I try hard to be an encourager. The world needs more encouragers. I especially try to be positive when I am speaking to parents of children with autism who are coming behind me. Those with kids younger than Tate need to know that it is not all doom and gloom after the autism diagnosis. But sometimes it is hard. I was born a pessimist. Pessimism comes naturally to me and “looking on the bright side” is something I have to work at. Think Winnie the Pooh’s friend Eyeore and you will have an idea of the way I often think. I have to fight through that gray little rain cloud that is right over my head. It’s just who I am. However I am also someone who has been able to overcome some of that because of lessons Tate and Sydney have taught me. There really are blessings to be found in the face of adversity.
I don’t sit around and feel sorry for myself too often. I simply have too much to do. But yesterday... Yesterday I had a pity party. In attendance were myself, and Tate from the future. He was with me as I sat and cried. He was a middle-aged man and I was a bent old woman. I was still trying to help him brush his teeth and find his shoes. I was still helping him in all the ways a mom helps her child. Her young child. Her five-year-old child. And he was six foot three inches tall.
My pity party began in the dentist office bright and early Monday morning. We were there because I had “guessed” Tate had a toothache. He cannot / will not tell me when he is in pain. He does feel pain. I am sure of that. On Friday Tate made a few references to teeth. They were out of place and seemed odd. But Tate has autism. Let’s face it. Much of his conversation on any topic is odd. Saturday morning Tate texted me that I should take his brother to the dentist to get a cavity fixed. I thought, “Oh, Tate is trying to make a joke.” He hates dentists and he thinks he’s sort of insulting Levi by saying something like that. It’s Tate’s way of teasing. But then there were several more references to the dentist. By now I should have caught on. And then Tate did something Tate VERY rarely does. When I quizzed him about all the references to the dentist and asked him what was up. He admitted that he MIGHT have a problem with a tooth. He asked for a Tylenol. That’s a pretty big deal around here. First thing Monday morning I called the dental office we use and took Tate right in. I like all the staff there. The dentist Tate normally sees was out and we saw another. There, explaining to the dentist that my son appeared to be a young man but she should probably try to communicate with him like she would a five or six year old, my eyes began to leak real tears. I went on to explain that Tate does not tell me when he is in pain so I have to guess. As the dentist investigated to find the problem, I sat and thought. I remembered that when each one of my children were small I had to be vigilant and know when they were hurting based on behaviors. It’s just what good moms do. As my children aged they could tell me when they hurt and eventually they could take care of themselves. My four oldest children are adults. They make their own doctor appointments and bandage their own wounds now when necessary. They don’t call home to tell me about their minor illnesses. They don’t need me in that way anymore. Tate is not there though. Tate will never be there. Tate will always need me and there will come a day when I am not there. I’m 38 years older than Tate.
My pity party was not just about Tate not growing up on the inside as he grows taller on the outside. It was about me. When my kids were little and they hurt, I hurt too. A mother’s empathy for her children can cause her to hurt physically sometimes. As they aged and they were able to take care of themselves some, my empathy for their pain was not nearly as intense as it was when they were small. Over the weekend when I thought Tate was hurting and he was relying on me to identify the problem and help, I hurt for him. Because Tate is never going to grow much older on the inside and be able to mature like his siblings did that leaves me forever stuck feeling the kind of empathy pains for him I would have for my toddlers.
I love the thought from the Bible about everything having a season. Probably the happiest time of my life was when my kids were all small. But now it is time for them to grow up and for me to enjoy them as adults. They will be giving me grandchildren in just a few years. And I will still have an adult sized six-year-old to care for. Life’s not fair. So yesterday I had an emotional meltdown. Several times in the afternoon I broke down and sobbed for the Tate I will never know. The man he will never become. I felt really sorry for myself.
Today is a new day. His sore tooth turned out to be related to a broken wire and twisted bracket from his braces, not a cavity. It’s fixed and his pain is gone. My worries about his pain are gone and my spirits are lifted. Today I am not sitting with the future Tate dwelling on what will never be. Today I dropped my sweet son off in front of his school and as the car door closed I said, “I love you Tate.” I expected to hear, “I love you too.” Instead I heard, “I know.” As I pulled away I smiled ear to ear, happy that he knows he is loved.
For more about trips to the dentist, click here: Cleaning, Filling and Straightening the Teeth of Autism