Riley the Red Nosed Girl
I believe most of Gen X is familiar with the Rankin/Bass production of Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer. Every year after Thanksgiving we would scour the TV Guide listings looking for it among our favorite Christmas specials, hoping not to miss our once-a-year opportunity to see it. We made sure our parents were familiar with it and now, as parents ourselves, we’ve shared it with our children.
In fact, it is a favorite of my daughter Riley. She LOVES it! She was even watching it this morning (yes, it’s July and yes, I’m OK with that). On this watching it occurred to me how great it is as an analogy for our family.
Riley’s red nose is her myriad developmental delays and unusual mannerisms. Riley is unable to hide her quirks under learned “typical” behaviors anymore than Rudolph can hide his glowing nose under a prosthetic. Tyler is more like Hermes. Although Tyler doesn’t particularly care about dentistry, his unique perspective and ability to hyper-focus on one area (currently music) to the detriment of everything else is much like Hermes’ obsession with dentistry. His desire to fit in leads him to do things that make him stand out even more. Hermes makes a doll that needs dental work and Tyler scribbles haikus on his notebook covers. It’s creative. It’s unique. It’s almost-but-not-quite something that Santa would approve.
So what’s up with Santa? He represents mainstream society. He expects absolute conformity and bullies the misfits into going away so he doesn’t have to acknowledge any differences that make him uncomfortable. Mainstream society is, likewise, unaccepting of developmental delays or hyper-obsessions. Society expects everyone to fill a pre-determined role or to stay out of sight.
Our misfits also find themselves running from the Bumble, in our house his name is “Autism Spectrum Disorder”. Riley’s developmental delays are more significant so it’s more like the Bumble being attracted to Rudolph’s nose. Tyler’s obsessions help him “pull the Bumble’s teeth”, so to speak. He can use the Asperger’s to overcome his challenges in unique and wonderful ways.
But our misfits don’t have to face their Bumble alone! They have their very own Yukon Cornelius to help them on their quest! That’s right, kiddos! Mom and Dad will do anything to help! We’ll hold the Bumble down and help you pull it’s teeth. Or take you to appointments and lessons and sit through countless meetings with schools, therapists, doctors, etc. We’d happily push this Bumble over a cliff if we could.
Some days the best we can do is give you your very own Clarice. Clarice is non-judgemental and loves you perfectly no matter what for just exactly who you are. Tyler has his piano while Riley has Glad, her cat. Everyone needs someone to love them, even misfits!
I’m sure all of you Rudolphs, Hermeses, and Yukon Corneliuses out there fighting your own Bumbles have come across the Island of Misfit Toys. Every school, therapist, specialist, organization, or support group that says “we’re a safe place for special needs families!” And then says “oh, but not your diagnosis, age group, or geographic location. Good luck!” qualifies. I know I’ve been there. Repeatedly. How about you?
Then at the end of the movie Santa realizes that even dentists and shiny red noses have a use in society and all the other reindeer and elves dutifully fall in line, accepting the gifts that our very forgiving and consistent misfits have been offering the whole time.
My hope for our kids is that they find the same kind of acceptance. I have no doubt that they will show the same kind of love and forgiveness.