Autism is the Cinnamon in our "Makaronia Me Kima"
Some have reached out asking why I’ve been silent on autism awareness day. The truth is, it has not been a purposeful silence – we have been ridiculously busy and we just moved – but I’ll admit, with three children on the autism spectrum I felt pressure to do something for the sake of doing something and that’s when I reevaluated the “why.”
A lot of themed “days” and “months” put the onus on the ones struggling to come out and do a jig like some kind of Epcot center, around-the-world taste test sampler platter of struggles. Like a performative show-and-tell allowed at a certain time, when the moon is in a specific zodiac or critical degree, and the stars are aligned and shooting blue light and doing synchronized puzzle piece formations.
But the issue is that once the display is finished and the designated time slot has passed, autism is expected to go neatly back into its box in the back of the closet for the rest of the year while the rest of the world goes on business as usual.
But it’s not just that. I don’t believe autism is something that can be compartmentalized into “day” or a themed month or year.
Autism simultaneously makes time turn inside-out and upside-down on its axis and then stand still; spin in circles, stand on its head and flap its hands.
Autism awareness is being twirled and squeezed and compressed and integrated and disembodied and re-imagined – then stuck to yourself, then ripped from yourself – like a piece of taffy being pulled and stretched and obliterated then folded together over and over again.
This has been the first year where “autism” and “our family/lives” have existed together, as one, and not as two competing trains on parallel tracks.
This is the first year where I haven’t felt like pushing. I haven’t felt like selling merchandise, promoting my books, or having a fundraiser and donating to the proper cause, or waiving my arms frantically to signal that we are drowning.
Because this is the first year we’ve begun to tread water and even realize we can float.
This year is the first year we are just going to be – a big fat autism family – like we always are, day in and day out.
It’s like asking: what do you cook on holidays? Your answer will vary widely from what you cook everyday. And if you ask an autism family what they cook on holidays, it’ll be what we cook everyday: microwaved Dino nuggets and Gogurt pouches with a side of of Dorito dust garnish.
Autism isn’t a group holiday, it’s our everyday.
My Nona used to make an easy everyday dish, called Makaronia Me Kima (noodles with meat sauce). But she made it very rustic, as an easy, throw-together dish. Lots of families have an easy meat-sauce they have adapted to basic daily cooking.
While browning the meat, she added the usual suspects: garlic, onion, olive oil, oregano. But then, to my surprise, she snuck in a dash of cinnamon.
“Cinnamon?” I was in shock. It seemed so out of place and quirky for a typical Greek dish.
“It adds character…but nobody will know where it's coming from,” Nona said.
But that dash of cinnamon was the sine qua non that brought out all the other flavors. The depth of the garlic, the breadth of the onion, the sweetness of the tomato, and the tang of the bit of milk.
I am absolutely certain that if that dash of cinnamon wasn’t sprinkled in at the last minute, there would be no Kima – at least not in my memory.
To this day, when that cinnamon hits the browning of meat, I am brought back to her kitchen. I am reminded to always add a dash of the unexpected, and take chances on the one thing you are almost certain could never fit.
We could all benefit from allowing that unexpected spice into our everyday kitchen, and not just to our holiday kitchen. It brings out the authenticity of our true selves.
Autism is our cinnamon in the Kima – the wily spice, in the everyday grind.
The necessary, unnecessary, conspicuously incongruous spice. The strand of copper electrifying everything we do.
The outlier that makes everything come together – as though it was the plan all along.