit in the bin by my dresser, bull’s-eyes gathering dust, still ringed with the childish green plastic that marks them as mine for eternity.

Citalopram resembles nothing so strongly as Tic-Tacs, and I give the bottle a shake out of habit. It really did flat-line my depression, for a while. Too bad it also flat-lined my other feelings. The first week I took it, I suspected it might do nothing. By week three, I couldn’t stand all the nothing it did.

Sertraline is next in the Target Pharmacy bin of shame. I stayed with this one long enough to refill the pillbox a handful of times; I even took it on vacation once. I loved the look of those smooth, blue bullets. Over the weeks, though, unlikely but plausible self-harm situations began parading through my head at all hours. What if I slipped on a steak knife? Walked into traffic? Pulped my whole arm in the garbage disposal, jammed my house key in an electrical socket, and then poisoned myself with an obscene amount of anti-cavity toothpaste?! The list grew increasingly frantic, deadly, and absurd. Soon every household object in sight wanted to kill me. Bullets, indeed.

Terrified of my morbid imagination and convinced that no drug would help, I feigned happiness. The bottle stayed in its bin; the same fourteen bullets kept rattling around. You can tell that I stopped from the early date on the label.

There’s no third bottle.

I lied about sertraline for a long time— for much longer than I actually took it, in fact— and that is by far my worst failure. During all those months, I could’ve been feeling the way I do now. Instead, I withdrew from my social circle, spurned my family, took my crappy job too much to heart, and acted pissed off 24/7. It seemed easier than telling loved ones about macabre side effects. Looking back now, it absolutely wasn’t.

Let me be clear. New meds haven’t made me more sociable, even-tempered, or resilient. They do, however, help me stop worrying so much about my pillbox. It’s useful; it’s not the mark of a pariah. It’s a goddamn pillbox. So what.

Today is Tuesday, like Wednesday, Thursday, and each day thereafter.

Social Energy: A Marathon, not a Sprint

by Jill Wilbur Smith

I’m in a book club with a group of women with whom I might not otherwise socialize. It makes for interesting conversation about the books we read, and I’m grateful that I’ve gotten to know them all so well over the past few years. I wouldn’t trade the experience for anything.

But, because these women aren’t my close friends, and because I only see most of them once every 6 to 8 weeks, it takes extra energy to attend the meetings. We meet on Friday night, not always my most vibrant time of the week.

The morning of the last time we met, I was having coffee with Emily and bemoaning the fact that I had book club that evening. It had been a long, trying week at work and I was psyching myself up for the night. I didn’t want to go. It felt like an obligation, not something fun.

“I like these women a lot,” I told Emily, “but I have to prepare myself to meet with them. It takes extra social energy to go to these meetings.”

Emily’s expression changed and she nodded her head. It hit me.

“I’ve just described every one of your social interactions, haven’t I?”

“Pretty much,” she said.

I’ve lived with Emily for 22 years, and this was the first time I really sensed what it must feel like for her to have Asperger’s.

I’ve been in other situations that require extra social energy: going to a party where there are people I’ve never met, teaching a workshop for the first time, interviewing someone about a difficult life experience. But these circumstances don’t occur every day.

For Emily, every day requires the type of stamina most of us only need occasionally. Even interacting with people she knows well can zap her social energy.

I’ve always known that Emily needs extra time alone to “decompress” as we call it. But now I have a little better understanding of why. Now I understand how exhausting it must be for her to go to work, meet with friends, take part in conversation around the dinner table.

When I’m faced with a difficult social interaction, I can usually take a deep breath, fix my resolve and sprint through the encounter. Emily, on the other hand, is running a social marathon. It requires constant training and conditioning.  And the resolve to just keep running, even when the finish line is nowhere in sight.

How Emily Beat the Unemployment Statistics

by Jill Wilbur Smith

Earlier this summer I came across a staggering statistic. According to many sources*, an estimated 83 percent of adults with Asperger’s are unemployed.

I stumbled across this information on the Internet a few days after Emily returned home from college. My initial reaction was panic. “Why didn’t I know this?!” I thought. “Why haven’t we been working on this for the past six years?”

I spent the next 24 hours in a funk, keeping this tidbit to myself while I processed what it could mean for our family. I found blog posts and websites that listed the best degrees for people with Asperger’s, most of which don’t recommend English or Political Science, Emily’s major and minor.

I walked around with a worry knot in the pit of my stomach imagining the worst.

Then I got real. My sensible husband helped pull me back from the brink of despair. “What about people with Asperger’s who have a college degree?” he asked. “And who’s the source for the unemployment data?” Good questions. I went back to the Internet.

