We need to get a bit real here. Like grab-a-cup-of-coffee-lean-in-on-the-couch-and listen-a-bit-real.
I’ve lost my child. If you think for a moment, you know you’ve probably lost your child. You remember that feeling too well. Your body is tensing up and your stomach feels uneasy. You don’t have to think. You know; you don’t forget that. If you haven’t, praise the Lord, but you probably will. And it won’t be because you’re a bad parent, or negligent, or a terrible human being who can’t get off your phone. It will be because you are a parent of a child, and children are rarely still.
I am the momma to two boys – both on the Autism Spectrum, both high-functioning, both very, very smart. One of who tests me as a parent every, single day. At six months old he could climb out of his crib. He scaled a bookshelf. He took first steps at eight months old, ran at ten months, and had a rock solid six-pack at one year. He could reach the top of a bar height table using nothing but upper body strength at sixteen months old. He has almost inhuman speed and his strength far exceeds that of his peers. Six months ago his thirty-seven pound body easily lifted, held, and walked with a forty-pound kettleball.
Y’all, keeping him alive takes every ounce of energy I have and that isn’t a joke or an overstatement. He has zero fear. None. Zip. Nada. Niet. As he grows, he gets stronger, faster, some how more fearless. He’s manipulative, smart, cunning, and quick. He can fit into tight spaces and craves being in them. My mother-in-law calls him “the flash” because of how insanely fast he is. We call him “easy” because the irony makes us laugh.
Parenting him is anything but.
When I tell you that one of my biggest fears is him falling into a zoo exhibit I am not kidding. He loves animals – loves animals. He loves the zoo. His school was taking a field trip and I had to battle to have one of his ABA therapists attend because they weren’t allowing parents.
I’ve somewhat quietly read and watched the reactions and comments from friends on social media. I’ve watched the news – seen both the edited video that only shows the moments of the gorilla being gentle and the longer video that shows the natural strength and brute force of the animal quickly dragging the little boy on the concrete. All around, it’s a tragedy. A beautiful, endangered animal is dead, a family is being publicly and cruelly admonished, and a child’s life was on the line.
So, so many of my friends have made comments like “shoot the mom,” “throw her in a cage,” “people like her shouldn’t pro-create”.
I cannot stop thinking how easily that could have been me – which is terrifying and nauseating. It so easily could have been my “Easy”. One friend commented to the effect “if your kid likes to climb, don’t take him out”. I won’t keep him “locked up” or avoid public places. My child will never learn how to behave – or more appropriately, adapt – in these situations if we do not expose him to them. We will not keep him from things because he is harder to handle or more demanding or a sensory-seeker. We will do everything we possibly can to keep him safe while exposing him to the world around him. That is how he will become a functioning member of society. That is my job – as a parent in general, but especially as an Autism mom.
Just about a month ago, I lost him. In a public place, back turned for a moment to tend to my other son, I lost him. I still shake thinking about it. What really gets me, what really makes me shake my head, was as I was screaming my child’s name, as I was frantically searching, dozens of adults were simply watching me. Staring at me – some shaking their heads. ONE began shouting his name with me, only this one fellow mom started looking. One out of dozens. Some completely walked away, others stood with arms crossed, just staring at me – that “look” on their face. I had to beg people to look for my son. Beg them while they judged me. I was screaming his name, what he looked like, and people just watched me.
When did we become this? When did we turn to judgment before compassion? When did we turn to indignation before empathy? When did we remove ourselves from responsibility as a society while placing hardest blame on individuals? Yes, I lost my son. That was on me but when did it become the norm to do nothing but judge? When did we forget that we all fail daily and that we vilify a person on their worst day?
I don’t know what happened at that zoo. I wasn’t there, and even if I had been we only get snapshots of a person’s life. We only get our perspective, which is rarely the reality. I know it was tragic. I know the person that took that shot must feel so broken. I know that I was not there and I absolutely know how much it could have been me.
Not because I’m a bad parent. Not because I don’t love my child. Not because I don’t pay attention or try to hold onto him or that I play on my phone. Because I am human and a mother and because life happens… Because I accidentally could have bumped into someone at the zoo and turned for a second to say “I’m sorry”, I could bend down and tie my oldest son’s shoe, the lid of my drink could pop off my cup and spill everywhere taking my attention for seven seconds. Because life isn’t perfect, children are not perfect, parents are not perfect.
It could have been my “Easy” just as much as it could have been yours.
When did we forget that?