Sep 17, 2013 8 Share

Busman's Holiday

Funnel cake stand at fair.
Photo by Liane Kupferburg Carter

“Will there be funnel cake?” I asked my husband Marc.

 “What’s funnel cake?”

“No idea,” I said cheerily.

It was a sunny, no-humidity, not-a-cloud-in-the-sky day in August; Marc and I were going to the Dutchess County Fair. I was looking forward to some “just us” time. A day away for the two of us, where, by tacit agreement, we weren’t going to talk about autism.

I consulted the brochure. “Horseshoeing … weaving … chicken clucking and rooster crowing contests … husband calling? I think that means yelling, ‘Soo-weee’ to the hogs, not ‘Ralph, pick up your dirty socks.’”

We held hands as we passed through the gates onto the midway, stopping to gape at the food concessions. Fried Oreos. Fried pickles. Chocolate-covered bacon. “And this is why America has an obesity problem,” Marc said. Virtuously, we split a Greek salad.

After lunch we strolled through livestock pavilions. Mickey would have liked seeing the animals, I thought. But I knew that the music, the crowds, the rides and games would have driven him into sensory overload. I could imagine him fearfully eyeing the oversized stuffed animals and asking, “Do they move? Do they talk? I’ve had enough!” I remembered the time we’d taken him to the Northern Vermont State Fair. He’d been so terrified of a policeman on horseback that he’d bolted.

We were standing by a pen filled with goats. Suddenly a tall boy shoved in front of us, hung over the fence and thrust out a handful of hay.

A man grabbed him, and hissed, “Stop it! Say ‘Excuse me!’”

 “No problem, it’s fine,” Marc said amiably. Autism Radar: both of us recognized immediately that this boy was on the spectrum.

“Really, it’s fine,” I repeated.

I don’t know if the man—I assumed he was the father—heard us; he was still reprimanding the boy. I heard exasperation. Anger. Shame.

I wanted to offer reassurance. To tell him how we of all people understood. Please don’t apologize, we’re not like all those strangers who roll their eyes, I wanted to say. He’s not misbehaving, he can’t help it. Our son used to do the same thing. But I couldn’t find the right words. I didn’t know the right words. I was afraid that instead of offering support I’d embarrass him. Or worse, make him angry. I looked around; a woman—the boy’s mother?—stood nearby, eyes averted.  

I suddenly remembered a time I’d taken Mickey to see his big brother Jonathan play clarinet in a school concert. Initially, Mickey had sat quietly. I’d felt relieved, believing he was actually blending in. That no one was staring. Then Mickey began to squirm and talk to himself. I handed him a picture book. A Beanie Baby. A bag of pretzels. He kept squirming. I started to panic. If I couldn’t pull something out of my bag of tricks fast, Mickey was going to disrupt his brother’s concert. I knew the woman beside Mickey was watching, and inwardly I shriveled. I saw her reach into her purse; then she handed Mickey a loop of string.

“Thank you,” I whispered. I wondered if I should I say more. 

 But I didn’t have to.

 “I have a son with PDD too,” she said.

 Autism Radar.

Later that day at the fair, I saw the boy and his parents again. They were walking between exhibition halls; the father was holding the boy’s hand. So familiar, it made my throat ache.

I wanted so much to tell them, “It gets better. It will be ok.” But I didn’t know that, did I? How could I? That was my family’s truth, but every family’s journey is different.

Marc reached for my hand and squeezed hard. We didn’t say a word. 

Comment Options


Simply and beautifully

Simply and beautifully stated..Thank you again!


What a beautiful piece~

The lady was so lucky to have found you on that day.


Been there, done that.

All of us that know and love someone on the autistic spectrum have been in your shoes.  Beautiful post about a typical situation that we've all lived through.   I love your writing, Liane.  Your compassion and love shine through each and every words. Cathy Chester


My 19 year old son has

My 19 year old son has developed into a wonderful young man and we are so proud of him.  We learn everyday in our society how people react.  I do not have enough fingers or toes to count on to explain the times when I wanted to shout out to people....... "yes, my son does have special needs, and that is why they call it SPECIAL, because they are!"


I so understand

I get it. Really.  Oh my. Isn't it hard and beautiful and extraordinary and terrible? yup.... I get it.



I almost deleted this forwarded email. I'm so glad I did not. I teared up because you put into words what our family went through every day. We have a 19 year old son who is our sunshine. It does get better, don't lose hope. Keep loving them. In the beginning you live with this fear that they will lose control and people will stare or make comments about how you should raise your children. All this because they "look" normal. When my son was diagnosed you never heard about autism, except in textbooks in psychology class. Now it's almost popular to say you know someone with autism. Nowadays when David ticks, giggles in public for no apparent reason, or goes into a Spongbob dialogue I just smile, kiss him on the cheek and tell whomever is staring " Autism, this is what it looks like."


Busman's Holiday

I was deeply moved by everything this piece had to say, and everything it didn't need to say. Brava once again, Liane.


Liane -What a beautiful post.

Liane -What a beautiful post. Thank you so much for sharing that day with us. I've had so many moments with my autism radar picking up other families, other moms and dads in similar shoes. The truth is, we can never truly not talk about autism because autism is all around us, right? =)