One of “Those” Women

I had just returned from touring colleges with my son, Andy and ran into some friends at Peet’s Coffee.

“Did he have any favorites?” one asked politely. “Well,” I said, “he loved Yale. Princeton and Brown are possibilities, but right now, it’s between Yale and Dartmouth.”

“Good for him”, she replied halfheartedly, and I felt my face flush. Had I become one of “those women,” the kind of woman I promised myself I would never be?

I thought back to the day I was in the cookie isle with Andy’s older brother, Matthew, who is autistic. Matthew was in second grade at the time and in a special education class. A pair of women that I knew from Matthew’s preschool days stood in front of the Oreos gushing that their boys had been accepted into our local school’s gifted student program.

“Wow, that’s great!” I said bravely, holding the hand of the boy I loved so much who faced so many challenges. Was he invisible to them?

Matthew, I knew, would never be in a gifted students program, or have to choose between Yale and Dartmouth. His choices would be more humble, though no less noble than his brothers. When Andy was accepted into the gifted program a few years later, I kept my mouth shut–the day in the grocery store was still a recent memory. As my boys grew older, I heard mothers boasting about their children’s accomplishments and remained silent. I learned about AP classes and sky-high test scores. When my friends with disabled children gathered we often discussed the insensitive behavior of “those women”. We didn’t want to hear about honors classes when our kids were still struggling to tie their shoes.

But as Andy approached his senior year, a friend warned me that college talk would soon take over. “Not after what I went through with Matthew,” I told her, but I’d already taken the plunge. As soon as Andy’s SAT scores were out I was sharing them–with just a few people. In no time, his scores would be all over town. “He’s taken three AP classes,” I gloated “and will take 5 next year. I hope he still has time for soccer. It’s his second year on varsity!” I was on a roll.

But the look on my friends face after my college tour high put me back in the cookie isle holding Matthew’s chubby hand. The grief flooded me once again, and I wondered how could I let myself forget it.

Andy is now a junior at an Ivy League School and Matthew graduated this past June from a special school in Pennsylvania. He’s starting a new chapter of his life in Santa Cruz, where he is an important part of the community of disabled people he lives with. I applaud each their steps forward and support their challenges-but I do so in private.


Laura Shumaker ( writes on Fridays for

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