Tear-Water Tea

An autism moment.

By Rose Ernst

Photo by Kevin Mueller on Unsplash

“Owl took the kettle out of the cupboard. 

‘Tonight I will make tear-water tea,” he said. 

He put the kettle on his lap. 

‘Now,” said Owl, ‘I will begin.’

Photo by Clem Onojeghuo on Unsplash

It usually begins with restless energy. 

After meandering through a fog of unfinished emails or a long walk, I know it must be time for tear-water tea. It must be time to grieve something — the death of a loved one or simply the weight of the world.

Instead of Owl’s teakettle, I reach for my headphones and music. I’ve had this ritual for as long as I can remember. In retrospect, it seems obvious that it happens after long periods of masking or too much steady stimulation.

I put on my headphones, sit down, and prepare to cry.

Owl sat very still.

He began to think of things that were sad. 

‘Chairs with broken legs,” said Owl. 

His eyes began to water…

‘Spoons that have fallen behind the stove and are never seen again,’ said Owl. 

More tears dropped into the kettle.

Arnold Lobel is best known for his children’s stories about Frog and Toad. Though I loved all his stories, Owl at Home was always my favorite. 

Owl is a solitary sweetheart who makes friends with the moon and tries — and fails — to do the same with winter. He fears the bumps his knees make in bed when he falls asleep and struggles with the existential dilemma of being unable to be upstairs and downstairs simultaneously.

© Arnold Lobel. Image from Amazon.com

But most importantly, he makes tear-water tea.

When a good friend’s daughter was about the right age, it thrilled me to gift her a copy of Owl at Home. When I asked my friend about it later, she laughed and said, “It was an interesting book.”

I sighed. In hindsight, it was yet another sign of my autism. At the time, it seemed like another sign of my ongoing life of slight-outsider status. 

Now that I know this deliberative crying is likely stimming — that you may engage in, too, whether you’re on the spectrum — I’ve embraced it fully.

I pull out my trusty mix of soul and blues songs. 

And after ten minutes, I feel so much better. Just like Owl.

“There,” said Owl. “That does it!” 

Owl stopped crying.

He put the kettle on the stove to boil for tea.

Owl felt happy as he filled his cup.

“It tastes a little salty,” he said, “but tear-water tea is always very good.”

I hope you enjoy your cup of tea.