A Letter to an Impolite Cowboy

by Jo on July 10, 2014

Dear Impolite Cowboy:

I saw you on the track this morning, wearing your giant hat, walking your tiny dog, sweating through your wrinkled flannel, and I thought nothing of you; just another passerby, enjoying the same space, the same sun, as humans often do.

I jogged towards you, my favorite song pulsating in my ears, my shins sore, my skin hot, my gait slower than some, but I didn’t care because this is where I’m learning to leave it, to pound it out on the pavement, to free myself from fear and give away the guilt and embrace the pain because it’s the good kind and not the kind that threatens to unravel me from the inside out. This is where I’m learning to let go and I don’t care if I go slow.

I felt your eyes before I saw them, and when I finally met your gaze, you were looking at me, past me, through me, reducing me to the rolls beneath my breasts, the extra skin along my arms, the awkward tilt of my hips and before I could pass you, I saw you shake your head and announce loud and clear:

“That’s gonna take a lifetime.”

I made sure I was far enough away that you couldn’t see me anymore before I let my shoulders heave, before I let your words shove their way inside, sink in and saturate me, before I reduced myself to nothing more than the ugliness of a perfect stranger.

“That’s gonna take a lifetime.”

I knew what you meant and even my cells felt fat and unworthy; this big body of mine, the one I’ve used and abused, whether with booze or Nutella, would take a lifetime to “fix” and make acceptable in your piercing, judgmental eyes.

And then I thought of all the things worth the effort of a lifetime:

Loving my husband

Raising my children

Staying sober

Advocating for individuals with special needs



Finding peace with mortality




You’re right. It IS going to take me a lifetime.  A lifetime of hits and misses, a lifetime of outsmarting the excuses that seem to linger alongside my good intentions, a lifetime of convincing myself otherwise whenever I want to give up because the voice in my head is no kinder than yours.

But I can’t think of a better way to invest my lifetime than on myself.

It only took a few seconds before I realized you didn’t have the power to make me cower unless I gave it to you, and so I straightned this imperfect body of mine, turned my music up, put my anthem on repeat, and ran, purging your words and crushing them beneath my feet.

I’m gonna remember you for a long time, but not in the way you might think.

I’m gonna remember the day some jackass in an oversized hat tried to tear me down and it only took a moment for me to realize that I didn’t need to give a shit. I don’t know about you, but I think that’s some serious progress right there.

The kind that often takes a lifetime to achieve.

Which makes me think I can’t wait to see what I accomplish next.


The chick wearing spandex because it’s a free country, who blew past you and made you eat her dust (and can’t wait to do it again tomorrow).



“While I do love my son, I wish we hadn’t had him…. Autism is not a life, it is an existence that hurts everyone involved. I had a retirement to look forward to, now I have a child to take care of until I die and then the government will have him. How is that good for ANYONE.”

The above comment was left on my blog recently and has made my heart hurt so much.

Autism IS a life. We live it everyday. There are many challenges  but LIFE is challenging in general. In fact, my life was pretty bleeping challenging way before my firstborn arrived and was diagnosed with autism. Alcoholism; OCD; Panic Attack Disorder; Agoraphobia; you could say I was pretty damn consumed with these challenges.

It was my children who brought clarity and purpose into my life, no matter what that purpose has looked like.

That above statement: “Autism is not a life, it is an existence that hurts everyone involved.” That’s bullshit. To say that we are merely existing is so far from the truth. We live and laugh and cry and learn and celebrate and crumble and pick ourselves back up again and just when we need it the most, an amazing and unique milestone is met or a new discovery is made (this week it’s my eyelashes, which would be fine if they weren’t attached to my eyes) and we feel more ALIVE than most people I know.

I don’t know this parent from Bob, but I feel incredibly sad for his son. How can you fully love someone if a part of you always wishes they didn’t exist?

I’m also getting pretty sick and tired of people blaming autism for everything. It makes a neat little scapegoat though, so everyone from doctors to teachers to parents to family and friends whip out those fingers and point. Aren’t you guys getting cramps from all that pointing?
It’s not autism’s fault kids get denied the supports they need.

It’s not autism’s fault children like my son are restrained, mistreated, and abused.

It’s not autism’s fault people use the r-word.

It’s not autism’s fault children are forced to spend an entire school day in soiled pull ups until they develop sores.

It’s not autism’s fault students are kept in seclusion rooms, locked for hours at a time, alone and helpless.

It’s not autism’s fault neighbors stare at your child like he’s growing a tail.

It’s not autism’s fault there aren’t nearly enough employment opportunities or transition programs for adults on the spectrum.

It’s not autism’s fault that in the year 2014, segregation is alive and well on public school campuses across the country, with so many of our special needs children kept in back buildings, far away from the general education population because, got forbid, the “normal” kids catch it (By the way, it’s also not autism’s fault that some people believe it’s contagious).

It’s not autism’s fault perfect strangers look at my son and believe he’s not worth the trouble.

Autism may be to blame for many things: Sleepless nights, financial woes, unique challenges which require unique and respectful interventions. I’m not saying it’s a walk in the park and that I bought a cake the day Andrew was diagnosed. But when it comes to so many of the hurdles our families face each day, let’s place the blame squarely where it belongs: On ignorance, prejudice, and a nation that has so much more work to do in order to provide support, services and continued legislation aimed at protecting our loved ones on the spectrum.

And the next time my son is ignored, disrespected, or failed by the system, I’m not going to blame autism.

My finger will be pointed directly at the source

which is most certainly not my autistic child.

Because it’s not autism’s fault, that other people suck.


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