Last week, my sons and I were at ‘the bouncy houses place’ as they like to call it. The oldest is going on nine now and the youngest going on five. My youngest has always been more of a Mom fan than my oldest, who historically has preferred his dad. Lately, though, my oldest has become more affectionate, asking to be “Mommy’s friend” so he can snuggle with me while I’m relaxing.
This day, while the youngest was off hurtling himself off of another bouncy house, the oldest was standing on the precipice of the inflated obstacle course, shouting at me.
Look at me, Mommy. Look at me!
My heart, you guys, my heart swelled when that child stood there waving his hands, hollering for me, his mom, to watch him jump across to the next spot. For so many parents, this is not a new moment because their children call for their attention all of the time. My youngest does this enough to make me wonder if he has it recorded on a loop to pull it out right when I’m trying to concentrate. The oldest, though, has not been this child before; he’s on the autism spectrum so moments like this which might come so easily to other children have been slow in coming for us. I rejoiced at this desire for my attention and shared it on Facebook, of course, because those who have been with us on this journey would understand the significance of this moment.
For me, though, it was a reminder: this child, who is neuroatypical or special needs or autistic or whatever label works at that moment, is still a kid. He’s still eight years old with his adult teeth slowly inching in, a kid who still needs hugs from his mom and a good-night kiss before he goes to bed. On top of that, he’s my child and I get the privilege of being there for these moments and, heck, now and then I get to be his motivation for them.
Stop Trying to Fix Everything All the Time
When you have a child with challenges, regardless of what those challenges might be, it’s easy to get bogged down in the anxiety and advocacy. Questions roil in your mind constantly, worries about doing enough or finding the right things to do. You may have to deal with the school system for a number of reasons; just getting your child educated can be an exhausting proposition. Your week might be a cavalcade of therapies and appointments. Those challenges become the focus and the person at the heart of all of that might not be as clear to you as the challenges themselves. But, moments like this, where my child with challenges comes into focus, I am reminded that at the heart of it all is still this person that I created with my husband, my child. My child.
He’s not a set of challenges alone, but a whole person. Standing there on that plastic precipice, he was a whole person who just wanted his mom to watch him do something cool.
I did watch him do it over and over. I resisted the urge to pull out my phone and record it with video to preserve his jumps because I thought that in recording it I wasn’t really experiencing the significance of it. Sure, I wanted to share this with his dad, who was at work missing the whole thing, but I needed to give my child my full attention and connect with him. In that moment, he was my child and I was his mom and there was no worry or anxiety or anything other than the two of us making a memory.
Sometimes Living in the Moment is Easier Said Than Done
Of course, later, his challenges tested my patience. Thankfully, though, I had that moment to think on and I worked to maintain my patience and kindness in the face of his defiance. I took that “Look at me!” for what it was: progress. For all of his challenges and delays, he is growing up and we have fewer moments of trial and more chances to see who he is outside of those things about him that we have worry about. I do my best to cherish these memories in the face of the times he will test his father and me because I know that someday I’ll be able to lay the good alongside the bad and see my child for who he is: a whole person unto himself.
As summer goes on, I hope you’ll have some of these moments. If you can, I ask you to give yourself a chance to watch your children and let those challenges fall away so you can see your children for who they are. I hope you can see those pieces that make them individuals who they are and enjoy them.
I wish you all a summer full of these memories. (If you need suggestions for places to make these memories, feel free to check our summer guide here!)
This article was originally published in 2016 and has been updated.
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Jennifer Kelly grew up in the Birmingham area, but migrated to Huntsville for graduate school and put down roots after meeting her husband, Jamie. In addition to being a mom to her two boys, she is a tennis ninja, trivia nerd, freelance editor, and aspiring writer. You can visit her at The Sir Barton Project, a blog about her upcoming book.