For our anniversary, Eric surprised me with reservations to a new hotel in downtown Dallas. If there ever was a place that was a departure from reality, that was it. As soon as we walked in, the posh, chic decor drew wide-eyed ooh's and aah's from these two tired parents. Then as we checked in, the desk clerk in her fitted, retro (or is it vintage... I can't keep up) red dress and her bright red lipstick spouted times of when DJ's would be at the pool here and in the "living room" there, when the spa opens, and on and on. Eric and I stood, smiling and nodding, and walked away half-giggling that we didn't care too much about all that... or should we?
The contrast was amazing. Me, in the unofficial uniform of mommy-on-a-date... jeans, rolled up for hot weather and a cute, comfy shirt I've had for years, and Eric in his shorts and golf shirt, walking into the world of the hip and fashion conscious. She wanted to give us two room keys, missing the cue of my clinging to his arm as I was these few precious hours alone.
"I'm not going anywhere without you," I said with a smile. Why would I need a room key? She looked at us like we had lobsters crawling out our ears.
We were having a mirror moment with this hipster chick.
Never do you see yourself, whether good, bad or ugly, in sharper relief than you do when you rub elbows with the outside world. Whether the people you're around are just a more extreme version of you or are the complete opposite, being around others and seeing how they live and what they do.
From the very beginning, these moments are what bring to light what we need to see. If it hadn't been for watching Ryan with other children, I never would have seen the different in Ryan. Were it not for the moments around other kids that held a mirror to my nose, forcing me to see where he didn't measure up, I wouldn't have sought early intervention.
I know, I know. We're not supposed to compare ourselves to others. While I agree that this can be costly in the way of envy, in a couple of ways that I can see, it's healthy.
Let's say you go to the bathroom while you wait to go in a job interview. When you come out of the stall, you see that your fly is down or your skirt is tucked into your underwear. What do you do? You take the information that the mirror offered and fix the problem. If you can't fix the problem, you now at least have the information you need to seek help.
Over simplified? Maybe. But the principle is the same. We could see, by the mirror of developmental milestone lists, other kids, and other parents that we needed some extra help. And thank the Lord for those mirrors! As much as we struggle day to day, I cannot imagine what it would be like if we had refused to believe there was anything we needed help with.
Now we're to the point where we work day to day with the problem the mirror first showed. It was obviously a difference, not a fixable issue. At this point it's what we know. It's our normal.
Although it's our normal, our normal is an extreme. It's tiring. And there are times when I look at my exhaustion and just start seeing it as incompetence. My lack of patience. I don't get enough done. There's always something else. The difference is invisible... just my inability to rise to everything and do things tirelessly and with a mega-sunny smile is staring me in the face. The reality of the challenges hides in the background.
Then we go around others, and I see that it really is different. For just a moment, I can look at our reality for what it is, what we really do as parents, what our kids face on a daily basis, and lower the shield for a minute. For a moment, show the cracks in the armor and the exhaustion. Admit that it's hard. Cry on a friend's shoulder and absorb the blessing of encouragement.
Really look in the mirror. Look at how tired we are, yet how God blesses our family. How much we've learned, how far we've come. How different our lives were then, in the innocence of the before-autism time, and how much more intensely we love our life than we used to. How the depths of frustrated exhaustion lead us to intense joy over something as simple as an elevator ride.
Then, as we take up our shield and sword and begin the battle again, the burden is a little lighter, for it has been shared.
Thanks be to God for the ladies who helped hold my burdens this week. You were truly wonderful as usual, and I am so thankful for you!
And of course, thanks be to God for the mirror moments.