One night, I kissed you.
And you kissed me.
Then we got married.
We had five kids.
We bought a minivan.
We got a dog.
We discovered autism.
Or autism discovered us.
Raising children is important.
It is fast, and fiery, and special, and ordinary, and fun sometimes and not-so-fun other times.
I fail a lot.
One day, I hope you will remind me.
Remind me that I tried so very hard to soak it all in, even on the days I was drowning beneath permission slips and chicken cutlets and doctor’s appointments.
I laughed at their jokes and tried not to yell when they spilled milk everywhere and I loved them fiercely like the sun but also I couldn’t wait until bedtime.
If you ask me, motherhood is one big cluster of contradictions.
I mean, all I want to do is hold a chubby baby in my arms and squeeze those squishy thighs, but I don’t want to change diapers or pick up wooden blocks scattered all over the rug.
I long for just ten minutes with the toddlers I hoisted into grocery carts and caught in my arms at the bottom of the slide. I want to talk to them and hear their funny little voices again.
I’d like to fold a tiny undershirt and snuggle a downy head in the crook of my neck and make a boo-boo better with a purple popsicle.
Yet at the same time, I don’t.
See, I am happy to have kids who can buckle their own seatbelt and fry up an egg before the bus comes and actually load the pan into the dishwasher.
I ache for what was, I’m often dissatisfied with what is, and I am scared of what will become.
Basically, I want to listen to every sweet word they have to say, but for the love of all things holy and good, these people need to stop talking already before I lose my mind.
One day though, it will be quiet. I know this.
And when that day comes, please remind me.
Remind me how hard I fought to keep him as far from autism’s clutches the best I could.
Buddy no more crackers oh his name is Jack he has autism say hi Jack say hi okay that’s enough about the movie yes he has autism oh it’s autism no Jack not today for the movie sorry he bumped into you he didn’t mean it no Jack we had pancakes yesterday.
Remind me of the days when I thought I had nothing more to give—when I was completely tapped out and I had no energy and could not soothe another angry teenager or sign another form—remind me that I dug as deep as I could for them.
I am digging as deep as I can.
I take nothing for granted.
See, when the doctor looks at your toddler and looks back at you and says, listen, nothing will ever be the same again. This kid here, well, he’s going challenge you and change you and drive you nuts and need medicine every day and your very mind will feel like it is splintering, what with the anxiety and the appointments and the obsessions. Also, he will probably get lost in a mall at some point.
Maybe he didn’t say those exact words, but you know what I mean.
Lately I’ve been driving around town looking at the signs people stuck in their lawns announcing things like, Congratulations Josh! Class of 2019! Headed to Dartmouth!
Every time I see one, I feel a little lump in my throat. I can’t pinpoint why, exactly. Is it because our oldest son is a mere two years from this milestone? Or because 15-year old Jack is light years from it?
He’s going to want a sign. In two years, when he finishes twelfth grade—or his version of it, anyway—he will expect a sign at the end of the driveway with his name.
That’s how it works when it comes to Jack. He longs for the very same things everyone else has. He longs for what was rightfully his, before autism stepped in with its pointy shoes and jangly hat—the court jester of the bell curve—and took it all away.
What will we put on it? The sign?
There is so much praise for the honor roll and team sports and advanced math class.
Where is the praise for simply regulating your body, or making eye contact even when it’s uncomfortable?
Where is the praise for simply making the best of what was handed to you in an unlucky game of genetic roulette?
These are the things I think about.
He has challenged me.
He has changed me.
College is good.
The honor roll is good.
Other things are good, too.
Being different is good.
All I ask—all I have ever asked since the doctor looked in my nervous eyes and said he has autism spectrum disorder—is that we, as a community, as a society, as a culture, acknowledge this.
He is good.
See, you are not just the guy I kissed late one night, or the nervous young man in a tux at the altar.
You are my witness.
You are my witness to the milk on the floor and the way autism echoes in my ears long after our son has gone to bed.
One day, when the house is empty and the kitchen is quiet and there are no more big sneakers in the corner or sticky dishes in the sink, please.
I was enough.
This is Kevin. He doesn’t like to have his picture taken often.
I am glad he posed for this one because it makes me smile.