Every year on Thanksgiving morning, a big crowd of grown-ups and kids of all ages come trotting down our street. Many of them are wearing costumes, and they are following a jolly looking man dressed in a turkey suit. It all looks like great fun, but I never knew who was organizing the event.
A couple of weeks ago, there was an invitation on the email listserve from my kids’ school. Come join us for the annual neighborhood Turkey Trot! It listed the gathering place and start time.
Because we were hosting a very small gathering for Thanksgiving this year, I thought it would be fun to begin the day with people. The gathering place was just a few blocks from our house, so at the appointed time my son and I headed over.
The scene was festive. A banner was strung across the street, and people were wearing Thanksgiving Day costumes. A group of teenage girls were wearing their High School sports uniforms, and had on face paint. They were dancing on a front lawn turned dance floor. Then I noticed one of them was wearing a Trump/Pence banner tied as a cape around her neck. I felt my spine stiffen.
My son and I stood on the edge of the crowd for a while. G is eight years old, and he has autism. So, while he likes looking at the colorful costumes, and listening to the music from a distance, he doesn’t like being in the thick of things. I felt awkward standing there, but couldn’t enter the crowd because of G. Nobody approached us, so we just stood.
Just then, I noticed several dogs in the crowd. A couple of them were on leashes, but there were two large dogs who were unleashed. G spotted them at the same time I did. “Let’s stay calm,” I whispered to G. “You just stand behind me. If the dog approaches us, I’ll keep it away from you.”
I could feel G’s body become rigid. The dog came closer to us, and G’s fingers dug into my skin as he clutched onto me. Finally, he couldn’t contain his fear anymore, and he started yelling, “Stay away from me! Get that dog away from me!” The tears were streaming down his face. I got down on my knees, and gripped G in an enormous hug, letting his tears splash onto my shoulders. I whispered in his ear until the dog passed, and G’s breathing returned to normal.
Then I looked up.
A band of teenage boys was standing about five feet away from us. “Did you see that kid?” asked one teen to another. “He’s crying and screaming because of a DOG!” The whole group started laughing, and a couple made fake crying noises.
I took a deep breath and pulled myself together. If G sensed that I was angry or upset, he would lose it again.
“Come on G!” I said in the most cheerful voice I could muster. “The Turkey Trot starts now. Three, two, one, TROT!!!” And with that, we started running, leaving the crowd behind us.
My son is eight years old. He makes funny movements and unusual sounds. He often has big, emotional reactions to things that others can manage more easily. I’ve always been worried that he will be bullied or teased some day. However, yesterday was the first time it’s happened in my presence.