Everyone’s Special Space

Our bookstore could not do without its cleaning lady, Heather. Heather has three important functions: keep long-term grime from accumulating; remove and regroup immediate clutter; and intimidate us into general tidiness that won’t slip below a certain level.

She performs each of these with dignity, grace, and humor. And the cats love her.

Heather and her husband David have two boys. Reese, their older son, is autistic. The family lives about four doors down the street, and once when David brought him in for a minute, Reese started one of those fits that all parents of special needs children dread. The one that looks like a tantrum but is a natural part of how this child is hardwired. The one that looks like bad parenting to people who can’t hear the music the family is dancing to.

Having spent a lot of my storytelling career working with special needs kids, I told David then, “Look, if you’re worried he’ll hurt himself or unlearn behavior you’ve been working on, that’s one thing. But if you’re afraid he’ll upset us, don’t worry.” That was years ago, but it’s created a space for Reese ever since.

reeseSo when the family got ready to lobby in DC for the March of Dimes campaign this year, Reese came to the bookstore to “practice” public etiquette. He was asked to ask before he touched knick-knacks, to stay away from the fridge and microwave–his two favorite bookstore items–and to sit down for a minute at a time. All of which he did well.

It’s hard for the Reeses of this world to get space for practicing, let alone just being. If you want to read a great article about “public space” and the autistic angle on “separate but equal,” Heather reposted one from the March 16 http://www.slate.com: “Where Should Special Needs Kids be Special? Tricky Questions about how to share Public Spaces.”

Meanwhile, Reese and the family are welcome anytime at our bookstore–and at Malaprop’s in Asheville, where the family surprised us by coming to a book talk I gave there. Reese did his signature bird tweets for most of the talk, and nobody in the audience minded a bit, because they’d been told ahead of time who Heather was and what Reese was likely to do.

It’s just one more reason to be proud of–and support–small independent bookstores, because we (as in community bookshops) get what the article author Amy Lutz said, “But what I keep coming back to is that community, by definition, is inclusive. Ideally, our public spaces should accommodate everyone.”

Amen, sister.

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5 Comments

Filed under bookstore management, folklore and ethnography, small town USA, Uncategorized

5 responses to “Everyone’s Special Space

  1. Marge Simmons

    Thank you, Wendy and all.
    Above all the gentle understanding of autism is vital to our country’s future.

  2. Rick Davis

    Great, humane, and important post!

  3. Love you guys (dust bunnies, kitty cats, and puppy dogs included). Thank you.

  4. Excellent post by caring and kind people. And what better epitaph could any of us really ask for?

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