That search uncovered…nothing. No statistics on how many people with Asperger’s graduate from college. In fact, I was unable to find the original source for the 83 percent statistic, although it appears on many blogs and websites.

So, I decided to ignore the online babel and do what I’ve always done with Emily. Follow my instincts and believe in my heart that she can achieve anything she puts her mind to. Remind myself that her disorder is classified as autism spectrum for a reason. No two people with Asperger’s are exactly the same.

What happened next surprised and overwhelmed me. Emily got a job. Within two months of graduating from college, she landed a full-time job.

I love the story of how she did it. Here’s how it happened.

At my suggestion, she decided to enroll with a temporary employment agency in the hopes of landing an office job while she searched for full-time work. (I offer this advice to anyone looking for a job. It’s served me well in my career.)

On a Monday, she met with an agency in downtown Minneapolis, submitted her resume and took the basic screening tests the agency requires.

On Tuesday, she called her references to see if she could continue to use them for her job search.

One of those calls was to a former Minnesota state representative on whose campaign she volunteered in 2008. He runs a family-owned insurance company near our home. And, he just happened to be looking for a customer service representative to replace someone who was leaving that week. He invited Emily to interview for the job.

On Wednesday, she interviewed.

She started the job on Friday.

Did Emily “beat the odds” of finding employment? Maybe. Or maybe the statistics on the Internet are outdated, untrue or have been misconstrued. Maybe projecting the future for my beautifully complex daughter has nothing to do with numbers, but only with our ongoing journey to explore the many iterations of life that lay before her.

 

*I found one reference to a 2001 study in the U.K., but not the study itself. If you know the original source for this unemployment data, I’d love to know about it!

On Taking Initiative…and Rolling for It

by Emily Smith

My first day of work!

My first day of work!

In this economy, it’s safe to say my family feels justifiably proud of me for having a full-time job. I’m pretty proud of it myself. I doubt, though, that we all feel this way for the same reasons. In the first place, you’re in a radically different boat when you say “my daughter got a job” or “my sister has a job,” versus when you can say “I work this job now.” But more importantly, at least to me, our sources of pride are various.

My sister’s emotions remain a mystery to me. She congratulated me along with everyone else when I landed the job. I congratulated her when she found out that she got her first part-time job. As far as I can tell, she sees me as slightly more “normal” now that I work. It makes sense, I suppose. She has this part-time job as a high school student, and even as a college student, my work experience was limited. Maybe she relates more to my life now. That’s a good thing, right?

If I had to hazard a guess, my mother is essentially proud of me for beating the odds of my peer group, despite autism. Given her past herculean efforts to make me functionally normal, I can’t really blame her for this. “Normal” society tells me this too, but I have an easier time agreeing with them on this than on most other things. A decade of wondering how your child is stunted, what needs to get done to catch her up with the pack, who’s lending her a hand this time, will do that to even the staunchest of advocates. (And yes, Mom, you really are the staunchest of advocates. I love you, and my sister, very much.)

Regardless of their positive intentions, both tend to think in terms of despite autism when I’ve accomplished something. They say, “Emily, you have so many challenges.” I agree, and they’re not minor challenges. Sometimes I wonder, though, if they forget I have gifts, and that those are not minor either. Maybe it’s the curse of adulthood starting to work on me. After all, it’s a common irony that children are universally special.

Conversely, despite the many highs and lows of my relationship to my father, I more often feel gifted than challenged around him. He and I are the other unofficial parent-child pair of the family. His conversations tend to fill up with “did you know that?” or “isn’t that amazing?” rather than “I know! Isn’t that color amazing?” But the exchange of seemingly random facts is our small talk. Don’t judge us; it works fine as long as you’re not hoping to hear about other people’s lives. And it’s safe to say, we never are. No offense, other people.

My dad seems proud of me for practical reasons. Reasons of money, productivity, well-being. Granted, I don’t always get this either. Ten years ago he was telling me to always follow my bliss. He still does, on occasion. At present, it seems like I can’t go a day without hearing how much of my income should make rent (a third of it), how to prioritize my other spending (needs first), and the merits of homemade sandwiches versus increasingly expensive fast food (you know, you can get an entire chicken at Byerly’s for $5.99! A whole chicken!). But hey, I’m still saving up to move out. I could use a nickel’s worth of free advice every now and then. Thanks, Dad.

So what makes me proud of the job? Not the job itself. I know, you thought we’d banter about what my job is like, didn’t you? Sorry, gentle readers, you’re out of luck this time. I’ll get the hang of banter someday. Maybe.

