I’ve known you since I was 19. We’ve been married for 23 years. 

We’ve moved twice. We have five kids and one dog.

It’s easy to explain our life together in terms of time and numbers, and yet it is anything but years and digits.

It is a first kiss.

A sonogram.

A family.

Today, I love you.

I can’t say I love you every minute of every day.

Today, I do. 

I love you even though you snapped at me this morning when 17-year old Jack was upset because he lost his mood ring. 

He loves his mood ring. 

He realized it wasn’t where he left it on the table, and he started to jump and swear.

You asked me to let you handle it. You said it would be easier if I would just leave the kitchen and go upstairs and give you space to work him through it.  

And you were right. I know this. I know just being in the room makes him more and more inflamed, like a volcano on the brink of explosion. 

But I am the mother.

I am the mother, and when he cries, I cannot leave. It is primal. It is instinct. It is a kind of maternal devotion that defies explanation.

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I cannot leave when he screams. 

Or when he shouts, “I REGRET IT! This AUTISM!”

Or when he flaps his hands around his head and says, “For I just want to be. Like everyone else.”

We thought we were over the hump, didn’t we? We both thought the worst was behind us. We got through puberty, a new school, changes in medication. 

Yet there is his perpetual self-loathing and an ever-widening gulf between him and not-him.

It’s the stuff people don’t like to talk about—the way autism and adolescence and anxiety ignite one another into a raging, desperate inferno.

Lately, it seems even you and I are unwilling to stretch our hands to the fire and feel the heat of our imminent future.

It will never be behind us. 

Today, I love you. 

I love you even though you wanted to be the father when I wanted to be the mother. 

I love you even though we carry our grief separately like colorful buckets of very red paint.

For 17 years, we have interpreted this boy to the world, and this world to the boy. 

We’ve always had to look at life from both sides.

We work to speak autism’s language. 

All day long, we push uphill. 

We push and we hope and we try and we fail.

We don’t dare look back, or too far ahead. 

Together, we will get him there.

Wherever that is. 

The thing is, we are so different. We always have been. You are calamari to my carrot cake, an early-morning riser to my late snooze.

I like the beach. You prefer the lake.

You are Italian with dark hair, and I am Irish and fair. 

You are the father, and I am the mother. You teach, I soothe.

I long to understand what it feels like to jump and hop like little ants are crawling along my legs and arms.

You show him how to change the oil and calculate the price of grapes on sale and when it’s time to go to school, you tell him it’s time for school.

I try to put myself in his shoes, and you give him shoes to fill.

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My husband, you are my witness.

And I yours.

We are witness to all the ways we help him claim the piece of earth that is rightfully his. 

Side by side we stand, firmly rooted to the ground, and stretch our gaze toward the sky.

It is the hardest work I have ever known.

And on the days when it is all too much for me, when I can’t see the sun for the clouds, and I can’t take another step in the name of spectrum progress, you hold my hand in yours and help me reach beyond the storm. 

Marriage can’t be measured in numbers or years, it’s true. It is small pockets of time—moments of hope, and love, and loss, all mixed up with old-fashioned grit.

Funny birthday cards, goofy texts, the silent treatment, stolen kisses, give-and-take, compromise, failed attempts, and new beginnings. 

Morning coffee, small smiles across the dinner table, a mood ring found beneath the chair.

The truth is, after 23 years, we are still learning as we go. 

Today, I love you.

You hold up half my sky.

Happiest anniversary to you and me.

Originally published on the author’s blog

Carrie Cariello

Carrie Cariello is the author of What Color Is Monday, How Autism Changed One Family for the Better, and Someone I’m With Has Autism. She lives in Southern New Hampshire with her husband, Joe, and their five children.  Carrie is a contributor to the Huffington Post, TODAY Parents, the TODAY Show, Parents.com. She has been interviewed by NBC Nightly News, and also has a TEDx talk. She speaks regularly about autism, marriage, and motherhood, and writes a weekly blog at www.carriecariello.com. One of her essays, “I Know What Causes Autism,” was featured as one of the Huffington Post’s best of 2015, and her piece, “I Know Why He Has Autism,” was named one of the top blog posts of 2017 by the TODAY Show.