I’m not very good at asking for help. I don’t ask often, and almost never for help that I really, really, can’t do with out (I’d hate for someone to feel pressured). I find a way. I let my own work go undone or just do everything half-assed or late, or not at all.
Asking for help is a struggle. If there is any sort of negotiation, I back out if I can, and I sure won’t ask again. It’s not out of spite, at least it’s not always out of spite, it’s something else. Being down just reinforces my own warped belief that I should be able to manage alone. I’m learning that this is something I have to work on.
Last Sunday was our block party. My boys were thrilled. ALL the kids were out; and since our block is heavily populated by large Orthodox Jewish families and since multi-family dwellings outnumber single family homes two to one, ALL is a lot, like, dozens of kids. A fire truck comes and lets the kids climb into the cab, and an inflatable jumper sets up shop for an hour or two, people set up games and share treats. But the thing that the kids get the biggest kick out of is that they can ride their bikes in the street because traffic is blocked at both ends.
Coincidentally, the next block over was having their party too. Before our jumping jack arrived, they had a giant inflatable slide, a water slide, my oldest claimed, he wanted to go check it out, but I put him off. The party was about spending time with neighbors and he couldn’t do that on the next block.
We were discussing this as I was closely following my five year old who was peddling down the street. I paused to introduce myself to a woman who recently moved in up the way. I asked big brother to shadow little brother and to remind him when it was time to turn around— he was headed toward the busy cross street. Big brother argued for a moment, seeking clarification on how long he had to babysit, could he check out the slide after, could he have a soda? I shook my head and told him that I needed him to watch his brother a now and turned back to my new neighbor.
A moment later I heard a shout. I looked up and was running full sprint, dodging kids and bikes and anything that was unfortunate enough to stand between me and my nightmare. The Boy had cast his bike aside and was running toward the giant inflatable slide on the next block, undeterred by the flashes of cars on the cross street between the slide and himself. I shouted for him to stop, I ran, and simultaneously questioned whether we could catch him in time.
My older son got a hold of his brother's arm ten feet or so from the intersection. I was there a moment later, praising one child and reminding the other, in a falsely calm voice, that he may not run away and streets are not safe and cars can hurt him and he must come inside now because he MAY NOT RUN AWAY!
Though outwardly I did not loose my cool, inside I was sick and worse, confused that I had run past many adults who could have interceded, but didn’t step in to help. Now, they avoided looking my way as I half marched, half dragged my son up the block. I was angry. Why had no one tried to help? It had been clear that we were chasing a small boy as he ran toward the street, but it was as if we were alone despite the crowd. What kind of neighbors were these?
Inside, I tried to catch my breath and slow my heartbeat. My eyes burned as I told my husband what had happened. I was scared, angry and—as the story unfolded—ashamed. Ashamed because once I could think, I knew why no one had helped, why everyone had looked away.
Because they didn’t know. Because I have never told them. Because I had never asked for help.
Sure, I’ve mentioned my son’s diagnosis. I’ve never hidden it. But generally I’ve assumed that either word got around or that my boy’s behavior would speak for its self. Most typical five year olds don’t sing “We are riding our bikes! We are riding our bikes! We are riding our bikes!” as they cruise down the sidewalk. Most don’t hang out windows pretending to be Astroboy, just before he learns he can fly. For that matter, typical five year olds can usually walk from car to house without being led by the hand. Heck, on our block, they’ve been playing outside unsupervised for at least a year.
But I presumed too much. Whatever people might have noticed, they have been careful not to jump to any conclusions. Whatever I’ve told them, they have kept to themselves, lashon harah, literally “bad speech,” including gossip, is avoided and condemned in the Orthodox community. If I want my neighbors to acknowledge that my son has autism, if I want them to keep an eye out for him and intervene when necessary, I must be explicit, I must ask my neighbors to help me keep him safe.
There’s no shame in asking. The shame would be not asking for help. And if my life had not been touched by autism, I might never have known.