To celebrate the Leave it to Geege premiere on Lifetime, we checked in with matriarch extraordinaire Geege Taylor on her fabulous extended family and the joys of having an autistic child. Check out the trailer here!
How are you feeling on the day of your show’s premiere?
I am excited! It’s been such a long journey. I’ve been working on it for 10 years. I wasn’t all that pumped up about it because it’s been all I’ve been doing for so long. But then today it kind of hit me! And World of Wonder sent me this big-ass bottle of champagne, and I got so excited!
Can you explain your family situation in 30 seconds? And I’m going to time you!
My family, whether it’s biological or chosen, they all come together to help me raise Pootie. I have my daughter. My boyfriend’s in London, but he’s here right now. My son’s caregiver Tyler lives with us. And then I’ve got my niece, my nephew, my sister, and then people like Nicky and his mom who are all just like adopted family. This is not going to be 30 seconds! I’m a little bit of a hermit, a little social anxiety. I’ve got a big personality, but only in the parameters where I feel comfortable. I typically have everybody come to my house because I don’t like mixing with the public.
Me too! I let the party come to me!
Exactly! I hate stuff like cocktail parties. I can’t stand small talk. I hate socializing with people I don’t know. Because I’m a little bit of a hermit, a little Grey Gardens, I like to let everything come to me so I can control it. I’ve got a small circle, but it’s really tight. Autism is a big part of that, with my son, my son‘s caregiver, our friend Nikki and our caregiver’s brother Clete. So there’s three people with definite autism, maybe four!
You said you had to change your expectations as a parent when you found out that Pootie was autistic. What did you have to change?
In your mind you have this little script written without even realizing it. At the time I was married, and I thought “Oh, maybe he’ll be a lawyer like his dad. They can go into practice together!” Little things like that. Very quickly I realized this was going to be a different path. Maybe he’s not gonna be a lawyer, which is fine — I hate lawyers! Maybe he’s not gonna give me grandchildren. Maybe he’s not going to ever talk. I remember one time I was watching my little nephew play ball, and Pootie was probably 2 ½. I was still coming to grips with everything and I saw my little nephew Bobby in the dugout. He was playing baseball and waving to his mama, and my stomach dropped. I realized I don’t think I’m ever going to see that with my son. Then as you go along with it, you realize, f*** that! I’d much rather have Pootie, with all that Pootie brings, things that nobody ever brings. Our lives are so much more interesting. I realized that we were going to have to do some new things instead of that little script I had in the back of my head. And I’ve missed it zero! If I look at my friends’ kids his age, I would take this any day. It’s such a gift. I’m so much better with autism than without it. If someone waved a magic wand and “un-autisticed” him, I would be so pissed!
What have you learned as the parent of a child with autism that would help every parent?
I think I have a lot of gratitude for every situation I am in, whether it’s good or bad. My priorities have changed for the better. I don’t give a f*** what other people think about me, keeping up with the Joneses. To me it seems like weakness to care what other people think. It helped me get to that place where I knew what was really important in life. That’s when you really start living life, when you don’t care about all the trappings and what people think. It’s a beautiful place to be, liberating. I don’t think a lot of people make it there. A lot of people get stuck in the struggle.
When you’re celebrating littler accomplishments like Pootie has… like I’m so proud of him because he pulled his pants up today really well. And that’s a little thing for a typical 19-year-old, but for him that’s a big thing! You learn to live in the moment and be grateful for each moment. I also had a niece who died a few years back. She was just like a daughter to me. When you have things like that happen to you, where you lose a child, a loved one, when you have a child who has certain challenges. That’s when you really realize what’s important.
One thing about this show that I think will relate to everybody? You probably have a child or someone in your life with a mountain to climb. Just accept the hand you’re given and play it, let the chips fall where they may. Don’t stress, don’t sweat the small stuff. I hope when people watch the show they think, well shit if she’s not worried, why am I worried that my kid didn’t do so great in a soccer game? I think it puts things in perspective and makes you grateful, and makes you see the very important things in life that most people glaze over. Most people are living too fast to stop and savor them.
I love how innovative you are, like the sleighbells that you lay across Pootie when he is sleeping in case he has another seizure. What are some other innovations of yours that you are proud of?
My mama taught me all that! We grew up not having a ton of money, so she was always having to come up with something. I got it from her that I can figure things out on the fly and on a budget. Pootie had a very serious seizure a while back that put him in the ICU. When he got out I decided he was going to sleep with me in a twin bed in my room. My bedroom looks like an orphanage because there are beds everywhere! I said he’s going to sleep right there next to me and I’m gonna put on these jingle bells. That will never fail!
