I guess you could say I’m just a roof and windows and concrete and wood. You might think I have no soul. But this is not true. I breathe alongside the people I hold.
For the past fourteen years, a family has lived inside these walls—a mom, a dad, four boys, and one pink girl.
The second boy has autism. His name is Jack. He is the tallest of them all.
I am full of memories, like the afternoon the boy named Charlie climbed onto the roof to get a tennis ball.
Or the time the little girl got all dressed up in her tutu for a ballet recital.
And when the mother and the father screamed at each other about how much water you should use to boil spaghetti because they were afraid, and uncertain, and alone.
This family of mine, they are loud. They are lively. They tell jokes and they argue and they cry.
The mom tries to do the right thing.
She tries not to yell even when hormones run hot through her veins.
She tries to untangle the complicated mystery that is autism, and to make room for her boy with the hesitant words.
He stays awake after everyone falls asleep. He thinks about his complicated son and he worries about his pink girl and he considers all the college tuition he has to pay.
I see it all.
I see this special boy Jack. In the middle of the dark night, I have watched him toss and turn—his body twisting and his mind racing. I have held my breath and waited, as he dozed once more in the dawn’s early light.
Inside these walls, boxes of boardgames now sit dusty on the shelves.
Chutes and Ladders.
Hungry Hungry Hippos.
Thomas the Train and his fellow engines are packed in boxes and stored in the basement.
Tricycles have been donated, and small jackets given to smaller children.
Inside these walls, the colors have changed.
Nursery blue has given way to lime green.
Instead of mobiles above a crib, there are posters of Derek Jeter and Billie Eilish.
In the kitchen, protein powder has replaced goldfish crackers.
A new season is here.
There is talk of dorm rooms, college visits, and admissions.
The mother, well, she has lost her footing. It is all going too fast.
You see, some of her best years were as a young mother.
Sure, she was exhausted as she walked the hallway with fussy infants.
She tripped over sharp Legos and cursed the day Caillou was invented.
She sat through meeting and appointments and uttered the phrase my son has autism so many times, it was as familiar as her own name.
Yet she would trade everything she had to spend another minute cradling their soft heads.
She would do it all differently, and better.
She longs for a second chance.
Inside these walls, this family has fought and cried and helped and tried.
The learn, and live, and tell, and hope.
The thing is, in this beautifully ordinary life, we don’t choose who we are.
We don’t choose our parents, our hair color, our height, or our shoe size.
We don’t choose to be born.
We don’t choose autism.
Every day, the mother reminds herself of this.
Inside these walls, she grits her teeth and breathes her good breaths and tells herself that he did not choose this.
Her son didn’t choose this diagnosis, or this rigidity, or this anxiety.
He wants to be like everyone else.
He’s not like everyone else.
You can’t buy time. That’s the real problem.
You can’t buy more minutes or hours with your children.
Sure, you can buy new dishwashers and baseball uniforms and snacks at the grocery store.
But when it comes to the important stuff, time is a limited resource.
And when it comes to autism, there are many stories.
There is the father and his quiet sadness and the mother and her wild, colorful grief.
There are watchful brothers and earnest sisters.
Then there is the boy himself.
Oh, this boy, he has so many ideas.
He wants things. He longs for what is rightfully his.
He wants to drive a car and graduate high school and live in California.
She hurts for all the things he may not have, or do.
At the same time, her oldest son will fly soon. He will leave this house and this family and build a life of his own.
Her heart skips a beat when she thinks of it. She is happy and sad and proud and overwhelmed all at once.
At night, she waits.
She waits for the headlights to sweep across the driveway, announcing his return home.
She waits to hear his footsteps through the door, and the sound of the refrigerator door opening.
She waits, and she knows.
She knows this is the beginning of the waiting.
She will always wait for him to come back, if only for a little while.
He won’t live here anymore.
Sometimes, the tallest boy sits with her.
Will Joey come home. For Christmas.
When it comes to building a family, there are no second chances. This is the hardest part.