I am the proud mother of two amazing little boys. Two boys who are growing up way too fast. So many times in a day I wish for time to freeze. To hold them in these precious moments with me. To linger in their sweetness. To memorize the easy way they nestle into me for safety and comfort. To cherish the way they need me; and the way I need them. To be mommy just a little while longer.
But all too soon I will be mom. The precious moments will end too quickly. The sweetness will come and go. They will nestle into me less and less. I will question their need for me; but never my need for them.
This year my oldest son will embark on his Kindergarten year. A thought that is both terrifying and exhilarating. His Kindergarten year will not be typical. Because my sweet boy is anything but typical. He was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder at age 2. And every moment before, and every moment since, has been a part of a long and unexpected journey.
This year our journey takes another turn. A turn toward longer days at school. More time away from his home and the safety and comfort that it offers him. He will spend as many awake hours at school as he will at home. He will have a routine that I am not a part of. He will have relationships with people who I have not met. He will experience things that will be separate from his experiences with me.
And each day all of these things will become a little bit more a part of him. Pieces of who he will be. Day by day these routines and people and experiences will shape him. They will become an important part of his identity. An important part of him.
He will have big wins, and crushing blows. He will feel excitement, and he will feel fear. He will face new experiences, and he will meet familiar roadblocks. Day by day he will live pieces of his life away from me. And I am terrified by all that I will miss.
I want to to know everything. To sit with him after a long day. To hear about the good days and the kind people. To ask more questions about the people who show him extra patience when he needs it. I will want to ask about the challenges. To understand the people and obstacles who stand in his way. To listen. To help. To be his partner along this journey.
And because I want this partnership, I will ask. But, I know already that the answers will leave me wanting more. Because he cannot answer these questions. Not the way I need him to. His thoughts do not work like that. His answers are a part of his beautiful brain. A part that only make sense to him.
I will ask “Who is your best friend?” and he will answer with another question “Does Sophie like to play soccer?” I will ask “Did you have fun at school today?” and he will say “Because I follow the rules.” I will ask “Why do you not want to play with that friend?” and he will say “Because I do not want to play with him at all.” We will go around and around in circles. Asking and answering. But never really knowing.
I cannot describe to you what that feels like. I cannot tell you about the pain I feel when I cannot talk to my own child. Really talk to him. To never fully understand what is happening to him; not the good or the bad. To not know his pain. To uncover the cause.
He cannot tell me. So I cannot know.
I cannot know who is kind to him. And who is unkind to him. I can only watch his reactions. His body language around certain people. His uneasiness. His anger. His sadness. I watch. And I wonder. And I feel completely helpless.
And that is a pain I cannot describe to you. It is a feeling I do not wish upon any other parent. Because, as parents we need to band together. To protect each other. To help each other when we can. And here in this moment I need your help.
This is my white flag. My salvation. My request. My plea. My reminder as we embark on a new school year.
Remember to talk to your children about kindness and tolerance and difference. Encourage them to embrace opportunities to make new friends. Friends who may be different from them.
Tell your children not to be afraid of things they do not understand. Teach them how to ask questions. Give them the tools of patience and acceptance, and those tools will serve them well in their lives.
Remind them to color inside of the lines, but to live outside of them. To understand that they may not always look the same or act the same as everyone around them. And that is OK. It is SO much better than OK! Tell them that it is fun and exciting and enriching to surround themselves with people who are different. To create their own opportunities to learn and grow.
Tell them that it will not always be the easiest choice. But showing kindness and tolerance to other people will always be the right choice. Tell them that you are proud of them. That you are proud of their kind hearts. Empower them to go out into the world with kindness bursting from inside of them. Help them be strong enough to face another who is unkind, and to show them kindness in return.
Teach them to live kind. Teach them through words and teach them through actions. You yourself live kind. Make kindness and acceptance and difference and tolerance a part of the fabric of your family. Your neighborhood. Your school. Your community. Teach kind. Live kind. Spread kind.
I cannot know everything I want to know about my son and his life outside of our home. And, I will worry. I will worry every day.
I will worry because I am a mom and that comes with the territory. But in some small way, waving my white flag gives me strength. It gives me hope. Hope that all of the parents and teachers and friends and neighbors out their will sit down with their children and talk about kindness. Hope that my son and this journey we are on can be a part of something so much bigger.
I wave my white flag. It is big and mighty, but still I lift it high. I lift it high and I wave it from side to side. A plea for you to see. To share. Because I cannot do this alone.
Teach kind. Live kind. Spread kind.