I’d like you to travel back in time with me if you will, please. If I had a TARDIS, I’d grab your hand and say, “RUN!” I don’t. All I have are words. Instead of physically traveling, you will need to let the events unfold in your mind and build the characters and scenery there. We can still do this together. Let me tell you a story.
It’s the story of a little boy about three years old. He is adorable. He’s also a bit of a rapscallion. It’s never intentional. He just loves to explore and see and feel and experience everything around him. He has no real understanding of barriers, except his own. His language is mixed with English and jargon he created. His parents understand him perfectly, but his speech leaves others’ heads spinning with the speed and confusion of it all. More than anything, however, he is loved. He is adored by his mommy and daddy.
It doesn’t matter how tired he makes his mother, how ragged she is run by the end of the day, his soulful eyes look into her own and everything is right with the world.
Except on Sundays.
Sundays are always hard for this mommy and her boy. Time passes, but still he cannot sit in a chair. He cannot listen to an adult drone on. He runs every chance he gets. Once she found him running outside the church in the parking lot on his way to a nearby park. He was only 5 years old that day. The teachers are not very understanding usually. Unfortunately the Sunday School teachers are angry and bitter about having him in their class.
The mommy always asks for him to be in a new class or for new teachers because her little boy will always run away from people that don’t like him. She doesn’t understand why grown ups don’t act like grown ups. She doesn’t understand why grown ups act like children.
Some Sundays, when the family comes home from church, the mommy spends time in the bathroom crying quietly for a few minutes. This is never going to end, she thinks. He is never going to be able to sit in a chair or do what other kids can do. This is her reality.
Years pass. We see them pass in a blur. The mommy and the boy struggle together with his challenges. The boy grows, and he is still beautiful and bright. If anything the light, love, and life in him only grow more brilliant with each passing year. His mommy and daddy ache with their love for him.
Unfortunately, Sundays haven’t changed much. Some teachers have been good. Some teachers have been not so good. He remembers them all. The mommy wonders if the grown ups realize that, that they are remembered. We all suffer the consequences of our actions. This will be one of theirs. He remembers them, for good or for ill.
But now there are new worries. The boy can’t read, but his classmates can. Well-intentioned teachers approach the mommy with their concerns. Is there more she could be doing? Is there a different approach that could be taken? Reading is important. Does she understand this? They don’t know the struggles because she is private and doesn’t share them.
He still can’t sit in a chair, and now he can’t read. The mommy cries a little more often after church in the bathroom all alone. He’s never going to be able to catch a break, is he? This is never going to end for him, is it?
Two more years pass. So many more struggles. Countless tears have been shed by the beautiful boy; tears of doubt, tears of sorrow, tears of fatigue. But we always see the boy wipe off the tears and try again. He never quits trying.
We are back to present day, and he’s eleven years old now. We are in church again for another Sunday. We already watched him memorize his part in a program. He is proud and ready. For the entire duration of the program he sits on the stand in front of the congregation without leaving his chair, without doing inappropriate things. He just sits with his class. He delivers his lines flawlessly and gives a half-smile to his proud parents all the way in the back.
But wait! There is more! His parents are in for a surprise. He gets up and delivers a second part that he agreed to fill in at the last moment. What makes this so special is that he reads it. No stuttering. No crying. Just reading.
Ladies and Gentleman, I give you my boy. My J. My hero. I couldn’t stop the tears that fell from my eyes when I watched my boy read something in front of a large group of people. My boy.
I cried after church again that day, but these were not tears of despair or sorrow. Rather, these were tears of gratitude and joy. It is not easy to struggle alongside a child with autism (high-functioning or low-functioning). It isn’t easy to watch them fall and be able to do nothing but hold them and love them and help them up. It isn’t easy to watch others look at them, some with judgment or revulsion and others with strange curiosity and others with pity. It isn’t easy to listen to the advice of people that don’t understand your child’s struggles, no matter how good their hearts are. You know what else isn’t easy? Remembering all the wonderful reasons to be thankful for their struggles.
But when it happens, it hits me square in the face like a big fat brick. I am thankful for his struggles today. Why? Because he is amazing. My boy is not a quitter. Those tears he cries are real, and they are painful. My boy knows pain and struggle. He knows what it is to fight your body/mind. He knows failure intimately. You know what he doesn’t know? Quitting. He hurts, and he gets knocked down. But he stands back up and tries again. I confess that a small part of me wants him to quit sometimes, to stop hurting, but I never say it to him. I never will. Because he has proven to me that he can. That’s it. He CAN.
So yes. The mommy cried again, but this time I thought, He’ll never be like other kids, and I am so damn glad. Thank you for my boy. Thank you for my beautiful, shining, strong, angel boy. And when I grow up, let me be like him.
Take It, and Be Thankful