Today I came across a photograph from our Christmas card in 2014. I sat for a moment and looked at the picture. I looked at my adorable baby Rowan, only 9 months old at the time. I looked at my little man Grayson, so full of life and love. Pre-diagnosis. Pre-labels. Pre-answers. Pre-interventions. Pre-all of the things that have rocked our world since that photo was taken.
I look at us sitting there on the front step of our new home. I see all of the hope and love on our faces. Our life was about to take off in ways that we had never imagined. Our journey as a family was about to grow wings.
Yes, we were a family in that photo. And yes, we were a family when we moved into that house. We were a family the moment my husband and I said “I Do.” And again each time we welcomed one of our beautiful little boys into this world. But, in the time that has passed since that photo was taken, I realize now that we have become a family in a different way. A bigger way.
Our world is different now. Different in ways I still do not fully understand. Not better or worse. Just different. Our life is different than I imagined it would be. And sometimes I feel guilty for feeling that way. Sometimes the word “different” feels like a place holder for words like “messier” or “challenging” or “filled with heartbreak”. Because the truth is that sometimes this life is messier than I imagined it would be. Sometimes our life is more challenging than I hoped. Often life is filled with heartbreak that I did not expect.
But this life, my different and unexpected life, is also filled with more joy and love and passion than I ever imagined. And if living a “different” life means living a life filled with happiness; then I am ok being different.
As I look at the woman from two years ago I am able to see her for who she was. She was a woman on the verge of the fight of her life. Her face is smiling in the picture. But, inside of her head she is overcome with questions and fears. She is questioning whether or not she is enough for the journey that lies ahead. She is fearful that she may not be the mother she needs to be. In this picture her oldest son is two years old. And, those first two years were very different than she imagined. She is unsure if she is up for it. She is not really even sure what “it” is. She is scared. She is filled with doubt.
You see, three months after this picture was taken that two year old was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder. At the time this photograph was taken that woman knew this was a possibility, but she never dreamed it would be her reality. The woman in the picture is slowly and methodically repeating one purposeful mantra in her head over and over. The woman is saying “this is a phase, and he will grow out of it.” That is what the woman told herself every day. That is what she needed to believe. That is how she put that smile on her face.
Somewhere along the way I became a woman and a mother very different from the woman in the picture. That mother was not strong enough for this journey. That woman was not brave enough to face all of the obstacles ahead. And slowly, day by day, that woman and mother became someone stronger. A mother capable of picking up the pieces and starting new each day. A woman steadfast in her pursuit to move forward. Today, I am that woman. I am that mother.
As our journey changed, I changed. Not because I wanted to. Not because I knew how. Not because someone forced me. I changed because my son needed me to change. My family needed me to change. And, I needed me to change.
Today I am no longer on the verge of the fight of my life, I am right in the middle of it. Each day we go up against things that scare the crap out of us. Every night we sit in our home and talk through all of the strategies and the interventions and the plans for the future. We put in the work every single day to keep driving our family forward.
After looking at the picture for a while I looked to a very similar picture from this year’s Christmas card. I see the mother I am today smiling in the picture. And, I know that the smile is different. This smile is not masking fear. This smile is not covering doubt. This smile is genuine. This smile is real.
Today we have answers to so many of our questions. And sure, each answered questions opens up a million new questions. But we are moving, and along this journey any movement feels like progress. I may not be certain of every step I take, but I have certainty in the path. I have certainty in the journey. I may not be able to prepare for every obstacle that lies ahead of us, but I know that I am strong enough to navigate them as they come. I may not get it right every single day, but with each passing day I am becoming a person strong enough to keep going until I do get it right.
I needed to see that photograph this morning. I needed to remember who I was. I needed to understand who I have become. The price has been high. We have sacrificed relationships and time and energy and sleep. We have given a lot of things to this journey. But this journey is giving a lot to us. Each day I get a little bit more of my son. Each day he is a little bit more involved and active in our family. Each day we grow closer as a family through our love and our strength.
We will surely stumble. We will most likely take a few falls. We may want to give up. But, we will not.
I wish I could have told that mother in the photograph that she was going to be ok. That she was going to be enough. That she was going to survive. She may not have believed it at the time, but she sure believes it today.