Mama, what is a family?
Well, my child, a family is at once the easiest and the hardest thing to build.
Think of it as a garden.
Maybe you expected rows and rows of neat tulips, standing straight and tall in their church pews. You pictured them eating organic apples and placing the cores neatly in the trash can.
Instead, you have a field full of wildflowers—colorful, shrieking blossoms who eat your leftovers with their fingers and leave gum wrappers all over the house.
It was not supposed to be this way, you might say to yourself.
It was supposed to be the apples and the prayers, the quiet and the books and the order.
Some days will be so hard, you can’t believe it.
Play dough in the carpet.
Stomach bug on the carpet.
Glitter all over the carpet.
There’s kind of a lot with the carpet, to be honest. Best to do hardwood floors if you can.
And other days will be fly-a-kite easy.
The problem is, you never know which one you’re going to get.
When you have a family, it is your job to figure out how to make the wildflowers stand straight and tall without dulling their color.
It is your job to tend to the one who may pass unnoticed—the one who repeats himself incessantly, and washes his hands obsessively
A diagnosis forever following him like a post-script.
I am Jack.
P.S. I have autism
There is no greater pain than the pain of watching your child struggle to breathe with croup, or limp with a broken leg, or try to piece together the words to make his needs known.
Over time, your saplings will grow delicate green leaves.
The flowers will open their soft, silky petals and turn their heads to the sky.
You will want the very best for each of them even when you don’t know what the very best is.
So you wrap gifts at Christmas and cook their favorite meals. And while you wrap and cook, you worry.
When you build a family, the worry is a continuous vibration beneath your rib cage.
Is she ready for a sleepover?
When should I get them a phone?
Who will take care of him when I’m gone?
Building a family can be demanding. I don’t want to mislead you about that.
It can be exhausting.
It is original, yet ordinary
It is a collection of small, commonplace acts and moments.
A band-aid across a scraped knee.
A simple dinner of pork chops and potatoes.
A hug at the end of a long day.
And memories so imprinted and timeworn and fleeting, it’s almost as though they never happened at all.
Shiny metal keys in the door, cool lips against a fevered forehead, candles lit atop a frosted cake.
Make a wish!
My dear child, a family is babies, toddlers, elementary school. middle school, college.
It is marital discord, and fervent kisses once the kids are in bed.
It is raw.
Building a family means falling love with tiny baby ears shaped like seashells and soft newborn sighs.
It is holding your breath as you attempt to cut tender pink fingernails.
Holding your breath as you let go of the back of the bike and she sails down the hill.
Holding your breath the first time he puts the car in drive and sails down the driveway.
It is a lot of holding your breath. And sailing.
Best to get a flat driveway if you can.
When you build a family with another person, it can be hard.
It can feel like a road paved with broken promises and misunderstandings.
Then there is forgiveness.
There is hope.
And at the end of the season, you stand together in the fading light and look over your garden.
Maybe your knees creak from all the times you spent kneeling to tie small shoelaces.
Maybe your back aches from all the times you bent to wipe tears from a sad face.
Maybe your throat is hoarse from all the times you gave him a voice.
The sun is low.
There are no babies to hold.
The saplings have grown to tall oak trees, and your wildflowers have blossomed with color and light.
As the sky turns orange and gold, you wish a quiet wish.
You hope out of all the things you taught them—to throw away their wrappers and eat more fruit.
To put the parking brake on, and sit quietly in prayer
You hope they remember the most important thing there is to remember in this life we hold so dear.
Always tend to the tender things.