“One more story mommy”, said my daughter before bed.
I am holding the book labeled “A great read aloud loved by teachers and parents. ”
Chrysanthemum doesn’t have this label for nothing. Immediately she whispers “Mommy, I am Chrysanthemum!” I smile and say, “You do like this story don’t you?”
“She’s absolutely perfect” her parents say when Chrysanthemum was born. Her name must be everything that she is. Her name sounds perfect to her. Her name looks perfect to her. She is sunny, bright, and imaginative and skipping along each day of life. She thinks she is “absolutely perfect”.
This does not mean Chrysanthemum is stuck up or self- centered. She has learning and growing to do and a self assurance to gain. Yet, she is perfectly living life happy and appreciative and being who she is because that is what she needs to do. Then, duh duh dum…., there is name calling on her first day of school.
This is the part in the story my daughter recites well. During role call there is giggling at the sound of her name. Then all kinds of no so perfect remarks follow:
“It is so long.” says so and so.
“It scarcely fits on her name tag.” says another.
“I am named after my grandmother” says a know it all, as though that fact gives way more credence than being named after a flower. Her absolutely perfect feelings turn into dreadful, droopy, and wilting feelings. Chrysanthemum has bad dreams and dreams that help her feel a little bit better. After all the name calling and giggling towards her, Chrysanthemum works to have the same confidence her parents have in her. “Oh pish!” they say. (A great word that I will keep in my pocket for someday.) “Your name is perfect.”
The story’s happy ending is that not only does this little girl think that she is absolutely perfect. She in fact KNOWS she is absolutely perfect. With the help of a music teacher, Mrs. Delphinium Twinkle, the lesson of uniqueness is learned. The sound of your name is the very announcement of the uniqueness of you. A marvelous lesson learned. Chrysanthemum gives the most timid child a boost.
The name we chose for my daughter happens to be after her grandmothers not a flower.
“Absolutely perfect” is what we said when my daughter was born. Then she grew and grew and developed and then didn’t develop. She delayed. She wasn’t perfect. She wasn’t typical. She was autistic.
I bear the most blame for thinking of her mostly as autistic. Many a times, have I introduced both my kids by first stating their names and ages and then a descriptor. This is my son- he’s 4 going on 69. This is my daughter – she is six and is mildly autistic. It is positively sinful, shameful, awful, and inexcusable. I blame others for seeing her that way or not accepting her as a whole person. I assume the school system will always see her that way. I have complained that the label of ASD will follow her all throughout school. I have felt that outsiders including teachers, kids, and even friends and family will always see her as ASD. This very thought boils my blood. But I am my worst enemy when it comes down to the labeling.
My daughter is a Chrysanthemum. She is absolutely perfect. She sees the joy and delight in things I might belittle. Sunny days are great but I am not breaking into song over them (you know like Curly from Oklahoma). There is a hearty laugh at things like someone making a big splash in a pool. I might scream – “too cold”. There are declarations such as “Isn’t it a perfect day!” or “Wow mommy look at the butterfly!” There is running in the woods with a mile wide smile and a smooth stick at hand. There are expressive readings of any fairy tale. The enthusiasm for cracking an egg and watching the yellow slime ooze out is contagious. The mermaid she becomes in the water is imaginative. The singing confidently in the mirror is glorious. My daughter is everything that she is supposed to be.
My daughter has learned all of her letters and sounds enthusiastically. She remembers all the names of her friends at school. She can ride a bike nearly without training wheels. She taught herself to swing. She makes connections like “Hey I know what we should do. We should take the yellow food coloring and make the pink lemonade yellow! ” She can hit a tennis ball high to the rooftop. She appreciates the beauty of a sunset. My daughter is all that and more.
The cruel and awful world and I see her all too realistically and imperfectly. Voices tell me she isn’t perfect. She is not typical. She is autistic. Yet, she is who she is. Who she is absolutely perfect. I do not mean she never makes mistakes. I do not mean that she is the easiest child in the world to raise. She will wither, wilt, and droop. She will have autism the rest of her life. No cure and forever a Spectrum Kid.
It is high time that I realize my daughter is another Chrysanthemum. She is not a label. She is more than that. She is everything she is supposed to be. She is absolutely perfect. She doesn’t just think it. She knows it. “Mommy, I am Chrysanthemum.” she told me that night. In that moment that declaration whispered to me a new and necessary revelation. She is as Kevin Henkes put it, an “indescribable wonder.”
“Oh pish” I say to the ASD label. She is absolutely perfect. I don’t just think it. I know it now too.