When your first child is profoundly autistic, you can easily lose yourself in his diagnosis.
Especially when you have given up a career of your own.
Especially when you have been needed to be the primary parent for that child, as well as the child who followed.
The years go by.
He goes from two to three and still no words.
And you start to think they might never come.
You battle depression. You wonder what you did to bring this suffering upon your child. You go to bed crying. You try to care for a newborn daughter whose presence in your womb came JUST as you started to fall into this world filled with worry for your son.
Three turns to four, and you are presented with an opportunity to try something new. Maybe this will work. Maybe the people at this school will find a way to unlock the potential.
Four turns to five, and you think that maybe he needs just one more year. There are moments where you see his mind at work. You see him solve problems without the benefit of any language. You see him start to nod and shake his head and answer your simple questions. You see him start to move his mouth in different ways and laugh when he makes a new sound. But, still, no words.
Five turns to six, and WHAT????? Why am I now doing this alone? What happened to my marriage? And, crap, now we are in public school. His teacher is wonderful. His aides are wonderful. But the football coaches' salaries probably surpass the special education budget for the entire district. And my son is stimming more than ever and still is struggling with some skills most two-year-olds have mastered.
Deal with all of that and .... well, I guess it is not hard to wonder why I can be asking, "What in the hell happened to me?"
Where am I?
Who am I?
And what in the h-e-double-l am I going to do with the rest of my life that does not involve autism?
I am struggling to find myself.
One thing I have learned is that I am deeply flawed, but that I have the best intentions .....
I guess that counts for something.
Another thing I have learned is that, no matter what, I refuse to leave my children. I know that with absolute certainty. How do I know? Because there have been moments when I have been face-first in the carpet crying out to God ... moments when I have been curled up in total despair wondering how I would get up in the morning.... moments when I actually have told my best friend, God bless her, "I just can't do this anymore."
And, yet, here I am.
I can't imagine being anywhere else.
I need to find out more, though, about myself, and about the person I am going to be five, ten, twenty years from now.
It is going to take some time.
But here are a few of the things I am discovering:
I like to dance. I really, really like to dance. I like putting on a black dress and dancing all over a crowded, hoppin' dance floor.
I like to run races. I like the tension that flows through my body while I stand with the runners at the starting line. I like the feeling of accomplishment when I finish, regardless of my time. I like knowing that the girl who never once considered herself remotely athletic can run a race and run it well.
I have room for a lot of forgiveness in my heart. More than I thought possible, and certainly more than I ever thought I'd need.
And one other thing I have discovered as of late -- and as with so many things, I owe a bit of gratitude to my bud S for helping with this discovery -- there really is something to be said for taking the high road.
I have taken only a few steps down this road of self-discovery. My shoes are definitely worn, and the bags under my eyes speak for themselves.
But I am not turning back.