I remember when my world used to feel so small. Me, my husband and our growing family up against the world. I think of the times when the little things used to bother me to the point of borderline insanity. I used to relish the fact that I had it all. Boy, I was stupid back then. Before you become a mother, you create this allusion in your mind of what life should be. The perfect life. You envision your kids becoming athletes and honor roll students, keeping those date nights regulated with the hubby and never having to worry about the heavy shit you didn’t plan for.
Then life happens. Things change. Warning: that life you dreamt for yourself isn’t going to go the way it did in your head.
I think to myself of all the things I took for granted. All the things that I used to put so much energy into that make me shake with anger and clench my teeth just thinking about now. Why was I so selfish and petty? Why did I always sweat the small stuff and forget the bigger picture?
I would trade everything that I thought was wrong in my life to change what breaks my heart now. I think of my children and my husband. He was that perfect person that I thought I could never, ever live without. Now there are days when I want to just be alone. I think of last summer, and how I’d made these hypothetical plans to potty train my youngest once he turns two. Now I’d give my left arm to just hear him call me “Mommy” again, like he did for months and stopped doing.
When you have kids with special needs, it softens your heart. I can say that. And the thought of something ever being “wrong” with a tiny person that you created is enough to make you feel like you’ve lost your appetite for an entire week. As a mother, you don’t plan for these things, but you do know that there’s a reason greater than you that made you this child’s parent, for men are not strong like we are. Men don’t fight and plead and beg to find out what the underlying issue is—they typically go with the “wait and see” or “it’s just in my wife’s head” approach. That is simply not in a man’s nature. (And if it is, please correct me for I have never heard of it—I’d feel relieved to know if it actually existed somewhere out there.)
The first time I knew something was “different” with my second child she was only 6 weeks old. Already born 5 weeks premature, she had cemented herself in my heart and my mind as the little warrior that made me strong but who I knew needed me just the same. I spent the next 4 years championing until I finally received her formal diagnosis, something I saw coming all along but still cried for the day the words were said to me over the telephone.
3 months later my life started to take a quick shift in another direction, one far more serious that made my first special needs child experience feel like a day at Disneyland.
I think of the first time the doctors suspected that my son had autism. But then immediately I think of the first time I finally admitted that this was a valid possibility. This is when I stopped lying for him, and for myself. This was the only way to take a step in the right direction and acknowledge the truth in front of me.
I went from a social person who loved entertaining and going out to a person that hated leaving her house and used any and every opportunity she had to travel when she could. I still am this person, but I am learning not to hide so much or escape. I think of the type of mother I want to be. Then I think of the type of mother I need to be. On good days, those two get a chance to meet.
Being a mother is a hard freaking job. It doesn’t matter if you’re a mom who works, doesn’t work, has a nanny or struggles to survive. We are all in this together. I look at other mothers who are unflinching with courage. I see them, observing with adoring eyes when I go to my two children’s specialist appointments.
I wish they knew how beautiful they are, how easy they make this all look.
When they seem somewhat approachable, I often pay them a small compliment. It brings me joy in this strange way to see them smile, to let them know that they are just an awesome human being navigating through life. I too know that they most likely had those same dreams that I had of becoming a perfect mother to perfect little kids.
Someday, as I grow stronger and more confident in my role as a mother to special needs children, I hope that another mother can look to me for strength from a distance and know that they are strong and they are tough as hell, and that everything will be okay. There’s a reason that you are that child’s mother, and you will become stronger each day. I can promise you that. Don’t doubt your strength, it’s in there, even if you haven’t found it yet.