A lot has been running through my since I read this post earlier in the week. At more times in my life than I can count, things have happened that have left me thinking, “Is this really my life?” Many times these things have been wonderful moments — graduating from high school, college, and law school at or near the top of my classes, renting my first “extraordinary apartment residence,” clerking for a federal judge, or taking the ferry to San Tropez while vacationing in the south of France — or “grown-up” moments that I can’t believe I am old enough to experience — buying a house, getting married, celebrating my 10-year law school reunion, or having my children. Lately, however, those thoughts are precipitated by the fact that my 5-year-old has autism.
He was born by c-section, and I remember the nurse placing him in my arms after Dr. C. finished stitching me up and before they wheeled me into the recovery area. He was perfectly swaddled in a way that I could never hope to replicate. I remember thinking “how in the world can I be a mom?” and “holy crap, now what?” (despite 9 excited months of preparing for his arrival). At that moment, I never dreamed that the path of his life would lead us where it has.
I remember at a well-child visit, when he was no more than a few months old, that the doctor had a hard time checking his eyes because he would not look at her. This led her to turn the overhead lights off and shine her otoscope in his eyes, hoping that he would look at it and therefore her . I commented that he really liked lights and asked if that was a problem. She assured me it was not, provided he liked looking at people, too. He in fact did not like looking at people, but I was not in a space to admit that. I knew it was an early flag for autism, and I was not ready to allow the prospect of autism into our lives. What young mother, surrounded by froggy hooded towels and baby slings and perfect little toes, would be? Autism didn’t happen to families like mine.
Looking back, all sorts of indications manifested early on — the need to be wrapped up and carried at all times, the looking away when you attempted to catch his eyes, the unending sleeping problems, the aversion to new foods and textures, the lack of babbling, and the screaming in terror at anything new. I started getting worried about his lack of speech when he was about a year old, but everyone brushed my fears aside. “Boys are just slower to talk, don’t worry, he’s fine.” Were they really thinking, “autism doesn’t happen to people like him, to families like yours”?
By the time he was nearly two, there was no denying his speech delay, which lead to weekly speech and occupational therapy, and then to social skills group, adapted gymnastics, private swimming lessons with an autism instructor, Floortime, therapy camps, IEPs, and more. I put my screaming baby on a big yellow school bus when he was two years old. I signed him up for Medicaid when he was five. I own a lamintor. I sit in basement playrooms at parties with him, while all the other kids are playing outside, because trains are much more fun than other little boys. I once sat on the floor of an airport, waiting out a two-hour departure delay, holding onto him by one ankle as he tried to crawl away to get to the escalators, while clutching my other son with my other arm. The pain that she talks about first is present in those moments, and I wonder how it came to be part of my life. How autism came to be part of our life.
But the love, the love that she writes about is there, too, and it runs both ways. It is there in the moments when he makes sure that my whole body is covered with a blanket when I am lying next to him on the floor, or when he positions me on the sofa, sits on my lap, and wraps his arms around him while watching Thomas. Or the way when he runs up and proclaims, “It’s a Mommy!” when I walk through the door after work, or tenderly holds my hand while he’s lying in bed at night. It’s there when I shed a tear thinking about the neighborhood boys who told him he couldn’t play near them, or about the neighborhood girl who asked if he could come over for a play-date. Or the way I am contemporaneously proud and terrified when his teacher tells me how he likely can be mainstreamed in the coming years because he is so smart. Is it really possible to love like this?
My sweet boy — I don’t know what I did to deserve the right, but I am thankful everyday that being your momma is my life.