I get to use this job… to figure out other jobs. Yup. Read that again.

Why wouldn’t I just be happy about this job, you ask? Well, first of all, my job is made up of tasks that are easy, punctuated by tasks that are terrifying. For most people, those labels would probably be switched, since I think filling out complicated insurance forms is easy and phone calls are terrifying. But the contrast still stands.

The crux of the matter for me is that I get to use these new skills and this new environment to project myself into the future. I get to see what I like to do and don’t like to do, where and how I like working, and with whom I might eventually work. That’s useful information I didn’t have before.

I’ve always had this ambition to “be a writer,” and sort of vaguely figured the day-job stuff would happen later. Now the day-job stuff is actually happening, and I’m feeling pretty awesome about that. It’s Phase Two of “What do I want to be when I grow up?”

I could write and… conduct actuarial research! This one would be lucrative, plus I’d be awesome at it.

I could write and… work with animals! The kid in me still really wants to fly out to Galápagos and tag penguins FOR SCIENCE! It could happen.

I could write and… do marketing for an RPG gaming company! So far, I like this one best and think its timetable is the shortest. If anyone at Paizo Publishing reads this, I would climb the highest mountain to work with you. Which is good, because you’re based in Washington. Anyway, I love you guys, so roll for initiative. And I guess I should make a Climb check.

Bottom line: This is my first iteration of adult life. And it’s the first iteration of many. The function that drives them: What kind of bliss can I follow, to keep my other bliss alive?

That’s one glorious fractal.

When Hitting the Wall Is a Good Thing

by Jill Wilbur Smith

On a Friday night on the last day of May 2013, I walk into the house to find my husband, Gary, on the phone with Emily. “Can you talk to Emily,” he says holding the phone out for me. “She backed into a wall with the Avalon.”

For what seems like the first time in 22 years (but probably isn’t) I can’t talk to her. Not at that moment. My sense of disappointment and anger is too great. I’m ashamed to admit that. My daughter has had an accident with her car, and I’m too angry to talk to her about it.

It isn’t the first time we’ve received such a call. There was the Good Friday rear-end collision on Hennepin Avenue. The time she swiped an oncoming car in a snowstorm trying to avoid a pedestrian in the road. The incident when a hit-and-run driver clipped her rear bumper on I-94. And the series of calls that her battery was dead until we figured out that when she installed a friend’s bike rack to her car, she not only dented the trunk lid, but broke the mechanism inside that turned off the light. The light inside the trunk kept draining the battery.

IMG_5854My extreme disappointment on this night, however, is because it’s supposed to be an evening of celebration. She’s coming home from college after four years—with a diploma. A great achievement. And something I wasn’t always sure would happen.

For Emily, having an autism spectrum disorder (ASD) has meant that milestones neurotypical (NT) kids her age achieve aren’t always a given. But she has graduated from college in four years, something not many NT students achieve, let alone an Aspie like Emily. Granted, she’s had her challenges, but she’s graduated. And I selfishly want to celebrate her achievement, which I think of as mine, too.

So I hit the wall. I’ve held it together for months, coaxing her through her depression, helping her figure out how to withdraw from a bad living situation and finish her degree. This setback is one-too-many for me. Gary tells Emily I’ll call her back and hangs up the phone.

I pace around the house, take deep breaths, and brace myself to call her back. She doesn’t answer her phone. Or several text messages. My anger builds. Finally, she returns my call.

“Hi, mom. Sorry. I have my phone on vibrate and didn’t hear your call.” She’s calm. Not what I expect. She seems to be taking her situation in stride. A somewhat atypical reaction.

Through a series of phone calls and texts we come up with a plan. Correction. She comes up with a plan—one that involves her taking care of the situation on her own.

My anger has had an unexpected benefit. It’s prevented me from doing what I’ve done for most of her 22 years—swoop in and save her. She’ll work this out, staying with friends at least until Monday when a mechanic can look at the car.

On Saturday, I get a text from her. “In spite of all the hassle,” she writes, “it’s been pretty fun. One thing’s for sure. The day I finished college is one I’ll never forget!”

And neither will I. Although not for the reasons I’ve dreamed about. That’s my life with Emily. Always unexpected. Never typical. Sometimes it takes hitting a wall to remind me of that and to show me that unexpected doesn’t mean catastrophic. Just different.

 

Is Tying Your Own Shoes Really Important?

by Jill Wilbur Smith

This is one of my favorite pictures. I love it for a number of reasons.

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I love it because it reminds me of my dad and his infectious laugh. He’s laughing because—as was typical—Emily has her shoes on the wrong feet. It reminds me of his joyful attitude and his ability to always see the lighter side of life.

