My little man turned 4 years old yesterday! It is amazing how time changes once you become a parent. In some moments you find yourself longing to hold on and drag single moments out forever; and in other moments you desperately search for the fast forward button. And then all of the sudden another year has gone by. And your baby is another year older. Another year closer to being a “big kid”. Sometimes I catch myself calling Grayson “baby” and I correct myself. But, if I am being honest he will always be my baby. Grayson made me a mommy for the first time. He taught me about unconditional love. He stretched my heart to know no boundaries. He and I spent 17 months together at home; playing and exploring and falling completely in love. He will always be my baby. And, as he grows older I will do my best to remember not to call him that in public. But, I know that I will always feel it in my heart.
Birthdays are life’s way of reminding us just how precious time is; and how quickly it can pass by. On each of Grayson’s birthdays I cannot help but look back on his time in this world. Sometimes it feels as though we have lived enough highs and lows to fill many more than 4 years of time. And other times it feels as though I blinked and the years were gone. As I reflected on his birthday this year I could not believe how much we packed into a year. Grayson pushed himself in ways I never imagined that I would have to ask my child to push. He came face to face with things that should have beat him down, but he stood firm. He gave up so much of this year to work hard. He grew and changed and moved forward; more this year than in any previous year. I see Grayson every day, and so sometimes it is harder for me to see how much he progresses. And then all at once it will wash over me. I will see the incredible changes that have been made. I am always proud to be his mom, but this year took that pride to a whole new level. I have been lucky enough to help Grayson; to teach him and push him move forward. But, if I am being honest I think I’ve learned more from him. He teaches me new things every day.
Here are 4 things I’ve learned from my 4-year-old.
- Patience. Oh boy oh boy has he ever taught me a few lessons in patience. In fact, with each passing day I am getting closer to writing the book on patience. It would be a pretty short book; you ready for it? Just breathe. It sounds way too simple, but it is not. There are so many moments in a day that feel bigger than me; bigger than I can handle. Harder, faster, slower, more intense, more frustrating…just bigger. And I could get worked up. I could scream from the top of my lungs. I could punch a wall. I could run away. I could hide. I could do all of those things and they would get me nowhere. Or, I could just breathe. In and out, slow and steady. I could give myself the moment I need to be centered, be calm. I can breathe until life feels softer, slower, steadier, less intense, less frustrating…smaller. More manageable. Sometimes Grayson is in control of the behaviors that require my patience. And sometimes he is not. And sometimes it is really hard to tell which is which. So we just breathe. Sometimes we remind each other to breathe. As crazy as it sounds; in the hustle of the day we actually forget to breathe. We forget how easy it is to take back control. To calm ourselves down and move forward. More patient. Better. Ready.
- Tantrums. Grayson has mastered the art of the tantrum. In fact, it is a skill he has been honing for a while now. You may think I am insane to be speaking about his tantrums in such a positive favorable light. But, one thing I’ve learned on this journey is that we find lessons in the most unexpected places. Grayson’s tantrums are so methodical. They are almost systematic in the way they unfold. Actually, sometimes I just take a step back and watch him. We spend so much time with Grayson, so at this point we have the whole tantrum routine down. Usually a tantrum starts with some kind of negative stimulant. And then almost instantly you can see and feel and energy was over him. I often say that he is “buzzing”. It is an energy that you can feel and see and sometimes even hear. Not an actual noise, but a super intense energy inside of him. I am not a scientist or a doctor, but I swear to you…this happens. And then all at once he is so full of energy that we can see him ready to burst. So he bursts. Sometimes he bursts from his mouth. Sometimes he bursts from his body. And sometimes he bursts from everywhere all at once. And after he bursts he exhales a deep breath and goes back to what he was doing. A calm after a storm. A then the tantrum is over. Now, do not get me wrong, sometime the bursts lasts a long time. Like, a really long, I-am-going-to-pull-my-hair-out, long time. And sometimes the burst comes out in an instant and then pass. But, however long it takes once it passes it is gone. And then he laser focuses onto the next thing. Grayson does not look back and reflect on the moment. In fact, just after a tantrum it as if he could care less about what caused the tantrum in the first place. The craziest thing about this is that Grayson has the most incredible memory. So he may remember the negative stimulant that caused the tantrum forever, and I mean FOREVER. But in that moment, once his energy shifts back to neutral, he is completely over it. Can you imagine? Allowing yourself to feel something so deeply? Allowing it to wash over you so completely? Allowing yourself to work it out of you in the moment? And then walking away from it as if it never happened. Most adults choose to hold on to things. Despite our best intentions and our desires to be carefree; we allow things to fester. To consume our lives. Grayson may let other things consume his life (fixations, obsessions, etc.) but his tantrums come and go. Quickly. Swiftly. If you walked in the room 60 seconds after the tantrum; you would not know that anything had happened. Grayson teaches me that sometimes bad things, bursts of negative energy, take over our bodies. And the best thing to do is to find a way to let it out. And then move on. Really, truly and fully move on.