I had to come up with other little things. He is not great with fine motor skills, so he’s never going to get in the shower and lather up all the spots. So I took a ketchup bottle and put some really deluxe scent in there and then put warm water in there and shake it up. And then I just hit all the spots and squirt him. And it works! He is always scented and he always smells delicious! With Pootie I am his dignity keeper.
What would you say to other parents or people who have the child of a friend or loved one who they think might be neurodiverse?
I would tell them to get on top of it. Once they start seeing the signs, I think a lot of people start making excuses. They say, “Oh, my neighbor’s kid used to walk on his toes…” or “My daughter was a picky eater…” or “She didn’t use her words for a long time, too.” They start making excuses. You see that a lot. When I had Pootie evaluated, the evaluator said, “You are the only mom who as she walked through the door said ‘I think my son has autism.'” A lot of them see a couple of traits or maybe a teacher or friend or doctor asked them to do an evaluation. My mom was a kindergarten teacher and she recognized it very early, around 12 months. She found an autism evaluation on a website, and it had 20 markers. If your kid did about half those things it was likely that they would be on the spectrum. Pootie did 19 out of 20. The only one he didn’t do was withhold affection. And thank God! I feel so sorry for anyone who checks that box. I felt so lucky that that was the one I didn’t check.
I think a lot of people would look at that checklist and check 19 and then think maybe it’s still something else! My pediatrician at the time didn’t think he had autism. I had to change pediatricians so I could get him to a clinic referral where he could be diagnosed. So I would say don’t ignore the signs. If it were something different like diabetes you wouldn’t ignore that. You wouldn’t ignore a physical thing going on. For a developmental disability, you were wasting that child’s precious time where they could get early intervention.
Does Pootie have any television shows or movies that he likes to watch?
He’s never been a big TV fan, but he loves Curious George, Dora the Explorer, and football. I think with football he likes seeing the little images of people moving around. He always likes to lay around and watch football, but he will also just lay there with me and watch anything.
That’s great! That means you always get to watch whatever you want!
We eat cookies, and I drop cookies in his mouth. It’s so cute!
Do you think Pootie will recognize himself on screen when he sees the show?
I think he might. A lot of times when we make videos, I’ll show him. He looks a little confused, but he’ll smile and understand who we are, but sometimes I wonder if he understands who he is. I still go to the mirror and do joint attention therapy with him where I put my finger on his nose, then put it to the mirror. Then I’ll touch his face and talk to him and smile. So honestly I don’t know if he’ll recognize himself as much as everyone else. We never know quite exactly what he knows!
Are you doing any kind of celebration today?
My niece and nephew are coming over, my boyfriend is here from London, and then Pootie and Harper and Tyler. Everybody wanted to have a big watch party, but I said, “Y’all stay home!” I really just wanna go watch it in my bedroom alone with Pootie.
How do you want the world to change because of your show?
I hope people watch the show and forget it’s about autism. This is a show about a family living their best lives, like there’s no tomorrow, because there is no tomorrow. I know that all too well. This is a family who in a lot of people’s eyes should be riding the struggle bus and having a hard time. But we are having a better time than anybody else we know because we’ve come to a place in life, and Pootie helped us get there, where we understand what really matters.
I want people to walk away and not feel sorry for me. Why would you feel sorry for me? I’m living the dream! Because of this child I see life in the best way possible. Don’t feel sorry for me. Envy me.
I hope you’ll be entertained and inspired and walk away educated without even knowing it happened!
You can keep up with Geege and her family on Instagram at @GeegeTaylor.
Catch Leave It To Geege on Lifetime!
From the Emmy®-winning producers from World of Wonder, comes the new family docuseries Leave It to Geege, following Geege Taylor, an Atlanta area single mother of two whose life could be a Lifetime movie. The twice-divorced, breast cancer survivor is also an advocate for autism acceptance, hoping to educate and help others navigate their way through the ups and downs of raising an autistic child following her first-hand experience with her non-verbal 19-year-old son Pootie. Surrounded by her “family” consisting of her southern to the core mother Puddin’, daughter Harper and best friends Nicky, George and Tyler, Leave it to Geege provides a glimpse into the chaos and charm of this authentic modern family filled with love and laughter. Leave it to Geege is produced World of Wonder and is executive produced by Fenton Bailey, Randy Barbato, Tom Campbell, Samantha Hartzband and Lynsey Dufour. Brie Miranda Bryant and Kimberly Chessler executive produce for Lifetime.
Image: Lifetime / World of Wonder