I am so honored to have Sarah’s beautiful reflection on our word, Embrace, this week. Read on. Just read.
I have spent much of my life with my fingers tightly wound around my determined expectations. This is what happens when you have a stubborn streak and a complicated childhood that is thankfully, filled with books. My reality never seemed to match the written words I so readily inhaled. As I buried myself in the stories of other families, both true and fantasy, I noted how different life could look, how simple and predictable and happy. I held on tight to these lessons and believed that someday with enough commitment, I could make them all come true.
I became a mother at twenty-three, and like so many women before and after me, I was totally unprepared. It wasn’t just the logistics and the lack of sleep and the colic that shocked me. It was the total and complete undoing of my heart and soul that shook me deep and wide. Not only did this sweet little baby boy ignore all of my expectations and ideals, he seemed to challenge anything that was “how babies are supposed to act”. It was an unexpected wrench in my plans to be the perfect mother to a perfect baby, creating a perfect home with my perfect husband.
For awhile, all the unexpected things managed to convince me that I just wasn’t a good enough mother yet, that I needed to try harder and hold tighter to all those expectations, stare them down and force them into my reality, the reality of my son and our new little family. We could become all the pretty pictures I’d carefully filed in my daydreams, we could. And when we did, I would finally be able to breathe knowing that I’d done it. I’d fixed something that had been wrong inside me for as long as I could remember. I’d given my baby everything I thought I’d needed.
And then one day, a large envelope arrived in the mail. Before I opened it, I already knew what I would find and still I tore open the package and read the words, startled to feel them sting in their clinical approach, their distant and generic language. They described my little boy, they gave all the things that seemed so hard for him a classification, and they determined that he was, in fact, autistic.
Maybe that was the moment. Maybe once I saw it through the eyes of a professional so far removed, thoroughly and ethically performing his job, I realized that I didn’t want predictable. I wanted this little guy with sparkly brown eyes and neurological pathways that had revealed themselves to be so different than my own. I unclenched my fist and I let all the expectations float away. Autism wasn’t then, and isn’t now, a clinical description of a generic little boy with checks in all the wrong boxes. It simply is. It’s beautiful and hard and complicated and brilliant. It’s my son, in all his glory. It’s always been my son.
My son would not be the fulfillment of my well-ordered dreams. He would never behave as the boring little children of my boring expectations, he would never think in predictable ways, or learn by conventional methods, or cope with life in a societally-approved manner.
Instead, he would bring whole new worlds into our home, he would make our life feel beautifully small and fantastically big all at once. He would teach me to celebrate seemingly small victories and to ignore the stares of a stranger in favor of locking my gaze on him and his precious and gorgeously unique life. He would teach me to pray the most genuine prayers of my life and in so doing, he would be my undoing, in the very best and most healing way.
Here’s why: the opposite of a nails-pressed-into-your-palms grip is not open, empty hands. Instead, it is hands reaching and grabbing what we’ve already been given. It’s the long overdue ability to embrace. It’s such a relief to pull your child to you. It refocuses all the blurry images of your life, it makes you want to hug them all in all their hard and beautiful ways.
My special boy is nine now, and when I pick him up from school, I never know what awaits. I don’t know if his day was filled with moments of deep frustration and dysregulation or a series of triumphant successes. But I know this, before anything else, he will wrap his arms around my waist and I’ll squeeze him tight. I will feel him sink into a sliver of time and space that brings him peace. I will feel all the emotions of a mama who desperately wants life to be easier for her boy, but who is so grateful that my arms are a safe place for him. And that he knows it.
It’s a miracle every single time.
Sarah Torna Roberts is a writer who lives in California with her husband and four sons. She blogs at www.sarahtornaroberts.com where she digs around her in her memories, records her present, and is constantly holding her faith up to the light. She snacks at 2 AM with great regularity, is highly suspicious of anyone who doesn’t love baseball (Go Giants!), and would happily live in a tent by the sea.
Join our #wholemama movement in the melding of beautiful, broken, holy, mundane, artful and not so much. We would love to have your voices, too! Share with us and read more posts in the linkup below (click the frog!) or just share your thoughts in the comments!
Join our #wholemama facebook group (for early prompt access!)!