Whenever I need courage, I think of my six-year-old son, Lucas. Lucas has an Autism spectrum disorder, and is one of the shyest kids you could ever meet. As a baby, he didn’t like to be touched, held, or cuddled. He was afraid of everything, and I mean everything! The vaccuum cleaner could set off tantrums of terror that would last for hours, and the sight of a stranger would send him into hysterics. As he grew, the fears grew with him. He was afraid of dogs, doctors, his grandparents, his therapists, other kids, and bugs. Especially bugs. The sight of one flying past the sliding board was enough to make him jump off of the side, regardless of whether anyone was there to catch him. Fears are a large part of Autism. Autistic people don’t see the world the way that we do, and as a result, things get blown out of proportion.
One thing that Lucas never feared (and this is simply amazing to me) were my father-in-law’s draft horses. Belgian horses are certainly not the largest of the draft breeds, but they are way bigger than dogs. From the first time Lucas saw these monsters, the kid was in love. At a year old, he was sitting on them. At eighteen months, he was riding alone while my father-in-law voice commanded. At six years, he’s feeding them every night, often going inside the fence and walking them through the muck into their stalls. Of course, he’s got his feet in a pair of trusty cowboy boots. He got his first pair for Christmas when he was two; he wanted to be like Mommy, and Uncle Donnie, who wore their boots constantly.
The first time I heard Lucas say, “There’s courage in these boots,” I was dropping him off at a friend’s house so that I could attend my brother-in-law’s viewing. She was virtually a stranger to my son. My trusted babysitters (my in-laws) were obviously unavailable. That line struck me then, and I remember it often, always wondering, Where did that come from? He never answered me when I asked; instead, he gave me a shy smile and walked away.
I’m a big scaredy cat myself, and I think about that day a lot. Everytime I have to do something distasteful to me, such as giving a speech, or taking a test, or meeting a new person, I look down at my cowboy boots with the gold tips. I think, there’s courage in them boots, and I do what has to be done. I think of my Autistic kid, and how he overcomes his fears every single day: getting on the bus to go to preschool, then kindergarten, and now first grade, the constant struggle of keeping up with the work, and how he’ll approach a dog now, when they used to scare him so much.
The other day, I had to give my first ten-minute speech for Professional Speech at Keystone. I was terrified, talking a mile a minute to my husband about standing in front of the class, forgetting my speech, and just generally feeling sick. He reminded me that I could do it; after all, I was giving a speech on the history of Harley-Davidson. How could I go wrong? He said that Donnie would be proud of me. Then, he told me to go look under our bed. There, in a box hiding under my side of the bed, were a shiny new pair of cowboy boots, black with silver tips. I brought them out, and slid my feet in, one by one. He told me, “Donnie always said there was courage in those boots.”
Then, it dawned on me. Where my son had learned it, and where he had gathered so much of his strength from. I fought back the tears that threatened to overwhelm me because I had forgotten such a vital part of my brother-in-law. How could I have forgotten his strength, and the chuckle in his voice when he asked my son, “There courage in them boots, buddy?” How could I forget the warm look in his eye when Lucas would excel at something, and the steady hands that guided him in fixing the broken porch step when he showed an interest in tools? How did the everyday become today?
Life moves so fast. The wound heals with a shiny, pink scar, but underneath it festers like an abcess, ready to burst through at the worst of times. I gave that speech, and although I froze during my introduction, and I forgot some things I wanted to say, I gutted through with pure grit and a tapping boot. In the coming days, as I have presentations to make, graduate school applications and possibly interviews to complete, and the GRE’s to take, I’ll take Donnie with me; I’ll draw strength from my son, and I’ll have courage in my boots.