There’s a little song and dance that happens almost every time Luke and I meet someone new. It goes something like this:
I get the “you’re a great mom” remark with alarming frequency. It’s almost as if it’s the standard response to learning someone has a special needs child, like saying “you’re welcome” when someone says “thank you,” or “bless you” when someone sneezes. I don’t fully understand it. It’s nice that so many seek to offer encouragement, but I’d like to think there’s nothing so remarkable about a mother who loves, delights in, and devotes herself to her children.
I recently read the book, Dancing with Max by Emily Colson, about a mother’s experiences and faith in raising her severely autistic son. It was a wonderfully written and uplifting memoir. I related to so many things that Emily experienced and felt- except for one.
Emily described a scene at a local pool. All of the typical children were playing in the water, while their mothers reclined on beach chairs chatting and sunbathing; however, Max needed Emily’s attention and involvement, so she couldn’t relax at the poolside. She needed to be in the pool with Max, and she longed to be like those other mothers.
I understood the scene. It’s one that I’ve lived many times in many different venues. I remember taking Luke to the playground, and having to follow him closely to prevent injury to this child with no fear of being hurt. All the while, I was watching the other parents sitting on the park benches and wondering how they got away with it.
On another occasion, I climbed through the long, narrow tubing in the children’s play area at the Sawgrass Mills Mall while I was an enormous eight-months pregnant. I was certain the parents watching from the ground were concocting plans for how they were going to butter my belly to get us out of there.
Yes, there have definitely been times that I’ve wished I could be like other parents…
… but there have also been times that I’ve felt sorry for the parents sitting on the park benches, or watching from the ground, or relaxing by the pool.
They smile as I run and slide and climb with Luke, clearly touched by the sight of a mother taking joy in her child. I overhear whispers of approval as they watch us together playing and giggling, and I wonder, “Why don’t they join in?” Why are they content to stay on the sidelines, being wallflowers and benchwarmers? Priceless moments are there for the taking, so get off the beach chairs and dive in!
I know that if it weren’t for the blessing of autism in my life, the sidelines is precisely where I would be – letting these precious opportunities with Luke and Faith pass me by. It takes effort and energy to be involved, but I know I will never look back and regret spending so much time playing with my kids. I won’t wish I’d warmed more benches. I’m happy to be the in-the-trenches, hands-dirty, jungle gym climbing, twisty slide riding, blue-collar mom that autism has made me.
Does having a special needs child make someone a “great mom?” I don’t know, but I can say that it has made me a better one.