I didn’t know you.

We were always togetherI fed you from my body, then my hands. I bathed you, I changed you, I’ve always loved you.

But you were somewhere else.

Where were you?

My son Johnny is now five years old. He is autistic. And I feel like I did not really know him for almost the first four years of his life.

Shouldn’t a mother know her child?

I did know him but in a different way. A way I had to work for.

As a baby, Johnny was quiet and kept to himself. He needed me, but never asked for me or reached for me. That cuts deep.

At first, I didn’t notice. He was my first. I thought the connection would come.

A newborn’s world is black and white, but that was supposed to grow. As he grew there was almost no attachment from him. It was there for me, but not for him. I pushed for it. Secretly begged for it.

He would cry and I wouldn’t know why. Gas? Hunger? Pain? There was no signal as to what. Like a mother to her newborn, I would run around trying to fix everything, but he wasn’t a newborn anymore.

As he grew, if I really engaged and got close I could get smiles. I could tickle and he would laugh, and then nothing. Moments of connection always cut short.

I wondered where he was.

He hated car rides as a baby. He would cry the whole time. Somewhere, around 18-months, they became so quiet.

No singing or talking. I would point out trees, cars, the sky and was met with silence.

I didn’t know where his mind was. Was he content? Scared? Happy?

RELATED: Before I Knew Autism

He would eat. I would put him at the table and ask what he wanted. At first, there was no response and then around three maybe a word. Milk. Water. Apple.

I would have to guess the rest of it.

I would talk to him as if he were talking back. It was lonely.

Every once in a while he’d sing with me. It was everything.

Affection was now there. Especially out in public when he was nervous. At home, he became attached to me. He’d follow me everywhereit’s how he showed he needed me. I kind of loved it.

But I thought, Shouldn’t there be more back and forth?

Then more words came. Not sentences, just two or three words together.

I was so excited.

They weren’t his words though.

He was repeating. Shows, books, movies.

As I learned that wasn’t right, the excitement faded.

I yearned for an answer. An answer to anything I asked.

I wanted to know him.

I became an expert in his noncommunicating. I knew him in a different way. A way through observation.

Watching his face when he watched something. Was there a quick giggle or a small smile? That means he liked it.

Is he looking at that same book? It must be his favorite.

He didn’t eat those noodles. He must not like them.

I wished he would tell me though. Words would have been great. Showing me would have been amazing too. I would take any of it. Any communication.

RELATED: Mommy Always Makes it Better, So Why Can’t I?

A little while after four, I started hearing the flow of his voice. Not just singing or a simple word or two. He could name every Star Wars and Harry Potter character. Sometimes scripting (repeating) an entire sentence from a movie or from a teacher or parent. Slowly the scripting became fitting to the situation.

I could ask, “What time is it?” at dinner, and after a few beats he would repeat from his favorite show “time for snack.” Win! Something was clicking. He used words, he knew food was involved, he recognized the word “time: in my question.

He started to point and show us more and more things . . . if it was something he wanted.

Once again, I was so happy. Progress was exciting.

But silent days would still come, and I still wanted more.

A month before turning five, Johnny broke his arm. Sleep was rough. A little boy who already had trouble falling asleep was not going to be doing better with a cast on his arm.

One night though, the best thing happened. I was lying next to him trying to make him comfortable and he bumped me with his cast. An automatic “ow” slipped from my lips, and I heard the most beautiful little boy immediately say “sorry.”

One word.

One spontaneous word.

Just a quick “sorry” meant so much to me. I will never forget.

He didn’t have to think about it. He just said it.

Now here we are at five and a half. Language has grown so much. He will ask for his favorite things—to watch Charlie Brown, ask to read Chicka Chicka Boom Boom, or for an orange to eat.

RELATED: The Humbling Journey of Loving a Child With Autism

Amazing. I feel like his personality is finally showing. I know what he likes and doesn’t.

I get to know him.

I even get an “I love it” or an “I love you, Mommy” sometimes. Music to my ears.

Some days he still disappears. It’s all scripting or singing. Eye contact comes and goes. I would love to have a conversation. Really hear about what he did at school, how he feels about any situation, why he does or doesn’t like something.

I really want to ask where he was and where he goes.

Does he just not care to speak? Or do the words get lost on their way to his mouth?

I assume the latter, but maybe a little of both. I assume there is so much going on in there, and I pray one day he can tell me all about it. Spoken or written I just want to know where he was and where he goes.

Originally published on the author’s blog

So God Made a Mother book by Leslie Means

If you liked this, you'll love our new book, SO GOD MADE A MOTHER available for pre-order now!

Pre-Order Now

Jaime Ramos

Jaime Ramos of Johnny's Spirit is a wife and mom from Colorado. She's married to her best friend, Isaac and they have two kids, Amelie and Jesse. Jesse is her Johnny, he is five and on the Autism Spectrum. She went to school to be a filmmaker but now spends her days mainly as a stay-at-home mom.

Spanking Made Us Parents We Didn’t Want To Be

In: Faith, Motherhood
Silhouette of mother pointing finger at child

Fourteen years ago when my husband and I were preparing for our first child, we felt we already had several tools in our toolbox. Both of us worked with children and youth, and we felt prepared for parenting. We decided early on that we would never spank unless we were completely out of options.  As our bright, sweet, bubbly firstborn entered the terrible fours (yes, he was a bit delayed in his toddler rebellion), we were surrounded by a community of people who believed in “controlled spanking” with hugs and grace afterward.  RELATED: These 6 Words Transformed Discipline in Our...

