We all have those moments (ok sometimes minutes or hours or days) when we ask ourselves “Why me?” Sometimes the question comes in the form of “@*%& WHY ME???!!!!!!!” and I totally get that. My most recent “Why me?” moment? Only my kid would wake up thirty minutes before we were to have our holiday photos taken with the worst case of sheet marks on his face I have ever seen. I would venture to say it looked like Freddy Kruger had a hand in this. At that point I even questioned why J.R. had to be born to me, because on the average my own sheet marks normally start to disappear close to dinnertime.
In all honesty, however, I have never, ever wondered why my son’s autism “happened” to me. Make no mistake, I’ve been known to scream “WHY? WHY? WHY? WHY?” (while banging my head on my steering wheel) once I realize I’ve left the house having applied makeup to only one eye. Catch me any day of the week quizzing my boys with a “Why?” (or ten) as they engage in knock down, drag out “pee war” over their cringing toilet seat. My point is that though I am never beneath asking (or SHOUTING) “Why?!” the query doesn’t seem to ever be formed for the most obvious reason: J.R.’s autism. Though I hate autism for more reasons I can count, my whys come for different reasons. Yet I may still have autism to thank for them.
Why or how is it that I can have one child with autism and the other who is, for lack of a better term, the anti-autistic (not to be confused with the anti-Christ, although he does have his moments)? My second child Jackson is so “typical” that I barely know how to raise him. I am not kidding. Three years with an only child on the spectrum will do that to a girl. If it were not for my “typical” (not be confused with “normal”) husband, Jackson would have needed to be farmed out to be raised more properly. Like to a pack of wolves. Why, why, WHY Jackson? Why Jackson when statistically speaking, you should be on the spectrum too? And why must your personality and gifts be a perfect marriage of both your dad’s and mine? Well I know where you got the “perfect” part from. I will never know the reasons why I get to have you. The bigger question may be are you here to fill the hole in me or to serve your brother? So. Many. Whys.
Why Are People So Damned Nice to Me?
Though guilty in the past, I swear I am not fishing for compliments on this one. I have said it before and I will say it again- there is nothing special about me because I am raising a child with autism. Yes, I have questioned my own “specialness” due to my queer understanding of J.R., but honest to God I still don’t get it. I know the day will come, but in my ten years with J.R. not one person has doled out as much as an eye-roll (at least not to our faces). I run into kindness wherever I go, crazy kids in tow or not. And to think I was a “mean girl” when I was in middle school! Okay don’t ever repeat that. Is it geography, the mostly sunny weather, or my horribly split ends that cause others to constantly extend a kind hand to me?
Why Am I So Happy?
I don’t think I have ever admitted that depression runs in my family. Not to worry, because nor has the family to whom I am referring. Clap along! I was raised by a bunch of jokers (funny people, not fools) who laughed their cares away. Troubles were masked behind corny potty humor and a can of Busch beer. From an early age, I knew how unhealthy this probably was. I also knew I shouldn’t have tried to jump out of my dad’s (moving) International Scout at age five, shoot bow-and-arrows at age seven, nor drink out of a hose but hey, it was the 1970’s. Still, I am thankful for my upbringing because we all were, well, hilarious. To this day, laughter is saving my life. Happiness may not be a part of my nature, but a product of my nurture (or lack thereof- there were no such thing as child car seats back then, were there?).
Fast forward a few decades and my own winter of discontent would begin. There simply isn’t enough time or energy to begin to list the bonafide reasons why autism delivers a devastating blow to a family. Yet if I’ve learned one thing while raising a child with autism, it is that one never knows the load that another human being may be carrying on his or her shoulders. I think my perma-smile does a decent job masking my anxieties, frustrations, and fears. I would hate for anyone to see on my face that the last thing my son said to me today before he left for school was “I HATE YOU!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! GODDAMN YOU MOM!!!!!!!!” This leads me to believe that so many others plug along in spite of unimaginable burdens. I guess happiness has become my “truth” (thanks Pharell) because I am constantly counting my blessings. I can only assume that those blessings are affirmed daily as my happy face greets another’s with a quiet understanding.
The bottom line? I am one lucky girl who can apparently find bliss no matter how or why she has been thrown (okay, pelted with) one of life’s curve balls. There is doubt I have a village to thank for that. For better or for worse, I am sharing this life with that awful, terrible, no good autism. There is NO question that I choose to inhale the better.
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Kristi Vannatta is a mom to two boys, ages seven and ten. Her blog, Write On!, focuses on her life with her ten-year-old son with autism. In her infinite spare time (ha!) she runs Puzzle Peace Now, a charity that raises money to send children with autism to summer camp.