Growing up, I was always a goody two-shoes. I consistently got good grades when I was in elementary, middle and even high school, usually straight A’s. I rarely got in trouble of any kind, and have a terribly guilty conscience when I do break a rule or offend someone. I have a bachelor’s degree (which I earned Magna cum Laude) and a master’s degree. My only run-ins with the law have been a couple of speeding tickets, which I promptly paid. I go to church, don’t smoke, and have never done drugs. I do have a few vices, of course. I drink sometimes. I swear a bit, especially when I get frustrated or annoyed. But generally, I think that most people consider me an upstanding citizen – someone who is fairly wholesome, follows the rules, and stays out of trouble. So what on earth got into this girl-next-door in September when she walked into her first tattoo parlor ever and walked out with a tattoo?
First of all, getting a tattoo was not a spontaneous decision for me. It was something I had been thinking about doing for some time. I can’t really pinpoint a moment or an event that caused me to first think about getting one. But sometime last spring, the thought crossed my mind, and I was intrigued. I couldn’t stop thinking about it, so I started browsing the internet for ideas and printing out pictures of tattoos that I liked.
And of course, I was looking at pictures of autism awareness symbols. Because, like it or not, autism permeates every single aspect of my life. Not a day goes by where I don’t think about autism. Heck, not even an HOUR goes by. Every decision I make, from the important things in my life to all of the mundane tasks I do, is rooted in autism. For example, if we want to go out to eat as a family, there are only a handful of restaurants that we can choose from where there will be something on the menu that SB will eat. If I am going to stay home and cook dinner, (which is most nights) I first have to check the calendar in the morning to see which therapists are coming to the house at what time that day. Then I can decide if the chunk of time I will have is appropriate to cook something from scratch, or make something from the freezer, or just microwave leftovers. With 2 children who each have therapy 2-4 times per week, some days I get confused and don’t even remember which therapists to expect. Other times, I think that I will I have time to cook from scratch, but then get caught up in a conversation with the therapist and burn the broccoli to a crisp. (SB already hates broccoli. He REALLY hated it that night!)
And then there’s soccer. I can’t think about soccer without thinking about autism. I know, I know, millions of Moms and Dads across America are busy taking their kids to soccer practice and soccer games every week. But I have extra steps to think about, like coordinating which ABA therapist will come to my kid’s practice each week to help motivate him to participate. AND I have to bring a big bag of Goldfish crackers and a digital timer to his games. My husband or I stand on the sidelines at the games, timing 3-minute intervals so that he knows exactly how long he has to participate before he can come out and get Goldfish for a reward if he actually tried to chase the ball, didn’t stim, and didn’t pester the other team’s goalie during that 3-minute interval.
And what about parking lots? Because of autism, I worry constantly that one (or both) of my kids will just BOLT! I never know when one will decide out of the blue to take off across the parking lot with no awareness that running across a parking lot is dangerous. Of course I tell them to stay close to me, to only walk along the edges, but it doesn’t matter. They either don’t hear me, or they don’t remember. So every time I choose a parking space when the kids are with me, I always make an effort to find a space next to a sidewalk if possible. That way, I can quickly herd them to the sidewalk, making it less likely that they will get hit by a car. In fact, this issue is always the very first thing that pops into my mind when someone tells me that they are expecting a third child. “But you only have 2 hands! How will you keep 3 of them alive in a parking lot?”
Autism also permeates my work. Of course, I am thankful to have a job. And I am EXTREMELY thankful to have a job with insurance that covers ABA therapy for both of my kids. But I also feel trapped, and sometimes this gets me down. I couldn’t afford to leave this job even if I wanted to. There aren’t that many insurance plans out there that cover ABA therapy, and there is just no way that my family could afford to pay for ABA for 2 children out of pocket. (If you want more information about the costs of ABA, check out “To the Senate Armed Services Subcommittee on Personnel.”)
I’ll stop now, but I think you see what I mean. Autism is EVERYWHWERE in my life, in every decision, all day long. It’s only appropriate that I be branded with an autism awareness symbol. It actually seemed natural to me, like putting a heart on a Valentine, or a candle on a birthday cake, or an American flag on a flagpole. As soon as I started thinking about getting a tattoo, I just knew that what needed to be on my skin was a picture of red, yellow, and blue interlocking puzzle pieces.
I’m also quite sure there is another reason for my desire to get a tattoo that has nothing to do with autism. I’m about to turn FORTY! And for some reason, I am really, really dreading it. I’m not exactly sure why, but I just don’t want to be 40. When I think about it, it makes me depressed. There is something about the 40’s to me that sounds so…OLD. It’s like I’m worried that I won’t be fun anymore because I won’t be young. Thinking about turning 40 makes me want to go do wild things like go drinking and dancing until the sun comes up, or spray paint graffiti on an overpass, or drag race in the street with a muscle car, or…..get a tattoo.
I guess I decided to be realistic. I can’t go drinking and dancing until the sun comes up – I get too tired to do anything after 11 pm these days. And I generally think graffiti is disrespectful. I don’t own a muscle car, and my minivan isn’t going to win any drag races. So maybe that’s why I decided on the tattoo.
The interlocking red, yellow, and blue puzzle pieces are a pretty universal autism awareness symbol. The butterfly is also used as an autism awareness symbol. I walked into the tattoo parlor with a folder full of designs that I had printed from the internet, and the tattoo artist (his name was Karl) created an original design for me by combining features of several of those pictures into one design. I chose my shoulder blade because the goody two-shoes girl is still there inside of me, and she wanted to make sure that the tattoo would be in a location that I could hide with normal clothing if I needed to dress professionally, like for a job interview. Yes, it hurt a lot! But I’m really happy with how it turned out. However, I don’t think I’m going to be able to stop that pesky 40th birthday from coming in November.