Keep Reading

Let Your Kids See Your Feelings Too

In: Motherhood
Mother and daughter hugging on couch

I’m a mom to two exceptional kids–one with big emotions and one with a big heart. What that looks like in our house is an older child who is prone to outbursts and a younger child who’s always trying to help him through them. As we witness our younger son become more empathetic in response to his brother’s tantrums, we find ourselves constantly worrying that he is feeling overshadowed, relentlessly reassuring him there’s enough room for his feelings too. RELATED: Mothering a Child With Big Emotions is Heavy And what I’ve come to realize is that one of the best...

Keep Reading

Once Upon a Time You Got All of Me

In: Marriage, Motherhood
Husband and wife on wedding day, color photo

First there was us, and now it’s them. We have four little hands that need us, and it’s so hard to get lost in parenthood and forget that at once upon a time it was me and you. I promise you, it won’t always be like this. It won’t always be this hard. I remember when we would go for leisurely walks and long Sunday brunches. Now it takes us an hour to leave the house for a 15-minute walk. I want so badly to spend hours lying in bed, talking like we used to, but now I’m so tired...

Keep Reading

I Was Raised by an Easter-Only Mom and I Want More for My Kids

In: Faith, Motherhood
Mother and daughter read Bible

Motherhood is not for the faint-hearted, and women tend to look to their upbringing for guidance. We may not even realize we’re doing it! But being a godly mother is even more difficult when you weren’t raised by one. The questions are endless: How do I model forgiveness? How do I set the right priorities for my household? How do I explain baptism to my 6-year-old? Is it okay to have undiscipled friends around my children? Do we have to pray over every meal? Is the occasional swear word acceptable?  These questions may be less intimidating if you were fortunate enough...

Keep Reading

We’ll Get Through Daddy’s Deployment Together

In: Living, Motherhood
Mother, father, daughter selfie, color photo

“I didn’t think we did that anymore.” I wish I could attribute that to one person, but I’ve heard it from multiple people when I’ve mentioned that my pilot-soldier National Guard husband is deploying overseas. Yes, we still do that. Men and women still suit up every day to carry out various missions, both valuable and confusing, around the country and the world. And for the whole of 2023 that includes my husband. My partner, my co-adventurer. The one who will use our flight and hotel benefits from his day job to visit Hawaii for three days on a pre-deployment...

Keep Reading

Our College Visit Disaster: What You Should Learn from My Mistakes

In: Grown Children, Motherhood, Teen
Mom and teen daughter selfie, color photo

With a song in my heart, I got in the car to drive my daughter to our first college visit.  We drove two hours to a school nestled in the mountains. It was a state school, not too big, not too small.  She knew plenty of alumni from her high school who attended there, and I was convinced it was going to be the perfect fit. We pulled up to the student center, and I jumped out of the car. I glanced around for her and realized she was still sitting in the car.  “Mom, I’m not getting out. I ...

Keep Reading

I Was Never Good Enough for My Mother, So I’m Done Trying

In: Living, Motherhood
Woman walking away

I’m on a path in life that is so different from what I ever imagined growing up. It’s a path I’m not even sure I consciously choose. And it’s a path that exhausts me. I grew up with a narcissistic mother, and I was the scapegoat. No matter how I tried, I could never gain my mother’s love. It was love that was tainted with conditions and taken away at any time—and that was often. And thus, I tried harder. Best grades, best behavior, cleanest room. It never worked. I was too fat. My thighs were huge—make sure they were...

Keep Reading

Even When it Feels Like I Can’t, I Keep Going

In: Faith, Motherhood
Tired mom holding toddler

When I feel like I can’t do one more thing. When I am overwhelmed and touched out and lost in the logistics of it all. When my physical and mental energy are depleted. When the length of my to-do list needs more hours than I have. When I am so bone tired that I’m sure I just can’t go on. And there is still more to do. And the only choice is to keep going– I keep going. I dig a little deeper and find strength I didn’t know I had. RELATED: Check on Your “Strong” Friend, She’s Faking it...

Keep Reading

I Am an Immigrant Mom

In: Living, Motherhood
Mother and toddler in sunshine

I have many moments of What did I get myself into? during the day, especially when one of my kids is screaming at the top of his lungs and the other is having a make-believe experiment in the kitchen. We’ve heard countless times that raising kids is hard, but raising kids as a first-generation immigrant is harder. Obviously, there is no competition for who has more struggles or whose life is harder because child rearing is hard. Period. But this piece is specifically aimed at shedding some light on the unsung heroes, our so-called, first-gen immigrants raising kids in a...

Keep Reading

What Happens When She Wants Another Baby and He Does Not?

In: Faith, Marriage, Motherhood
Husband and wife, pregnancy photo, color photo

I am on my knees, folded over, with my head resting on the carpet. I am in my closet, which doesn’t see much of the vacuum, and it is the only place I can find to sob out of sight. I feel hollowed out and defeated as if I have run a marathon and was cut short at the finish line. I cry out in prayer, pleading with God to soften the heart of my husband. I desperately want another child, and he desperately does not. I take a deep breath and dry my eyes because my 4-year-old outside the...

Keep Reading