I love it because it shows Emily with her shoes on the wrong feet. Silly, I know. But significant. Significant because 1) she was independent enough to put on her own shoes, and 2) it didn’t matter to her that she hadn’t done it perfectly.

In this picture, Emily is wearing shoes that have Velcro closings because, at 5, she couldn’t tie her shoes. A few months earlier, I had worried about this fact in the same way I had worried in previous years about whether or not she would ever give up the bottle or successfully potty train. (Of course, she eventually did both of those things, and reached many other developmental milestones. Just sometimes a little later than her peers.)

Emily has always done things at her own pace. Sometimes behind her peers. Sometimes ahead of them. At 4, she taught herself to read.

One day, her preschool teacher asked her, “Emily, when are you going to learn to tie your shoes?” Emily replied, “I already know how to read, you mean I have to tie my own shoes, too?”

She had a point. So for a while I only bought her shoes with Velcro fasteners.

Eventually Emily learned to tie a shoelace, and she hardly ever wears her shoes on the wrong feet anymore. It’s good for me to look through the lens of time at reminders that things happen at a different pace for everyone.

Life isn’t a race to see who can get to the developmental finish line first. It’s a journey. If I spend all of my time focusing only on what’s at the end of the road, I’ll overlook the things that really matter. I’ll miss out on the moments of joy—like the vision of a fiercely independent little girl blazing her own way through life. And the laughter of a grandfather who is totally in love with her.

 

Odd Ducks Anonymous

By Emily Smith

As a young woman on “the Spectrum,” as all autism-like disorders may be dubbed, I am sometimes frustrated by the degree to which people will prematurely, and incorrectly, judge me as inept in the arena of sociability. Now, before I progress any further on that subject, let me assure you: people who judge me this way are often more correct in such judgments than I would always care to believe. Not entirely correct, mind; they’ve got a point. And as my maternal grandfather might’ve once said, if they part their hair right, it won’t show. A kinder way of saying, you might be onto something, good buddy, but I just don’t give a damn.

I suppose the best way to begin this massive endeavor called the Fractal, might be to make a small personal confession. They say the first step is admitting you have a problem— or, in my case, a quality that occasionally causes problems. As my “gentle readers,” you’re officially part of my group now, so let’s jump right into the chaotic roil. Fasten your seatbelts, everyone.

My name is Emily…

“HI, EMILY!”

And I am an odd duck.

What do I mean, exactly, when I declare myself an odd duck? Well, for one thing, I’m the kind of person who isn’t afraid to use an awkward and possibly outdated phrase like “odd duck” to get the proper point across. If anything, its awkwardness makes the phrase fitting, more opportune, almost charming in a rather dopey sort of way. I’m a painfully honest, right-up-in-your-face word blurter who cannot always restrain her internal dialogue to those safe little thought-bubble clouds that most of the populace carries around out of habit. This affords me a great deal of automatic stress relief, as well as a range of expressive freedoms; at least in the realm of interpersonal calm, I breathe rarefied air. Of course, the flip side of this is that I can hardly swing a dead cat in a circle without smashing into someone else’s delicate feelings. Heck, I might’ve just caught some grief for a dead cat joke there. Wouldn’t be the first time.

I’m also a self-professed geek, which doesn’t usually bolster my “image.” I’ve rolled an awful lot of funny-shaped dice in my time. I more often ponder “a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away,” than “the real world, here and now.” It sometimes lands me in hot water, especially if someone is trying small talk. The world of imagining is big. Not more important; by no means haughty. Just big. Thinking big while talking small, you’ll find, lends a person the look of constant boredom with the world as it actually operates. As repercussions of geekdom go, this is about the only one that sometimes catches me wishing I were a little more “normal.”

Social awkwardness and/or geekness may deter people from learning my true personality, but I make an unswervingly loyal friend. A peer without peer, as it were. For loved ones who approach me with painful scars and burdensome personal secrets, I unconditionally drop my fog. I listen without judgment; I comfort without doubting motives or questioning sorrows. In my experience, neurotypicals rarely display this trait. They seek few social burdens. Perhaps they sleep better for it. How rare and valuable, then, must a seeker of social burdens prove.

My own seeking originally sprang from the fear that my friends were false and would leave me. At least in my youth, they were; and they did. I still fear losing those I love more than is healthy, but my fears more often give way to an appreciation for friendship that few could claim to match. That is what my autism means to me, and what I hope it may mean for others. My oddball exterior, when allowed its foibles, gives way to a gooey center. Call me a friend; it is yours.