A Love Letter to My Kids with Autism
Posted on February 24, 2017
My Dear Ones,
I wake in the wee hours to pray over you and ponder how to make the world as honest as you need it to be. You are sincere and intractably hopeful. I want everything to reveal itself to you in its beauty.
I spend my evenings making apocalypses for you. Here is a chart that will make the day fall into a pattern. Here is mirror that reveals prayer as joy. Here is a little game that charms the teeth out of sequencing.
When you, my boy, sing with me, and you, my girl, cover your ears when I sing, I know it is because you both understand the power of music to reveal the heart.
I would have wrapped myself around you like a pocket, like I did when you were tiny, and shaken my love-drunk fist at the world to frighten it away. I would have done so, if you could have seen its beauty through a grumpy bear of a mama.
But I have learned to hold my drink, of love, and I know that for you two, I cannot give up too soon my role as place for you. Every mother is a person and a place to her children. Each of you lived inside of me and knew me as your first home. I am not your walls any longer, but I can build you windows.
I will draw a frame around a bird for you to know the sky. I will make a circle for your trains so you can rejoice in the freedom of motion. The bird comes back. The train comes back. There is nothing to fear.
When you lose yourself in time, and you lose yourself in space, and I am here holding you and squeezing your hands until you know you are here and breathing big breaths with you until I am lightheaded and you know that you are now, I want you to know I love you then. I want the assurance of your loveliness to draw your hands back to you and draw you back into the present with each breath.
I don’t know if you will ever tell me that you love me, but please know that I did not become a parent in order to be loved. You are children of joy, and I love you. If you cannot please my ears with sweet words, please know you please my heart by your very being.
I used to think of myself as a prophet and a teacher. I used to think I was pretty smart. Maybe I am those things. Maybe prophets prepare the way of the Lord by rolling Thomas the Train over a little boy’s back till the boy giggles and makes eye contact. Maybe teachers and smart people spend too much money on the exact Disney Princess doll dress that a toddler sibling destroyed, so that a little girl can tuck her Anna doll into bed just so. Maybe when we dance in the kitchen, and I get you to smile, King David is beside us, dancing like he danced before the Ark.
I wish I had not ignored autism before you came. I wish I had not bought the hype that says autism is damage and simplicity. You are different, not damaged. You are overly complex, not too simple to function. You are not cold, but you feel everything more deeply and at once.
I put together the pieces of my own history as I try to fit our lives together. I remember myself in a time when quiet children were considered “good” and beauty sufficed for boundaries. I got away with my atypical brain undetected. I remember little me, spinning and spinning so I could feel safe and happy. How the earth and ground seemed to love my feet after I had spun enough, and how frightening it was until I could feel the ground again. I remember my puzzlement when my mother grew angry at me for lining up all of my toys along the walls when she asked me to clean. I remember the long hours of silence when I pinched dirt into hallways and gardens and mazes for doodlebugs under our kitchen windows. I remember the feeling of safety when my dog sat on my legs and how I begged my mother to squish me on the couch (but she wouldn’t, because she was afraid of hurting me). I would dig under the dirty clothes till they rested on top of me in a heavy pile, and I would fall asleep in the comforting pressure. I remember learning to hear lies in the music of voices.
I see the gifts within the burdens of my childhood: Living in a strange world filled with liars and patterns sharp as knives. The first time my standardized tests revealed the giftedness behind my quiet and fear. The math brain that didn’t look like a math brain because it loved fractals, not multiple choice. The gift of an abusive family that made me learn body language because my life depended on it. The gift of poverty among people who speak plainly and disdain artifice. (I would not have survived in a middle class world, with its prevarications and low affect.) The gift of having to work five times harder for everything, because I had to learn the object and the people and what they wanted to know and which part of what I knew they wanted to know and how to tell them what they wanted to know that I knew, and how to hide that I knew more than they wanted me to know. Most of school is not knowledge, but filtering. I always see too much, the tiny connections between things and the vast network, the large and small together. I had the hardest time narrowing down paper topics. I had the hardest time learning which correct answer was wanted. I learned the code within the questions people asked – usually. I grow weary of people who lie too much or assume too much that I am like them. I have to forgive more than other people because I cannot filter out the constant stream of dishonesty and disregard and disrespect and thoughtlessness that most people do not notice, because they have filters. I am a profoundly intuitive teacher now, and I can forgive even the things I’d rather not see.
This matters to you, children, because I can help you navigate this lying world. I will show you how to forgive and how to love anyway. Love is the key to getting through the too-loud, too-cruel, too-much, facile, shallowness that hides the good stuff.
We can see right through the veneer, children. To us, God is the God of all living. To us, every place is thin. Emotions will waft around the people you meet like miasma, and you will learn to reach out a hand or to speak a word or breathe a prayer to sanctify them. You will learn to have compassion without losing yourself. You will learn to feel the ground under your feet. Through those precious toes I’ve counted so many times, you will feel the vibrations of the footsteps of saints walking with you on the journey. You will feel the throb of earth that was broken open in the Resurrection and the eternity that has sought you to make you ripe and whole right now, right here. Faith is real to you, children, because you live on the inbreaking edge of God’s Kingdom. The GodMan holds you and heals you in time and space, and you will see Him when you are brave enough to look.
This matters to you, children, because I will look for you through every difficulty we face together. When you pinch my throat in terror, or when you scream into my ears for an hour, I will keep looking for you till I find you. I will point to the pictures of your feelings till your fear and rage and hurt subside. I will hold you in the middle of the night for hours when you wake up lost, and I will speak peace to you in words and hugs.
I can see what’s happening. I know that you are working five times harder than everyone else. I know you are tired.
I cannot help but notice you blossoming. You are never unimportant to me, and my heart gives thanks to see you.
I will cup your face in my hand and whisper to you that you are a joy to me. I will drop kindnesses like flowers into your laps and press love onto your shoulders like a protective mantle.
There is no shame in you, my children. You are wonderful.
You are not a puzzle to me or a problem to be solved. You are a mystery, so full of goodness that it’s hard to find a place to start.
I will start in the usual way with us. I will take your hand and kiss your palm and tell you a truth. Mama loves you. Mama loves you.