I watch my wrecked world suddenly explode. Like Princess Leia, it is from a safe distance. Unlike Princess Leia, I watch half suctioned into the blowhole of a recently surfaced baleen whale who has come to ingest me.
Eye contact, imitation, interaction, communication, empathy—benchmarks I didn’t think to even worry about were not being reached by my two-year-old son. So I sought help from early intervention and hunted down a developmental pediatrician.
Diagnosis: Autism. Cue explosion.
I hear the cries of my unmet expectations rise, tangled with the smoke. I was a kindergarten and first-grade teacher for 12 years. I thought I was going to crush this whole parenting thing. I read every parenting book on every subject imaginable—eliminating screen time, teaching your baby calculus, performing dramatic readings of classic literature, and even stimulating your toddler’s intellect with scintillating dinner conversation. I learned to make toys out of burlap and coffee filters and subscribed to parenting magazines and Highlights. I researched “mommy and me” classes with hopes of learning yoga, reading 100 books before kindergarten, and uncovering his hidden musical talent to prep him for his inevitable performance on The Voice. We would post our adventures on YouTube and all our crafts on Pinterest.
I would return to teaching when he started school and, while crushing that, would daydream of the days of retirement when he was completely independent. All these dreams bubble up from under the capsized SS Neurotypical and spread out over the frenetic waves, never to be seen again.
Do you not hear my pounding fists? Are my screams muffled by whale blubber? Do you see me sitting on the floor of my motherhood surrounded by the chalk outlines of all my happy thoughts?
It has been three years since his diagnosis and the hard shift from what I thought my life would be like.
I have not returned to teaching. Attending “mommy and me” classes looked like a scene from Looney Tunes, my house looks like a herd of wildebeests ran through it, and my life in snapshot form looks like a “nailed it” meme. There have been periods of little-to-no sleep—with him up from 2 a.m. until 6 a.m.—hospital trips to get fluids because of his refusal to drink water, years of driving him each night to get him to sleep, countless failed attempts to play with him and interact, complete lack of communication due to apraxia of speech, making videos and printing pictures of everything he eats, plays with, goes, watches to try to bridge the gap of communication. Years of nos to parties and get-togethers and eating out due to hours of tantruming.
Years of NOT crushing it—of it actually crushing me.
I look over at my son. He is blissfully happy, jumping up and down on whale tongue. I have been in here how many times and never thought to take advantage of that? Only he would look at this situation and think, “Yay! Bounce safari!”
His smile gives me pause and I sit. I sit in this whale You have swallowed us in, traveling beneath raging waves and storms that strike the surface and churn below.
I see the picture of him in his first real outfit, sitting in his car seat for the first time on the hospital bed. We were finally taking him home, and I remember feeling like bank robbers escaping with loot we had no business pretending was really ours. I distinctly remember the one thing I was looking forward to more than anything was getting to know him—what he would like and dislike, what would make him happy. Amidst everything, You made that happen. Through sounds, pointing, pictures we eventually learned what he wanted.
I got what was most important to me—a happy kid. Happiness is still his prevailing trait, and he spreads it to others.
So here is what I know.
Instead of continuing down the same worn path as an educator, You have stretched me to my limits and helped me (counter to all professional advice) develop a way to use screen time to increase my son’s learning and social engagement. You have connected me and allowed me to work with exceptionally talented teachers and support staff I never would have been in contact with—people I would be honored to work with as a teacher, who go above and beyond each day, and who love my child.
For survival, I have had to seek out people facing similar difficulties and now have deep friendships with people who have been formed through pressure into amazing individuals. I have met people who feel it is their calling to adopt children with special needs to love on them and show them God’s love.
I have a church that lured me in with their mission to reach and teach children with special needs and kept me there with people who know how to love deeply by truly trying to imitate Jesus. His “buddy” Allie is a marathon-racing warrior who not only keeps up with him but who can pick him up and swing him around and pray for him the way I would.
You have stretched me to the limit as a Christian. I have had to stand on Your promises and cling to You for help each day to adjust to this new normal. You have shown me crazy, unlimited love through the people praying for us. You encourage us with Your promises. You have given my husband Ray a new set of benchmarks—benchmarks we believed and trusted because they were Yours. When he was three and barely making any sounds, You told us at four years old he would begin to speak—and he spoke. You told us at five years old he would communicate in sentences and he does. You told us he will be a warrior for Your Kingdom, and we just believe it.
My kid is AWESOME. I know every mom says that, but it has to be said.
He has amazing patience, problem-solving skills, visual memory, loves music, and shows affection. He is filled with an infectious joy and his name—Caleb Joshua—carries the reminder that You are bigger than all we face.
After three years of facing the challenges of autism, you moved this worrier closer to being a warrior. After this long trip inside the whale, I know this to be true—You are who You say You are and You do what You say You will do.
Lord, thank You that after these three years, I see the destruction of my expectations in a new way—not as a punishment, but as the prying of my white-knuckled fingers, one by one, off an inferior dream so they are free to receive what You have in store for me, my husband, and my son. Thank you for perfectly forming my son and for the perfect plan You have for him. Thank you that he can request the song “Good Grace” aloud by name in the car now and that he says, “In Jesus’s name we pray, Amen!” as loudly as he can whenever he sees his amazing daddy who prays for him every night. Thank you for banana peels on the stairs and snuggles under blankets singing Starfall songs and memorizing Peppa Pig books. Thank You for seeing me and hearing all of my prayers and answering them in Your way and not mine.
In Jesus’s Name I pray,
Originally published on the author’s blog