It’s early morning at my parents’ house in the woods, and I find myself with a few moments of quiet to enjoy a cup of coffee and the serene view from my parents’ dining room windows. Whether it’s the aftereffect of a nice Thanksgiving weekend, or the fact that my son is sleeping in (one of the few things you can be thankful for when your child hits the teenage years), I find myself reflecting on the many gifts in my life that are worthy of thanks.
As a blog post about gratitude comes into focus, I look up to see a small doe standing on the other side of the dirt road from my parents’ house, her ears perked and alert. She peers down the road cautiously, not twitching a muscle. She is beautiful. And then, from the brush behind her steps a small fawn, and then another. The doe’s alertness takes on new meaning – she’s watching out for her little ones this morning. She doesn’t turn back to them, but sensing their presence, she moves with them quickly and safely across the street. I watch for the next few minutes as the doe leads her children around the side of my parents’ property, just outside of the wire fencing. She is constantly on guard, pausing every few feet to survey the area, her young ones following, relaxed and curious in her wake. I smile at the connection I feel with this mother deer, as she pours so much energy and effort into protecting her children from whatever dangers might lie in their path. We have that task in common – although, who am I kidding? She looks much more stoic and majestic in her role than I ever could. But I do have something else that she lacks. While I am also determined to help my child navigate through the world safely, I never travel alone. I am grateful…
…for my husband, who is by my side on this journey. We make a pretty good team, and I cannot imagine raising our son without this man’s love, support, humor and friendship. Knowing that the divorce rate for couples that have kids with disabilities is higher than the average, I am exceedingly grateful that he has been there for me going on twenty years.
…for our family, who embraces our quirky kid without hesitation and loves him as much as we do. You would think this would be a given – we are family, after all – but I know of many who are not so lucky. Difference and disability are not always so easily accepted and understood, even by those who are supposed to love unconditionally. I am grateful to have family and close friends that support us as parents and never fail to make sure my child knows he is welcome and loved.
…for my comrades-in-arms – the other moms in my life who remind me that I’m not the only one walking this road. Moms who understand that there is a time to be a “warrior mom” and a time to calm the hell down. Moms who know that our interactions with our children are sweeter (and saner) when we can find a few precious moments away from them too. Moms who simultaneously despair over their children’s challenges and cherish the beauty of their uniqueness – and who can find humor in bumper stickers like “My Autistic Kid Will Lick Your Honor Student” – sometimes all in the same day.
…for my son’s incredibly gifted team of therapists and teachers – past and present – whose commitment to my child is a constant source of inspiration. I am often in awe of their creativity; when their brilliant ideas transform an impossibly distant goal into a mastered skill, because they take the time to discover what clicks with my kid. If I get discouraged, their enthusiasm for the challenge and their confidence in him reenergizes me to keep pressing onward.
…for the people in my community who don’t even know me, but who make my job easier, just by being kind. There have been many times when a stranger’s patience has mitigated much of the worry over caring for my child in a public setting. My thanks to the elderly gentleman, at the sign-in table for a recent community event, who didn’t scold my kid for putting his foot up on the table, but who calmly offered to tie his shoe for him instead; and to the woman sitting at an outdoor restaurant who could have complained when my son stole a grape from her plate, but who laughed to dismiss my embarrassment and instead handed him a few more.
I am thinking about all of these amazing people in my life as I watch this beautiful, solitary doe and her fawns make their way past my mom’s greenhouse and out of sight. I say a little prayer for her success, hoping that this mother is able to lead her children safely through the day; and, I send out a message of gratitude for my own “herd,” knowing that my chances of securing safe passage for my son are a little brighter because of all the help I have along the way.