I will never forget the day I first learned about autism. Bob and Suzanne Wright were on the Today Show to announce the advocacy group they freshly created in hopes to help families struggling with a puzzling disorder. They spoke about the beautiful, bright, charismatic grandson they knew one day, and the anxious, sad, withdrawn one they knew the next. At the time, I thought I’d never heard of anything so awful. Seeing as nobody was talking about autism then, I didn’t internalize any of their discussion of warning signs or early intervention. Frankly, I was too busy chasing down my early crawler. I anxiously awaited for the part of the interview where the couple would say what plain ol’, typical, everyday people like you and me can do to help. Afterall, a mom like me (exhaustion aside) had it made.
Pen in hand ready to jot down a website or place to send a check, I was not at all expecting what came next: a plea. No, I think it was closer to a demand. To paraphrase, Suzanne Wright made an appeal to all grandparents, letting them know that their own children so desperately needed them right now. Essentially she was putting grandparents on notice- “get to work” was the message I got. Wow. I knew how hard I had it adjusting to being a mom for the first time so I wholeheartedly agreed, not even wanting to imagine what it would be like to essentially live with the loss of a child.
Fast forward two grueling, tear-drowned years. My son J.R. was finally diagnosed with autism at age 3.
Let me make one thing clear: I would not be the person I am today without my children’s grandparents. How difficult it must have been for them to endure my husband’s and my suffering in those early days and months. I had no idea how to parent, much less parent a child not yet diagnosed with autism. I hated everyone, even them.
I know how heartbroken I become when I see J.R. struggling. Do I even dare imagine how my own parents feel about her daughter’s situation, or my in-laws their son’s? Their fears and frustrations for us must be maddening.
J.R.’s grandparents never comment how my husband or I “should” act or feel, and I like that. They may have walked a thousand miles (my kids in tow), but they certainly aren’t in our exact shoes. They know when to suggest, and they know when to butt out. They have supported every single, solitary move we’ve made towards J.R.’s improvement. And I am sure that has required a good amount of tongue biting.
Nobody plays with my children like their grandparents, and I thank God everyday for that. My back would be broken! And what IS IT about grandpas? I swear J.R. can have a ten-minute conversation with his about NOTHING (obviously). Grandpa could stand in front of him with a blank expression, and still in J.R.’s eyes nobody on the PLANET is worth more to him. Neither Bob the Builder nor Cars’ Mater held a candle.
Naturally while grandpa entertains without making as much as a sound (well except some entertainingly inappropriate ones), grandma is the one who is washing soiled underwear. And acting like it’s no big deal. In the interim, she’s planning her schedule around ours. She calls and asks when she can relieve my husband and I so we can go on a date. She inquires when she can have alone time with my typical child, because he needs and deserves special attention too. To be respectful, grandma wants to know exact instructions when caring for J.R., but really needs none. She is in awe of everything I do outside of making it through the day. She says she can’t fathom how people in our situation stay married. Maybe I should hand her a mirror.
My point in all of this? It’s pretty clear I am spoiled, thanks to Suzanne Wright. I am, though, well aware others aren’t as fortunate. And for that reason I try to be the best friend, caregiver, mom, citizen…fill in the blank…I can possibly be. When I say I would not be the person I am today without my children’s grandparents I don’t mean that without them I’d never again be able to have my hair blown out without worrying what may blow up at home. I mean that I’ve been taught the true meaning of compassion. Of patience. Of sacrifice. Of love.
Can’t we all attempt to be, well, grand? I certainly hope so.