When I finally looked in Ryan's folder from Friday, I found this.
He was about three, maybe four. He has the same teacher now he did then, and I suppose she found this in her things and decided to share it with me. Isn't he tiny?
Now look that this one.
Okay, look at those TWO. He's just so danged cute that I couldn't possibly choose one.
Lots of difference, eh? In the first shot, he's a baby. Just a puffy-faced, button-nosed three year old with the same haircut as the eight year old big boy in the second two.
Five years' difference. FIVE. That's a lot of time, but it isn't. In that time, we've kept our noses to the grindstone so much that it's shocking to look up and see a picture of him when he was Maelynn's age.
I get it. It's hard. The hard is essential. Implementing all those great tips and tricks from your therapists, helpers, aids, and teachers is a must. Or well, at least giving it the old college try. Their development, their quality of life, depends so much on our effort. And boy, can it ever be exhausting.
In the first shot, he was a baby. Just a little guy. But he already needed a huge amount of routine and therapy to help him make his life comfortable and happy. There was little verbal communication, and I was so tired. Not of the grind, yet, but of the worry.
We have been riding the tidal waves and choppy waters of parenting a child with classic autism for eight years, though only five of those were years when we were aware of what we were up against. And as I look back over those rough waters through the lens of a picture of his baby-face, there's an emotion peering from behind the obvious, "oh, isn't he tiny and cute!"
Do I regret the therapies we've sought? No way. Do I regret not seeking some? I'd be lying if I said I didn't. But the main regret?
The time I wasted panicking about today.
No, not today's time panicking about today. Yesterday's... five years ago's... panic about today. While I was panicking, he was learning to talk. While I was freaking out, poring over this book and that study and wringing my hands over not being able to afford... or even GET TO... that treatment, he was stimming on trains. While I was fretting over what tomorrow would hold and if we were doing enough to meet that "deadline", the age when they like to say the window's largely closed... he was being a little boy.
Yes, he was being a little boy with autism. Yes, it's harder to reach and learn to be close to a little one who much prefers solitude. But when I look back, I see time with my baby boy that I missed because I was terrified of what would be happening today.
So what would I tell me back then if I could?
Take a deep breath. He's your baby boy. He's no different than he was that night you held him in the hospital, thanking God for him while rain pounded the window.
God heard you that stormy night. He knew who Ryan was then, and who he would be even before that first sonogram. He heard your fear of inadequacy as a mother then, and he hears you now. He never changes and will never change.
The only way you will be able to relax and enjoy that baby boy is to lean on that truth.
Lean on and live in... truly let sink in... the promises you've known for so long. The fact that there is a great plan for you to prosper and not to harm you and to give you a hope and a future, and that is true for your little boy. That all things work together for the good of those who place their trust in the Lord. That he's known this little guy since the foundations of the earth.
When you think about all that, living in a diagnosis-laden, different-feeling world isn't as scary.
Remember that you'll see a big boy at some point, and try to let that remind you to enjoy the little guy he is now, not inspire fear and dread of what is to come. Yes, he is different than you thought he'd be. But he is exactly who God made him to be.
Enjoy that baby boy. Find a way to, just like on the playground when we were kids, stick your foot in the dirt and stop the dizzying merry-go-round of the road to diagnosis and treatment, and find a way to enjoy him for who he is, just as he is. Verbal? Enjoy him. Nonverbal? Enjoy him. Stimmy? Enjoy him. Find a way.
Because no matter how much is different about this little man, the one thing that is not different about this autistic little boy is that he will grow. He will grow, he will lose his baby cheeks, and you will lose the ability to lift and hold him when he's scared.
Taste and enjoy. Somehow. I know it's hard, please believe me. But it's also wonderful. I didn't say fun... I said wonder-ful. Yes, you have to keep up with the therapies. Yes, you have to keep working on helping him. But enjoy him, too.
And you know why? I'm sitting in today, and while it's different than I thought it would be, it's also better.
Thanks be to God for the miracle of our children, every one, with all their differences and idiosyncrasies... and for hindsight to share and teach us.