My name is Carrie.
I am married to a man named Joe and we have five children. Our second son, Jack, is diagnosed with autism.
For as long as I can remember, I’ve cooked dinner.
I cooked with small kids at my feet and babies on my hip.
I stirred tomato sauce while toddlers crashed pot lids like cymbals on the floor.
Don’t let me fool you, however. I am not—and never was—particularly inspiring in the kitchen. It was never the cooking I enjoyed.
But once we sat down at the table, I could forget.
I could forget how I lost my temper with those sweet toddlers throughout the day, how I snapped at my husband when he walked in the door, how autism was the tympani of motherhood I simply could not quiet.
There were a million reasons to give up on this.
When he was three, Jack threw food. He screamed at his plate. He ran around the table.
When he was six he refused to eat anything other than chicken fingers.
Still, we sat for dinner.
Throughout the years, this meal gave shape to long, wintry afternoons.
Homework battles, arguments over television, questions about sex, sibling rivalry.
We always had dinner. We had plates with napkins and forks and conversation.
Meatloaf, chicken cutlets, green beans, buttered noodles, pork tenderloin, a Rachel Ray concoction we call sausage kale pasta.
There were a million reasons to give up on this, especially when sports and theater club and girlfriends and Chipotle beckoned.
Still, we found a way to sit down together at the end of the day.
We set timers. We introduced new foods and offered ice cream as a reward for one small bite. We let him plan the menu. It took years, but oh-so-slowly, Jack learned to sit and eat with us.
Somewhere, deep in my subconscious, I guess I thought if we made sure he had a seat at our table, he’d be able to make room for himself wherever he went.
I guess I assumed—the few times when I’d tentatively reach my fingers toward the future flame—I assumed there would be something, somewhere for him.
Now, as we approach his high school graduation and life beyond, it seems that may not be the case.
Week after week, I make dozens of phone calls. I fill out stacks of forms.
I am fighting for him. In the midst of every phone call and every piece of paper, I am fighting for his place in this world.
In less than four months, we will stand before a judge and appeal for guardianship. This boy Jack will have to state his name and agree that he is not able to handle his own financial and medical needs.
We are taking away everything he has ever hoped for—independence, sovereignty, choices.
It may break him.
It might break me.
In all of my years of toddlers banging pots and pans together at my feet, I never imagined this.
So, I make dinner. I melt butter in a pan and sauté the spinach.
We gather around the table, and we talk about the mundane, the ordinary, the everyday.
We eat pork chops and baked potatoes and for a little while, we can forget about guardianship and judges and the vast unknown.
There are a million reasons to give up on this.
But I can’t. See, raising children is a little like growing wildflowers.
Some need more water than others. Some need extra fertilizer, or a certain kind of soil. Some tilt their silky blossoms to the bright orange sun and soak in as much heat as possible, while others curl inward toward the cool, dark shade.
But in time, they all bloom. They all open their petals and offer their brilliant color to the world.
It is his time to blossom.
We sit at the table and I listen to them argue and laugh and talk, and for one moment I can forget the way motherhood’s ever changing landscape is sifting beneath my feet once more like the quietest earthquake.
Because with autism there is always a yet.
On one hand, I am desperate for him to find a place to land after high school.
On the other, the idea of him leaving stirs in me a quiet panic.
Listen to them argue/laugh/talk/complain, I can forget. I can forget this thing we call childhood is coming to a close.
One day, how will they look back on this time? What will they remember?
I hope they remember the way he set out the white dishes, awaiting their return from crew/baseball/dance/cross country.
I hope they remember all the times I made room for them, even when autism took up a lot of space.
Mostly I hope they remember that a life lived differently is not a life less lived.
We are an autism family.
We are full of small slights and petty resentments and belly laughs and chocolate chip cookies for dessert.
Autism is our house.
It has windows and doors and lots of light. It has a strong foundation, and a long wooden table with lots of seats.
We built it for him.
And also, for us.
Collectively, we hold his hope in the palm of our hands, like so many teardrops, raindrops, dewdrops.
There are a million reasons to doubt him.
And a million reasons believe in him.
He is worth the fight.