I heard the crash and immediately knew what I would see as I ran outside. My beautiful hand-painted ceramic flower pot, a Christmas gift, lay in a dozen or so pieces on the hard cement patio at the feet of my unremorseful 2 ½ year old.
I bit my tongue to stop the harsh words that threatened to spill off my tongue and onto the head of my blonde toddler-boy, and instead offered measured words of sadness over my broken gift. I breathed at even intervals to contain my frustration and anger. He toddled off, completely unmoved by my sadness. I knew I wasn’t yet in a place to say any more and by the time I was, his 2 ½ year old mind would have moved at lightspeed beyond the entire incident. I stood there, angry.
Then I felt a small hand on my shoulder. I looked down into the brown eyes of Cole, my oldest boy. They squinted up at me, his eyebrows slanted, and his lips pursed in empathy. He patted my shoulder a few times. I smiled into his eyes as tears filled my own eyes.
My anger flew away as I remembered…
A few days before, I returned home from a necessary trip away, having taken only the baby with me. The three older boys stayed home with their Daddy and had a marvelous weekend baking with their auntie and playing with their grandparents. When I spoke to my husband on the phone the second night I was away, he told me that Silas, our second-born always mentioned he missed me right at bed time. This didn’t surprise me, but it did touch my mama’s heart and I told my husband to make sure they all knew I missed them too. I knew Jonah at 2 1/2 is too young to express missing me, and I knew better than to ask if Cole had expressed anything similar.
He doesn’t suffer from separation anxiety and never has.
Upon returning home, I came through the door at 8:30 PM and walked immediately to the living room to greet them. Jonah was already in bed, but Silas smiled and hugged me tight. His mommy was home and now all was right in his world. I squeezed him back and kissed his head.
I turned to Cole expecting his routine and unenthused, “Hi Mommy” linked with some sort of demand, something Daddy may have forgotten or not known to do while I was away.
Instead, I looked into his boy-face and saw pain etched across it as he ran at me and wrapped his arms around my legs.
“You were gone too long, Mommy. Don’t ever do that again.”
The lump in my throat cut off my voice as I scooted myself down to press my face against his and hold him close. I pulled him to my lap and his words continued. He missed me. He was sad. He wanted to sleep in my bed that night to make up for lost time. I didn’t want to let him go, and I was ready to let him stay in my arms like a newborn baby all night if it meant we could stay just like this, attached at the heart, exactly like I’d always wanted.
And now only a few days later, standing among the pieces of my broken flower pot, his eyes held mine for so much longer than a moment, and he was sorry for me. He wanted me to feel better and so he reached out his hand to pat my shoulder. And he held my gaze until I smiled.
My brilliant boy, so different than most, had to learn that. Slowly, methodically. We taught him to care. We practiced empathy with him. His teachers have contrived situation after situation and practiced the appropriate responses. He has worked hard. And he’s doing it.
My cup overflows.
But I didn’t teach him to want me. He didn’t practice missing me. No one has told him he should feel that way about his Mommy.
For 5 ½ years I have struggled to accept that he never would. He’d love me just like he loves everyone, with great enthusiasm. But the attachment that I enjoy with my other boys was not to be with my Cole. Most days, I managed to make peace with it. The blessings of autism can far outweigh the curses, but sometimes my heart ached for all I was missing with my first baby boy. It could never feel completely natural.
And now here he was, arms tightly wrapped around me, begging me to never leave again. I can’t explain how it happened, except that I know God is in the business of grace. Perhaps someone looking in on our little living room scene would simply see a mother and her boy, a little too old to be so moved by her return.
But in my heart, I see amazing grace.
Our experience with autism thus far has been one of slowly uncovering the hidden parts of our son, the parts autism threatened to rob him of forever, accepting that some things are gone for good, and embracing the unique gifts it has given him.
This was a moment of uncovering.
What once was lost now is found.