Do you love him more?
Come here, buddy. Sit beside me, and let me tell you a story.
Once upon a time, there was a mama who had five ducklings.
The ducklings were born all in a row—one right after the other.
This mama, she assumed her ducklings would be very similar. They were born so close together, after all. They had the same shaped eyes and baby-grins.
The second duckling, however, stood out from the rest.
He cried all the time.
He didn’t sleep well.
He twisted and squirmed like he wanted to crawl out of his own skin.
Pushing a huge double stroller along the sidewalk, she complained to her friends that he was so hard, so different from the others, but it was just a phase.
By his first birthday, however, she had a pit in her stomach.
Something was not right here. Something was not right with the duckling who had blue eyes and soft brown hair.
He made no sounds.
He never played patty-cake, or peek-a-boo.
If he did make noise, it was a loud, lusty cry that could last for hours.
Then she took him to a special doctor and the doctor said he had something called Autism Spectrum Disorder.
This means, for the rest of his life, her baby duck would stand at the edge of the pond, while everyone else splashed and played together.
It meant he would work harder than every other duckling, for the simplest things in life.
Still, this mama was a little silly, and naïve.
She thought he would outgrow all the crying and the sleeping.
She thought, if she just worked hard enough and he worked hard enough, he could learn how to be a regular duck. He could learn how to play games and give big hugs and sleep when everyone else slept.
In other words, she thought he could outgrow his autism.
She clung to the idea that, one day, her ducklings would walk the same path.
When he was very young, this one duckling took up a lot of her time.
Her other kids, they waited—all round eyes and open mouths—when he screamed and hit his head and she held his arms and tried to calm him.
They waited while she negotiated at the dinner table and wiped food from the walls.
They waited in the mall when he refused to hold her hand and then they waited while she explained, why yes! He has autism!
As time went on, the silly naïve mama duck realized autism was forever. It was a permanent part of her life. And although he learned to sit for meals and hold her hand in the stores, he still takes up a lot of her time.
She misses basketball games because he can’t handle the sound of the ball bouncing across the gym floor.
She leaves chorus concerts and recitals early because he gets restless, and antsy.
She watches baseball games with half of her attention on the inning, and the other half on him.
He is fifteen now, this second duckling in a row of five.
He will only wear blue sneakers.
He cleans his glasses a dozen times a day.
He is the very tall.
Every once in a while, the other little ducks flap their wings and they complain. They say their brother Jack gets away with everything, and she never blames him for anything, and he doesn’t even have to do homework.
They say she loves him more.
She does not, though. She never did.
She just loves him differently.
Feverishly, she wishes she could love him the way she loves her others—joyfully, with helpless abandon.
Instead, she loves him with one eye on the clock, always watching, watching, watching. She can’t afford to let up for one single second, you see. Constantly, she has to teach, and to help, and to soothe this baby bird of hers.
This does not mean he is her favorite.
She has no favorites.
You see, little one, a mama’s love is infinite. It is bigger than the sky. It is brighter than the sun. Like the waves of an ocean, it never, ever runs out.
There is always enough.
Autism changed her family.
It changed them, and they can never go back to who they once were.
She is trying to do it right.
She is trying so hard to teach him how to cook and turn a key in the lock and put a stamp on an envelope, so that one day, when she is gone, the rest of her ducklings don’t have quite so much responsibility.
Perhaps there is no right.
Perhaps there is only the trying.
Perhaps there is only a messy life full of mistakes and misunderstandings and tiny steps forward.
Her ducklings are beginning their flight now, one by one.
A teenager who drives himself to work on yellow summer mornings.
A pink girl who shoots baskets with the swish of the net.
A dark-haired boy who swings his bat and runs, head down, cleats flashing, to first base.
Her last duckling.
My last duckling.
He was four when you were born.
He was four and there was a lot of chaos and uncertainty and stress.
And then, you. A baby unexpected. Soft pink cheeks, and a long-awaited smile.
Home, once more.
I do not love him more than you.
Do not think that for even a minute.
I love each of you the same.