The afternoon air was filled with the hint that the end of summer was coming to a close. I was on break from Georgia State, and decided to spend my days back home in Dalton with my parents, instead of trying to graduate a year early.
This one particular day was perfect for filling up my tank with gas, grabbing a cup of coffee and a Pop-Tart, and paying a visit to my sister’s house to take my niece Samantha, and two nephews Christopher and Harley to the park.
My parents, Jack and Sharon, decided to meet us there; I knew this was code for, “We will bring food and drinks.”
As soon as I get to my sister’s house, Samantha comes running out the door screaming, “Aunt Sarah, Aunt Sarah!’ She has on her favorite Hannah Montana t-shirt, followed closely behind her is Harley, who is trying his best to out talk Samantha. He wants me to come see his new dog. As I listen to both children, I glance back toward the house looking for Christopher, but he is nowhere to be seen.
I walk inside. Both Harley and Samantha are still talking; my sister tells me that Christopher is in his room, and not in the mood to go to the park. I walk down the hallway to his room.
He is sitting on his Cars Steve McQueen racecar bed putting together a robot of some sort. He looks up at me, and then back down to his toy. I take a seat beside him and start talking to him.
He doesn’t respond. He is fully focused on placing each piece of the torn apart robot back together. It’s in a million pieces, but as time elapses the pieces are forming a robotic image. I’m amazed. I would not even know where to begin, but for Christopher, tasks like these are simple. He finally has it all put together and hands it to me. He begins to start swinging back and forth with his arms stretched out in the air. I have grown accustomed to this, as he was diagnosed with Asperger’s, a form of autism, when he was 7-years-old. He is now 13.
I tell him about all the fun things to do at the park like walking, swinging and chasing Harley and Samantha on the playground. He continues to swing back and forth. I ask him if he is sure he doesn’t want to go; he says nothing. I get up to leave, and kiss him on the forehead. Before I leave his room, I turn back and tell him that Pawpaw and Nana will have pizza there. He leaves the room, and I follow. He has decided to go with us.
The park is about 10 miles away, so we talk about the upcoming school year, the latest Disney movies, and Samantha reciting her ABCs.
When we get to the park, my parents are there with gooey, cheesy pepperoni pizza. The kids dig in. Even Christopher doesn’t hesitate. After our tummies are full, the kids beg to go to the playground. I nod and they head that way. My parents and I sit and watch as they mingle with other kids.
I notice that even Christopher is running with another child, a much, much bigger child. He is running and flapping his arms in the air. Then I notice, he isn’t running with the bigger child, he is running away from the child. This big bully is chasing after Christopher, and pointing and laughing at him.
Before I think twice, I am up off the bench and in the face of this big built playground bully. I’m warning him to back off, telling him that if he wants to stay on the playground, he will leave Christopher alone, or I will start pointing and making fun of him. The kid looks terrified and slowly backs away. I know I shouldn’t have threatened a child, but instincts overtook me.
I see an adult coming my way, and I can only think that it must be big bully’s mother. I was right.
Before she even starts, I (still mad and ready to fight) throw up my hand and tell her she needs to start watching her kid, and teach him how to behave. I walk away.
Then it hits me, “Where’s Christopher?” He is sitting alone under a set of monkey bars. I go to him and sit down. All he says is that big bully goes to his school and that he’s embarrassed.
Then the inner rage hits me again. I start asking Christopher if big bully bothers him at school, and a plethora of other questions. I get no response. I stop with the questions, lean in and hug Christopher and tell him I’m sorry for embarrassing him in front of his schoolmate. After a long pause, Christopher tells me he loves me and that he wants to play.
We decide to go back to the main playground where Samantha and Harley interest Christopher in a game of hide-and-seek. As I’m walking back to the bench where my parents are sitting, I notice big bully and his mom leaving. A slight smile comes upon my face.
I sit back down on the bench and my parents’ look at me alarmed, and slightly astonished. I cross my legs, glance at my parents whose mouths are still open, and say, “What, I took care of it.”
Instances like these happen all the time. A child who is slightly different gets picked on for circumstances that are out of their control. That day in the park, I decided that I would be a voice for my nephew; I was not going to stand for this type of abuse. Christopher is a strong and smart child. He has been dealt many difficult challenges in his life that have not been fair, and I admire him for being so courageous through it all.
He is not an autistic kid, but a child who loves his two younger siblings, a child that can solve any kind of math or science problem, a child that is sensitive to his surroundings, and a child that is perfectly normal in my eyes.
Yes, he may have autism, but everyone has something that they have to deal with on a daily basis; my nephew is no different.
Christopher is now in sixth grade, a member of Boy Scouts, and has recently been named to his middle school’s track team.
Meanwhile, I sit back and watch him grow, and I have even managed to let him handle some of his own problems. I won’t be there to always fight off big bullies for him, so I’ve found that it’s best if he knows how to handle it for himself, sometimes.
Either way, after that day, he and big bully, know that his Aunt Sarah has Christopher’s back.