Once There Was a Mother

Once upon a time, there was a mother.

She was a pretty good mother—not great, because sometimes she yelled about things that mean nothing but in the moment meant everything, like dishes in the sink and empty shampoo bottles on the floor.

Then she sang songs from Hamilton at the top of her voice.

This mother had five kids, all in a row. Like steps on a staircase, they stood together around the Christmas tree, and among chocolate Easter bunnies, and at the end of the driveway waiting for the school bus.

They were her whole entire life, these kids. She thought of them so much and so often, it was almost as though she never thought of them at all. They were simply part of her, like breathing.

Her second son, Jack, had autism.

When it came to autism, she forced herself to be brave.

She was determined to leave nothing unsaid.

She was determined to tell her story, and his story, and autism’s story. Like a triangle intertwined, you see, one was never separate from the other.

Her other kids had ideas that held them in place, if you will. Math. Painting. Puzzles.

Baseball, the school play, rowing for crew.

But her son Jack had so many ideas, as light and cumulative as clouds in his brain, she ran just to keep pace.

Trains and license plates and the wind chill factor and waste management companies and Oreos.

Spiders in the Amazon and the price of cheese and the best route to the grocery store.

Fueled by anxiety, his thoughts circled and circled until they turned into a hazy blur.

This mother, she longs to celebrate her son. After all, other mothers celebrate their children in many traditional ways.

Honor roll.

Team captain.

Class president.

Prom, a graduation ceremony, the first day of a new job.

He does not have so many of these events. Like vacant tide pools, she pictured the water ebbing and flowing around the gaps.

No one celebrates regulation, or executive functioning, or the tiniest display of flexibility when dinner is moved from 6:30 to 6:45 in the evening.

No one celebrated this boy of hers. It was up to her to rejoice in his goodness.

She praised his chocolate cake. She told him the chicken tenders he made were the tastiest she’s ever had.

She complimented the way he waited in line at the Post Office, and how he held his swear words in a bubble thought inside his brain.

She whispered that she loves the way he thinks—they way he remembers maps and dates and details in life’s giant, colorful canvas.

When she said these things, he nodded. He never looked up from the baking pan. He didn’t once move out of line, or even smile the smallest smile.

She wondered what it meant to him. Maybe everything, perhaps nothing. But she said it anyway.

She said it so he would know he was important, and loved, and good.

Her son is sixteen now. His autism has been a part of her maternal tapestry for as long as she can remember.

Soon, the time will come to make decisions about how he’ll spend the rest of his life, and how she’ll spend hers.

There are options, of course. Group homes, assisted-type living, a job washing dishes.

None of these feel exactly right, but at the same time they aren’t wrong. They might give him the independence he craves—the self-sufficiency he deserves.

At the same time, who will refill his medication? Who will stand next to the oven as he takes out his special cupcakes, and declare they are the best? Who will remind him he is important, and loved, and good?

She wants to give him everything that his rightfully his. She wants to give him a place in this world all his own.

This mother, she is every mother.

She is every mother who has hoped, and failed, and hoped again.

Every mother who yelled about dirty dishes, while at the exact same time dreading the day childhood is behind them all.

She is every mother who has gazed upon her complicated child, and prayed a fervent prayer that people could see what she sees.

She doesn’t know how to let him go.

I do not know how to let him go.

I will leave nothing unsaid.

Written by, Carrie Cariello

Carrie Cariello is the author of What Color Is Monday, How Autism Changed One Family for the Better, and Someone I’m With Has Autism. She lives in Southern New Hampshire with her husband, Joe, and their five children. 

Carrie is a contributor to the Huffington Post, TODAY Parents, the TODAY Show, Parents.com. She has been interviewed by NBC Nightly News, and also has a TEDx talk.

She speaks regularly about autism, marriage, and motherhood, and writes a weekly blog at www.carriecariello.com. One of her essays, “I Know What Causes Autism,” was featured as one of the Huffington Post’s best of 2015, and her piece, “I Know Why He Has Autism,” was named one of the top blog posts of 2017 by the TODAY Show.

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Finding Cooper’s Voice is a safe, humorous, caring and honest place where you can celebrate the unique challenges of parenting a special needs child. Because you’re never alone in the struggles you face. And once you find your people, your allies, your village….all the challenges and struggles will seem just a little bit easier. Welcome to our journey. You can also follow us on Facebook, subscribe for exclusive videos, and subscribe to our newsletter.

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Finding Cooper's Voice is a safe, humorous, caring and honest place where you can celebrate the unique challenges of parenting a special needs child. Because you're never alone in the struggles you face. And once you find your people, your allies, your village....all the challenges and struggles will seem just a little bit easier. Welcome to my page!

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