Mostly, I focus my energy on being a mommy, wife, and teacher. That takes all of me on most days, but when I get a few minutes here and there, I read the news: local, national, world, whatever. I like to peek out of this bubble I am so encompassed in on occasion and I feel the need to keep at least a tentative grasp on the outside world. I tend to keep an eye on issues regarding civil rights, education, and children with special needs, especially, of course, Autism, but it seems I can't read a news source lately without hearing of a parent killing their child on the spectrum.
Intentionally. Cruelly. Impossibly.
Yes, raising Ben has been my greatest challenge. It has been exhausting, frustrating, and heart breaking, and I have spent every single day of the last eight and a half years feeling like a giant failure to some degree. I don't have enough resources, knowledge, time, foresight, insight, patience, intelligence, wisdom or energy to feel as if I am doing a decent job or giving him all he needs. I do my best. I feel insufficient. I am exhausted. And I ache over it. Every. Single. Day.
But even when I am running late for work and he is screaming half-intelligibly, hitting his head, clawing his face, lunging at me, and crying about NOT wearing THE clean jacket, and I am thinking about how damn stupid I am for falling asleep before putting the other jackets in the dryer so that he could have the one he needs to feel secure enough to go to school and wishing tequila was an acceptable breakfast beverage, and I still have to go teach other people's seventh graders and he and I slept THREE hours the night before, and OH-MY-GOD-WHAT-THE-HELL-HAS-HAPPENED-TO-MY-LIFE is running through my head on repeat, I would NEVER hurt my child.
And I sure as hell would never throw my green-eyed, dimple-faced, brilliant, conflicted, anxious, sometimes infuriating, loving baby boy off of a bridge.
I brought Benjamin into this world. He is my life. He is my responsibility. He is my greatest challenge. He is by far my greatest joy.
The very last bit of news I read (and will for awhile) was an article about that "mother" in Oregon, describing how she blogged about "the pain of raising a child with Autism." And it made me sick. Yes, there is pain, as there is anytime you completely give of yourself for the benefit of someone else. I imagine there is pain involved in raising ANY child, as there is certainly pain involved in teaching the children of others.
But there is also joy.
Ben has the best smile I've ever seen and the happiest laugh I've ever heard. It's rare that he engages in a genuine smile or has an authentic belly laugh, but when he does the world lights up. Ben's laughs are innocent, joyful, and never mean. He doesn't judge anyone, except sometimes his mommy when she forgets to dry his favorite jacket, but even then he doesn't hold a grudge. He does not care about or notice height, weight, race, religion, financial status, or appearance. If he thinks you are funny and nice, he likes you. Always. He does not care about the newest, most expensive toys or dressing like everyone else. That's not on his radar. He is thrilled when you surprise him with gum or a bag of pipe cleaners. He does not ask for toys in the store. He has seen Monster's Inc and Finding Nemo and read The Lorax and Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day countless times and still enjoys every second of them. He loves to snuggle and read books. He is happiest with a trip to the park on a pleasant day and a nice stick for pretending he is playing musical instruments. He loves classical music. He loves chocolate. He loves me and the rest of his family. He is honest. He is helpful. He is mischievous and fun. He is smart. He is caring when someone else is hurt or upset. He is genuine-- never fake. He is joyful.
I adore him. I love him with my whole heart and soul. Even when it's hard to raise him. Even when I am exhausted and frustrated and worried.
He is my joy.
There is joy in raising children with Autism.
Those kids--and grown adults-- deserve to live their lives. They deserve to be loved. If you know someone on the spectrum, please share the joy. Please spread awareness. And if you know someone whose mental health is suffering, please reach out to them. Please help them get help. Please help the children in their care.