When I had to leave my dream job to stay at home with my son, I was terrified I would lose myself and feel unfulfilled by motherhood. Instead, God used my son to uncover who I am at my core.
I used to rely solely on the advice of experts. When I was pregnant, I dutifully read every ingredient of what I ingested and applied topically to ensure it was “safe.” When visiting London, I hunted down and salivated over a grilled cheese that had been recommended by a friend. I thought it was strange that a grilled cheese was elevated to a status above all other attractions, but it was the stuff of legend—piled high with a variety of different cheeses and grilled to perfection on freshly made bread. Instead of diving in, I asked if the cheese was pasteurized. The vendor’s reply? “Absolutely. It goes past your eyes right into your stomach.” With a protective hand on my belly, I walked away from that grilled cheese without looking back.
When my son was diagnosed with autism, I felt my meticulous rule-following had failed me. I regretted not eating that grilled cheese.
At age three, my son was not making eye contact—the building block of all learning. I was in turmoil. I sought out the experts again and they all seemed to agree that screen time should be avoided entirely. Researching left me stuck in a land of “what not to do” without the hope of “what you can do.”
The only known was that every child with autism is different.
In the absence of knowledge on my end, I petitioned Caleb’s Creator, who knit him mysteriously in my womb. I may not know how to reach and unlock Caleb, but God does. In prayer, I realized I was operating out of fear, scrambling to find a solution instead of resting and trusting in God. He reminded me that He placed Caleb and me together for a reason.
Then, in the wake of the calm that comes from finally bringing things to God, I stopped listening to what the world was saying and started observing and following my instincts. My 12 years of teaching meant I had a combined experience unlocking over 300 kids, each with different sets of needs. I approached teaching with out-of-the-box problem-solving with enormous success. I needed to own the fact that I was still a professional and the expert on my son.
I started just being with Caleb and observing him as I would a child in my classroom. I began to notice that my son would make eye contact with a phone or electronic device. I realized that if I could get myself on the screen, he would pay attention to me and make eye contact.
This thing I had been trained to see as the enemy could become a tool.
One day, while he was at school, I made him a video. He had been struggling for months spelling his first name and his teachers were out of ideas. So I sang the song “B-I-N-G-O” substituting the letters of Caleb’s name. Throughout the song, I spelled his name with velcro letters on a sentence strip and magnetic letters on an easel.
When he came home from school, he discovered his mom on his electronic device, singing to him. After ONE viewing, evidence of his newfound knowledge was all over our house. I would walk in to vacuum his bedroom and would see “Caleb” formed with a combination of magnetic letters and letters from a puzzle. I would take a shower and notice “Caleb” written with foam letters on the side of the tub. I would cook breakfast and notice “Caleb” written with play dough letters mashed into the countertop.
The most amazing part? He started making eye contact with me, in the flesh—something that had seemed impossible.
After I shared my findings with the school, they followed suit, making videos of themselves showing Caleb what they wanted him to do. The “child is not expected to achieve this goal” comments started to change to “goal achieved” on his progress reports across the board.
I reflect on this as I watch my son play with his peers at a local splash pad. (They don’t tell you as a stay-at-home mom that your paycheck switches from USD to smiles.) I could watch him all day, jumping up and down, screeching in delight, waving his arms like he is about to take flight—raw, unfiltered joy.
A little boy who has been observing him walks over to me. “It’s just water,” he exclaims, truly perplexed.
I laugh and share my boxed explanation that my son has autism and he experiences his feelings deeply.
I revel at the fact that I am moving on from fixating on the difference between my son’s behavior and other kids.
I am finally seeing my son.
This is how I want to raise my kid—not comparing him to other kids or holding him to some external standard, but raising him to be him. Turns out, my dream job was a stepping stone to something more fulfilling—being the person God wonderfully and mysteriously knit together to be Caleb’s mom.