What if all we had to do was love our children?
Love them through their mistakes, their poor judgment, their outbursts.
Their vulnerabilities. Their moods. Their highs and lows.
My son Jack is diagnosed with autism. He is eighteen.
For eighteen years, doctors and therapists have told me what to do.
Use social stories, try medication, redirect his obsessions.
No one ever told me to simply love him.
Love the way his hair smells after a bath.
Love the way his chubby fingers grip a pencil.
Love how earnestly, carefully he stacks his pillows at bedtime.
Love him through it.
Love him through this diagnosis that will follow him forever, like ants at a picnic.
Love him when anxiety clutches his spirit and smile.
Love him through his veneer of shame and embarrassment.
What if we loved our kids through spilled milk, bad report cards, middle school?
I don’t mean butterflies-rainbows-cliché kind of love. I mean the gritty, raw, tender kind.
The kind that requires us to listen, hear, try, and hurt.
What if we made our home the safest of spaces?
What if, during puberty, we bought special treats at the grocery store, and made beds smooth with blankets, and lit candles during dinner?
It could work.
It could help our budding teens exhale. It could help smooth the jagged edges of their hormones and their acne and their furiously changing bodies.
Inside they are wilting flowers upon a fragile vine.
Inside, they need us even as they stubbornly push us away.
This boy Jack has lived under a magnifying glass for his entire life.
For as long as I can remember, his very existence has been quantified in terms of how many hours he slept, how he sat in his chair, how often he made eye contact.
What if we measured it by smiles?
Jack has autism. He also has severe anxiety, and obsessive compulsive disorder.
You can’t discipline any of this out of him. I know because I tried.
I tried telling him to stop being afraid of the wind chill factor. It didn’t work.
I tried taking his beloved nightly Scooby Doo episodes away when he couldn’t sit for circle time at school. It didn’t work.
You cannot discipline a child at 4:00 for something he did before lunch. Anyone who suggests this is wrong.
We need to love them through it.
Jack is in a college program now. He lives in a supported residential space.
He is having a hard time transitioning back to second semester. He has intrusive thoughts. He is behaving impulsively. He is verbally looping. He is making other students uncomfortable.
All we have worked for, all we have hoped for and tried for and reached for, is at risk.
I am so frustrated, so worried, so aggravated, so tired, so lost, I could jump up and down and scream.
I want to believe he understands. I want to believe he knows the relationship between behavior and outcome—the familiar narrative of if I do A, then B will happen.
I don’t know if he does.
I have to love him through it. This may be my hardest work yet.
When my heart leans toward admonishing, I’ll remind him he is enough.
When my thoughts veer toward frustration, I’ll choose a gentle voice.
Inside and out, I will root for him.
After all, I’ve never once heard a mother say she looked back on her life and wished she yelled more.
I’ve never heard anyone say they were glad they traded Scooby Doo for a seat in a circle.
Today, will love him through this.
Looking back, I’m scared there are moments when I forgot.
When I saw the diagnosis before the boy.
When I reached for the towel before smelling his bath-time scent.
When I told him to stop, stop worrying and pacing.
Today, I’ll set the magnifying glass aside.
Who knows, maybe I’ll find the light no one else can find.
He is enough.
We are enough.