Motherhood is a curious thing.
For many of us, it starts with tiny pink ears shaped like seashells.
Soft newborn sighs, mingled with raging postpartum hormones.
Before you know it, a few uncertain steps on wobbly legs, the first word, a game of patty-cake.
From there, it follows a fairly predictable path: preschool, kindergarten, untied shoelaces, runny noses, training wheels, no training wheels, teenage years, possibly college, a job, maybe a wedding.
Your path has been a little, well, less predictable.
Oh, sure, we had the stomach bug and the runny nose and preschool and all that.
You eventually learned to tie your shoes.
You never played patty-cake, not even once.
We might not have a tearful goodbye in a dorm room, or a sweet new grandchild swaddled in striped blankets.
We might not.
What an odd word.
I hope with all of my might.
I work with all of my might.
And yet, it might all mean nothing.
You see, autism has changed the path.
The thing is, buddy, the best part of motherhood is the way you imagine it before you actually become a mother.
Oh, before I had kids, I had all the answers.
Television during the day? No siree! Not on my watch!
Soda? People, please. I’d sooner give my kids Windex in a sippy cup.
When I first got pregnant, I worried about colic, cleft palate, whether or not I could still hold a job, and if I would ever lose the baby weight.
I worried I would leave the car seat on top of the car and then drive away, or that someone would kidnap my toddler.
Never once, not even for a second, did autism cross my mind.
I was going to be a good mother! I was going to be attentive, and loving, and patient, and kind.
I was going to read all of the Nancy Drew books in order and bake muffins on Christmas morning.
Then I had kids.
I discovered that I hate reading out loud.
I can barely keep my eyes open on Christmas morning, and everyone just eats all the chocolate from their stockings anyway.
Now I shout that when I die, I want the phrase, “Who left crumbs on the counter?” engraved on my tombstone. Right underneath the sentence, “Put that in the dishwasher,” of course.
I am different. I had to be different.
I had to be a different kind of you mother for you—my different kind of son.
A son who shrinks from my touch.
It’s Daddy’s affection you seek. Most nights, after dinner, you find him on the couch. You drape your long legs over his, and run your finger through his dark hair.
You never hug me, unless I do it first and then it feels weird and forced.
I think maybe this is because I never let you touch my hair. Every since I was a little girl, I have always, always hated when people touched my hair.
You would reach your hand to twist my ponytail and I would push it away gently but firmly until you got the message.
What was the message, exactly?
I don’t know.
Motherhood is a lot of second-guessing, and guilt after bedtime, and longing for pink seashell ears while at the same time wishing this crumb nightmare was finished.
I guess I thought it would come more naturally to me. I thought I would ease into the role and it would fit me like a glove.
The problem is, I didn’t factor in big feelings like marital resentment, and how often little kids get sick and that I’d rather eat a bucketful of chalk than play a round of Candyland.
I did, though. I pushed those colored game pieces around the board and I smiled through clenched teeth when your father left for work and I wiped runny noses and I woke every morning and I did it again.
I woke every morning, and I did it again.
I woke every morning.
And I did it. Again.
I did this because I thought it made me a good mother.
What makes a good mother?
I don’t know.
I may never know.
Motherhood is listening to long, drawn out descriptions of nighttime dreams, and worrying if a low grade in biology will translate into a lifetime of unemployment.
It is meal-planning, and laundry-sorting, and form-signing.
It is ceaseless, and amazing, and ordinary, and hard.
I am a different kind of mother.
Now, I am the kind of mother who opens up to people I have never met on the street.
Oh, I tell them everything. I tell them about you and your autism and how you love Disney and you think a house might cost $500.
You see, Jack-a-boo, I have realized that the kindness of strangers is our only salvation. This is perhaps the most vulnerable position a mother can be.
By telling our story, I hope it might give you a change to write your own narrative someday. It might open people’s hearts and minds, and unlock a compassion even they didn’t know existed.
It’s the only thing I can think of to do.
I should have let you touch my hair.
I am trying.
With all my might, I am trying.