I have a son named Jack.
He is fifteen years old.
He is over six feet, two inches tall, which is not all that tall. But when you see him, there is something about his size that takes your breath away. I can’t explain it.
He has autism.
He was born with it.
He is not sick.
He is not broken.
He just is.
For the most part, he is just a boy trying to navigate puberty and chin whiskers and growth spurts.
He loves beef tenderloin, and hot chocolate with a lot of marshmallows.
He has zero ability to whisper. He simply cannot do it.
He doesn’t care about gifts, or presents.
I can’t tell you how many birthday parties and holidays I have sat through, with my stomach in knots, while he ripped through the wrapping paper and tossed the boxes aside.
And every year I run around like a nut, looking for things to buy him for his birthday or Christmas. I never have any good ideas.
He doesn’t want clothes.
He doesn’t want books, or games, or paint sets.
For the longest time, this depressed me. I mean, my other kids love Legos and action figures and new baseball bats.
When Jack was first diagnosed there was an undercurrent—a veiled suggestion, or an opinion—that there was an answer.
We tried it all. Well, maybe not the gluten-free, but the rest of it.
Okay, okay. We didn’t try the horse therapy either. But that was mostly because he was terrified of horses.
But we did every single thing they told us to do.
We gave him Melatonin to sleep and we practiced signing more with our fingertips pressed together.
We set timers for dinner at night, and we baked pies from organic apples, and we read books about brown bears until our throats were hoarse.
Brown bear, brown bear what do you see?
Somewhere, deep within the pockets of our collective souls, we thought the books and the timers might cure him. We thought autism couldn’t possibly be immune to our great, well-intentioned effort.
And yet it was. Autism was immune to it all, even the teeny-tiny fingers asking for more.
Every time someone gave me a new idea, or another suggestion, I felt like I was following a beating heart to nowhere.
Jack hates pie. He always has.
There are thousands upon thousands of people who stand beneath the spectrum umbrella, while everyone else basks in the sunshine.
Hundreds of thousands carry the same diagnosis. Hundreds of thousands live in the shadows—marginalized, and misunderstood.
And yet, there is no one like him the world. I am sure of this.
There is no one with his tenacity, or his bravery, or his fondness for grocery shopping.
My pregnancy with him is a blur. See, I had a five-month old in my arms and I was a very new mother and the pregnancy was unexpected, to say the least.
I didn’t try to guess his gender or pick out new bedding for the crib.
I didn’t buy more maternity clothes, or research names.
I cannot change it.
I cannot change who I was, any more than I can change his diagnosis.
I have just now started to admit this.
You would think it might be sad, or depressing, or upsetting.
It is not any of these things.
It is freedom.
I cannot change his autism.
I cannot change the mistakes I made.
But I can love my son for everything he is.
And maybe, just maybe, I can forgive myself for everything I was.
Jack still doesn’t care about gifts. Sure, a DVD now and then, or a new spatula for pancakes, but for the most part, he doesn’t long for much.
If you want to know the truth, I think he wants things money can’t buy.
He wants to have dinner with his family at night, and snuggle his dog in the morning.
He has dreams of his very own—things he hopes for and talks about and imagines for himself.
A license to drive.
A chance to vote.
A child of his own.
He wants to rise.
He cannot say it for himself, but he tells me without words.
He wants to rise above his diagnosis and have the courage to soar long, and high.
I see it.
Mostly, I think he wants a seat at the table.
I think he wants to sit and talk and wonder and think.
He has a point of view, that’s the thing.
He has an opinion about politics, and pop culture, and current events. They are always seemingly simple, yet powerfully insightful.
Why. Do people shoot each other.
Will you make room for him at your table, even if I am not around to ask?
Will you make room for the boy who swam unseen beneath my palms, and now towers above me?
I won’t always be around.
I believe in him. I do.
Every day, he takes my breath away.
No one has the answers. This is what I’ve decided.
We have to make our own answers. We have to write our own story.