People often ask what it is like to parent a child on the autism spectrum. And the truth is that this is a complicated question with an even more complicated answer.
It is both wonderful and awful. It is both exciting and terrifying. It is both fulfilling and draining. It is the biggest and longest and hardest game of give and take that I have ever played. Except, this is not a game. This is my life.
In this life I have learned to juggle the feelings of being rooted in one spot and completely detached and drifting at the same time. This is a feeling I know well. I call it “pivot”.
Pivot is my way of life. It is how I navigate the hurdles and obstacles that we encounter along our uncertain journey. Pivot is how we are able to celebrate the wonderful moments. Pivot also helps us to prepare for the hardships. Pivot is how I learn to be strong enough and wise enough and swift enough to be all of the things that I need to be. All of the things I want to be. Pivot helps me to be a mother; to parent a child with special needs. And pivot understands that this is not all that I am. Pivot is the way I manage to be a mother and a wife and a friend and an employee.
Pivot is about having one foot firmly planted in something; in anything really. Pivot is placing that foot down with strength and confidence. Pivot is knowing that the planted foot is rooted deep inside of the core of who I am. It is the piece that keeps me connected; despite the bumps and hurdles I will inevitably face. Pivot is fighting to keep that foot planted in every moment of every day. It is knowing what is at stake and fighting like hell to hold my ground. To stare fear and worry and uncertainty in the eye. To push that planted foot down deeper and deeper. To rise time and time again.
Pivot is allowing the other foot to roam free. To remain agile and ready to react. The other foot is not rooted in anything. It knows that from one moment to the next it can go quickly in a million different directions. The other foot has made a home in the unpredictable chaos that swirls all around it. It knows better than to get too comfortable in one spot. This foot is not about balance or stability or feeling centered; this foot is about survival.
You see that is what it means to pivot. You keep one foot firmly planted while the other foot moves about. And, it is not always pretty. In fact, in some moments I am certain that I look completely ridiculous pivoting around my life. But my pivot is not about anyone else. I do not pivot to look good. I do not pivot to give the illusion that I have it all together. I do not pivot because I have run out of things to try. I pivot because pivoting is the only way I can be all the things I need to be.
And pivot is certainly a physical metaphor. There are moments when I physically need to hold my ground and brace for impact. But there is an emotional aspect of pivot too. I pivot on the inside, maybe even more than I pivot on the outside. Emotionally, it is important to root inside of the things that are real. Love, relationships, strength, courage. I find the real things inside of me and root myself to them. My internal pivot is all about being mentally tough enough to overcome something that is hard. So much harder than I ever thought it could be.
My love for my son is my proverbial “planted foot”. I am rooted in my love for him. He is the center of this world along the spectrum; and we all pivot around him. I keep him in my focus as I struggle to hold my ground. I let myself feel overcome by love and hope and fear and wonder. I keep my gaze pointed directly at my son. I channel my focus to him; I connect myself to him and my love for him becomes the core of my pivot. And with each day I root myself more deeply into my connection to him. And each day that connection makes me strong enough to keep going.
And in my emotional pivot my other foot flies free. It follows high and low and in and out and fast and slow. It is as unpredictable as the journey it travels. And in so many moments I am thankful for both feet. The one that steadies me; and the other that readies me.
I pivot every day. One foot firmly rooted in the things around me that are real. The things that make me who I am. They keep me centered and focused. They keep me present and alert. I keep the other foot loose. Ever ready to spring into action. Acutely aware that every moment can change on a dime.
I learned how to pivot to survive something that I did not feel strong enough to face. And now every day I pivot all around my life. Rooted. Focused. Present. Agile. I pivot, and you can too. Root yourself in something real. Stand your ground. Do not back down. And not matter what life throws your way; pivot.