Sometimes things happen to our children that we cannot protect them from. And, as parents this is the most awful and helpless feeling. Our instincts are to make a protective force field around our families. To keep them close. Keep them safe. Keep them protected from things that we cannot control. In the wake of terrible tragedy in Orlando I have been thinking a lot about things we cannot control. Yes, I am talking about our lack of control over actions of others. Yes, I am talking about our inability to avoid unexpected tragedies. Yes, I am talking about the fear of living in a world filled with so much hate. But even more than all of those things, I am talking our inability as parents to protect our kids from the things that are a part of there every day lives. Who they are. How they live. Challenges they face. I believe that some things in our lives are choices. And, some things are not. And I believe whole heartedly that being gay is not a choice. Just as l believe that we do not choose to live with a child on the spectrum. You may be wondering how these two things are related. Let me tell you.
We are born to be who we are. We move through each day of our lives doing the best we can to understand and define ourselves in a world obsessed with definitions. Obsessed with categories. People need to understand our labels so that they understand how they can and cannot relate to us. So we define ourselves. We let ourselves be sorted into categories. I have said before that during my pregnancy I only pictured my children as happy, healthy and 100% “normal”. Because that is the life parents want for their children. Not because our hearts are not big enough to love any part of our child’s life. Any part of who they are. It is bigger than that. It is about how the categories, these “differences” that our children face, impact our ability to protect our children from the world. Truly accepting and embracing our children’s differences is difficult. Not because we do not want to. Not because we do not love every single different and wonderful thing about them. Because we are afraid for them. We are afraid that being different makes them a target. That being different makes their life harder. Not worse, just harder. We know that their lives will be filled with obstacles that we cannot protect them from. They will spend more time understanding who they are. Learning to love all of the parts of themselves. Learning to defend their differences. Learning to love their differences. Learning to walk the line between embracing and being defined by their difference. And while they deal with all of these internal obstacles; they will also have to face the world around them. They will find love and acceptance in the most surprising places. But they will also find hate and intolerance. They will come to understand that some people will not like them for no good reason. Perhaps because other people cannot relate to them. Perhaps because other people are ignorant about them. Perhaps because nobody taught them better. No, being a person who is gay and being a person who has autism are not the same thing. But being a parent to a child living with difference is the same.
When I first learned that my son was different I felt so many things. I felt confused. I felt sad. I felt fear. I feared the things I did not know. And I feared the things I did know that I could not control. I knew that my son’s life would be hard. Harder than I hoped it would be. I knew that in his life he would encounter ignorance. Challenge. Obstacles. I knew that he would need to learn to be strong. I knew that I would have to teach him to be strong. And so that is what we are doing. One day at a time. One challenge at a time. One obstacle at a time.
We were reminded this week that so many things are out of our control. We were reminded that we are fearful for good reason; there are things in this world to fear. And it would be easy to live in that fear. To let it take over our minds and bodies. To conceal our differences. To ask our children to be “less” of who they are so that the world would accept them more. But I refuse to do that. I refuse to live in that world. Instead, I hope that we can respond with an even deeper revealing of our differences. Let us create a better world. A safer world. A world where love is love and people are people and difference is difference. This week, and all weeks, we should choose to live our lives out loud and unapologetically in color.