- There is black, there is white and there is Gray. It is natural to want to put things into categories; to file things away in ways that make sense to us. We need to know that things have a place. That at the end of the day things line up, work out, make sense. If you are anything like me having things this way helps you move through life. I am one of those people who cannot work from home unless my house is clean. I cannot cook dinner until all of the other dishes are cleaned and put away. I do things in a specific order that makes sense to me. Everything has a place. In many ways Grayson sees the world in black and white. He does not understand sarcasm. He doesn’t easily catch on to jokes (even though his might be the loudest laugh in the room). Grayson is programmed to see things one way. It is difficult for him to understand that words like “light” (light in the sky and something that is not heavy) or “shake” (to stir something up or the yummy stuff mommy makes in the blender) have 2 different meaning. Vocab is difficult enough for Grayson before we add in words with two meanings. I think Grayson’s memory helps him keep things simplified; if something was a certain way once, then it always will be. I am always amazed by the things he remembers. Just yesterday we gave him a Jeep power wheel for his birthday. Upon seeing the car he immediately said “just like Fynley.” Fynley is his friend who received a Power Wheel in September. Grayson has never been to Fynley’s house to see her power wheel. He has never spoken to Fynley about her power wheel. But, in September I showed him one picture, one time of Fynley in her power wheel. And, upon receiving his gift that was his first memory. He sees things so simply and so clearly. Yet, one of the biggest lessons he has taught me is that there are a million shades of grey. He may not see it that way, but every single day he reminds me that not everything has to fit perfectly into one place. Our life with Grayson has become about denying the idea that having autism files Grayson in one specific column. In fact, we believe just the opposite. We believe that Grayson will define and re-define who he is every day. He may never be 100% typical or 100% everyone’s idea of “autism”; because he is somewhere in the middle. Somewhere on the spectrum. The truth is that spectrum is grey. And, I think that may be the thing I like the best about it. It leaves room for difference. It leaves room for change.
- Love. The last lesson is probably the simplest and the most important; love truly is enough. Even when you think it won’t be. Even when it shouldn’t be. I learned that lesson the first time I looked into Grayson’s eyes. He taught me without saying a word. And he reminds me every single day. Loving Grayson makes me better; and his love for me makes me stronger. Love will always be enough.
I am sure that Grayson has taught me way more than 4 things during his 4 years in this world. And, I am certain he will teach me a million lessons as we move through this life together. And, my eyes are open. I am so thankful that he is taking me on his journey with him. I am so proud to be his mom. Grayson’s birthday is May 1st. A day that ironically comes just after the end of Autism Awareness month. He makes us aware and accountable every single day. And I love that his year long trips around the sun end with a month aimed at making the work more aware and more accountable. It seems poetic.
Happy Birthday Grayson Joshua. Thank you for teaching me. For loving me. For letting me love you. Happy Birthday my beautiful boy.