Wins and losses come in different sizes when you’re parenting a differently abled child. I’m flying high today because we succeeded in attending a non-autism friendly play at a big downtown theater this week – with far less fuss than before. Yes, Will asked for the bathroom twice and jumped up two more times before we yanked his butt down into the seat. Yes, Jeff was more fascinated by the earrings of the lady behind him than “The Lonely Goatherd” on stage, and I had to whip out the silent fidget toy from my purse when the all-purpose toy in his pants became a distraction. (Ahem.)
Yet we made it through a 90-minute first half, and an hour-plus second half with no traumas. Will wore a collared polo shirt and dress socks, a mini-feat. Jeff as usual looked dapper, even preppy. I got to hear my favorite tunes and their mountain theme of course for this hiker girl resonated long and deeply.
“It’s the simple things,” said a wise parent in response to my Facebook post.
Indeed! As Mother’s Day gives me license to ruminate, and I’m savoring how much better a person I’ve become thanks to motherhood, I’m mindful of five particular gifts that my sons’ autism gave me.
1. Savoring the small. As in the beauty of one tender green leaf fluttering in the breeze. Three kind words from a stranger in the check-out line. Jeff’s honesty when I asked if he just stole his brother’s lemonade. My shiny freshly painted door jambs, done not flawlessly but actually quite nicely by Jeff as he improves his house painting skills; they make my happy every time I’m in a bathroom. That moment where after five years of drilling him on what we do when we see a trail sign – five whole years – Will stopped at a trail sign with no prompting and waited patiently for his family.
2. Breaking tasks into discrete units. Even if you’re not an Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA) freak, we all learn Antecedent/Behavior/Consequences as we see our kids fail, and bridge them to success. I’ve learned to analyze any activity into its component steps, even if there are dozen – and work on them until there is mastery, if only with one tiny, tiny element in the chain. Because every journey starts with the first step.
3. Routines. Perhaps it’s my bias but I think every human achieves balance when they have a structure onto which to pin their dreams. While it’s always a balancing act to temper the routine with reality, and know when to back off if the day’s going south – our boys need structure, we’ve had to learn how to frame our family lives for them, and it’s given me the lines on the page of my life so there’s order yet white space on the margins even in very crowded days.
4. A sense of humor. I’m still not over the mortification of Will dropping trousers and attending to his daily constitutional in the middle of a trail as a group of a dozen hikers passed by – hikers with whom we crossed paths for another 15 miles. But, hey, we win parental “can you top this?” story contests with that one. The hubby and I have “the look” of silent alarm when something just happened we can’t share publicly without people thinking we’re warped. And they’re usually worthy of the look even if NSFW.
5. Serendipity. It stinks when my sons’ disability thwarts little self-indulgences, as in last Mother’s Day when Jeff had 3 toilet accidents in 90 minutes, ran out of spare clothes, and so I got to celebrate the day in the Target menswear department instead of the MFA. But for every one of those, there’s three moments of unexpected joy, as in last week’s hike when our late departure made me sad that we didn’t have time for the cliff walk trail – only to catch a sunset as it washed the Vermont horizon in orange fire. Or yesterday, when Will beamed just hearing the choral music performed ahead of his little 3-song concert – sitting quietly for a half hour. And how Will was excited beyond belief by just being able to help the Post Office food drive with carrying and sorting canned goods – proving that his favorite three words are “you’re a helper.”
Years ago when I was a child I thought Mother’s Day was about “made” gifts that give back from what is genuinely me. The gift selection was important, as it had to honor Mom but also reflect my talents and even push the envelope of them. Today, as the recipient, the gifts are my children themselves. With Jenn, they shine so obviously. With the boys, they’re wrapped in ways that may not sparkle, yet are positively luminescent, for anyone who has eyes to see them.
Happy Mother’s Day to all you Super Special Moms. May your day give you the vision to see the gift you kiddos really are.