Monday, November 24, 2008

Gratitude, Autism and Thanksgiving Then and Now

It is hard to believe that 8 Thanksgivings have come and gone since Nicky was diagnosed with autism, or that I have spent 8 years immersed in a life I could have never imagined, because it’s a life that is incomprehensible to those who have not seen it up close and personal, for an extended period of time.

Thanksgiving, and all “happy” family holidays were hard for years they had a way of magnifying disappointments and they seemed to set me up for painful unmet expectations of how holidays were before autism (which now looked even better than they probably were). It wasn’t just the big idea “my kid has autism” it was the little things, having; a kid who couldn’t sit at the table, a kid who couldn’t interact with family, a kid who I couldn’t wait to get back home (away from the family gathering where the other kids played and had fun clearly highlighting Nicky’s disability), family members who struggled to figure out how to "be" with him, or the feeling of knowing that my daughter hated all the attention he required, because that sucked all the attention away from her, or hovering over him to make sure he didn’t grab some food that wasn’t on his special diet or keeping him away from my families electronics and pets. And finally, there was the total lack of relaxation that I could be certain would occur with all of the above going on. Oh, yeah….I remember the holidays in the early years.

It does get easier, even better. As a mom I’m a little less frantic and worried, I don’t expect him to show up playing like the other kids, we put out snacks he can eat and everyone is okay if he eats chicken and potatoes instead of a holiday feast. We are thrilled if he sits at the table for 20 minutes, we bring toys and electronics with us, and our family accepts our limitations releasing us from those obligations that we just can’t honor. So today, as Thanksgiving approaches I found myself thinking deeply about the many blessings in my life. Like every parent I am so grateful for my children and the outrageous joy they bring just by being who they are, great kids! Evyn is the most wonderful unique person I have ever known. She is funny, clever, smart, creative, compassionate and individualistic to her core. Nicky is smart, pure, funny, refreshing and determined. Evyn and Nicky are perfect just how they are.

To a lot of people it looks like I give so much to Nicky, but in truth – just like his sister - he has given me more than I have given him. He has helped me grow up, look honestly at myself and get up close and personal with my strengths and weaknesses. Together Evyn and Nicky have created an environment that has forced me to stand in front of life mirror and take long hard looks at myself, and then make choices about who I wanted to be. Nicky and Evyn have made me who I am today, they created the opportunities for me to choose to be a better person and I am stronger for the journey.

My friends say I have always been this person, but I know in my heart that I had never been challenged to reveal the dept of what was possible inside of me. Without my kiddo’s, without autism in my life, I doubt that I would really know how strong I am. I have experienced what often felt like a lifetime’s worth of deep feelings of pain, loss, anger, frustration, inadequacy and disappointment as a part of daily life. I look back now and I know that in each experience I gained new perspective, I grew as a person. The repetitive process of falling, getting up, falling, getting up has taught me that I can get up! Because of them I know with absolute certainty, that I am strong and I can handle anything. That knowledge has changed my life and made me less venerable to the challenges of the world.

So on this Thanksgiving I will be saying thank you Evyn and Nicky for;

  • Giving me the opportunity to learn what I am made of.
  • Giving me the opportunity to decide what I wanted to be made of
  • Helping me to be the best me I could be
  • Showing me the wonderful things about me, like patience
  • Teaching me how to be strong
  • Teaching me what things are really important in life
  • Helping me to grasp the big idea that we really are all different, and that's NOT a bad thing
  • The knowledge that I can handle anything
  • Teaching me deep empathy for others, who I had never really considered before
  • Showing me the joys that come from "differences" that cannot be taught, only experienced
    • Giving me joy that I could have never imagined
    • Helping me live a life that is truly full and rich with experience
    • Loving me, while I was getting all this experience!

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