I want to tell you a story about an amazing, gifted woman who was an angel for my son when he was struggling to connect to his world through autism. This woman was one of his teachers. She loved him and saw all of the brilliance contained in his mind, the endless possibilities captured in his heart and she nurtured him.
All that year she drew him out through her many gifts, the greatest of which was her love. He blossomed. He grew. He learned in small ways to connect with others, and he loved going to school. It wasn’t just the thrill of learning to decode the strange symbols that let him understand his world, the structured interactions with other children that had easy to interpret rules of exchange, and the “everyone gets to play” teams, it was that there was this person, this woman, this gatekeeper who made sure he was ushered in and made a part of it all. He loved it and he loved her. She made it clear to him in the most uncomplicated way that she loved him.
When you have children, you discover that you must learn to live the rest of your life with your own heart beating outside of your chest, carried around in a careless and beautiful and painful world by your child. Like a balloon filled with helium slipping though your fingers on a windy day, so fast and so high and so far will that balloon be carried away. Your outstretched arm, fingers straining futiliy towards the bright, small, delicate burst of color and chasing after it endlessly even though you know you will never get it back. God help the branch, the bird, the storm,the hail, or any other thing with the potential to pop your ballooon, for there is nothing so fierce as a parents love.
When you have a child who, through no fault and no option to exchange them, has challenges that place them at a distinct disadvantage because the rules of the world they must live in, and the instructions manual for navigating that complex world are coded in a strange and different language that you aren’t able to speak, you find yourself thrust into the role of ardent advocate. You encourage and educate and hold to task those charged with his care. You find allies everywhere and adversity in equal measure. You have a child who has their own amazing gifts and a language that is as foreign to the world as the world is to your child. There are people who will never understand this no matter how many ways you try to explain things. It can feel so overwhelming. Thank God for the angels around us. The ones who’s love softens the sharp edges of the days.
He is many years older now and several feet taller than that small, sweet, energetic, deeply complicated young boy, the one entirely swept up in pirate lore and real dragons. The one who believed he could fly.
The imp with the boundless energy and swiftly shifting intense emotions. The little guy who vibrated when he tried to stand still. The one who struggled with the agonizing discomfort of looking you in the eye for longer than a few seconds before needing to run off the electrical current that seemed to surge through his whole body all the time. The child who stammered into silence when his racing and brilliant mind out paced his tongue.
He grew. He thrived on the love. The open and easy celebration of his uniqueness.
That boy grew. He went on to become an altar server, a CCD teacher to a 4th grade class, Senior Patrol leader for the local Boy scout troop, a trumpet player in the band, a singer in the a capella group, an honors student, and an Eagle Scout. He went off to college.
He is a young man who manages to look you in the eye and genuinely smile. Because someone really looked at him and really saw him, not just for the challenges he struggled with. Because they looked at him and could see the whole person in front of them. The bright, shining light inside. Out in that amazing and terrifying world there are special teachers, and angels like them, who every day make a difference. When you worry and wonder whether you will be enough, remember that love is the most powerful force. Your child’s greatest strength and gift is you.
*For Deb , Vickie, Stephanie, and countless other teachers who came into my life through my child, each a gift beyond measure. This story happens to be Stephanie’s story, and to my child she was “Mrs. Magical” because that’s how he pronounced her name. And truly, she is. Magical. In fact, they all are.*