It’s my birthday next week. I’ll be forty-blah-blah and today something quite unexpected arrived in the mail. It was a present, for me (always lovely) but from who and whence it came is the lovely bit. Almost as lovely as having a reason to use the word ‘whence’.
But I won't reveal the details of the gift yet. First, a little context.
Our son Billy is almost seven. He’s autistic, on the floaty, creative, photographic memory, distracted-by-a-butterfly end of the spectrum. He’s come a long way in his seven years on the planet, and for that we are grateful. He’s become both odder and happier in this time. It’s an interesting journey, and right now, a pretty positive one, but it’s not hard to forget the dark days.
When Billy was around two, he sifted dirt for a living. That was pretty much it. He was cuddly and loving and connected to us. But when he was not within arms length, he sifted dirt. He would go to great lengths to find dirt. And then he would sift it, silently and with a slight sheen of sweat constantly on his cheeks. Unsurprisingly, he didn’t have a lot of time for ‘normal’ toddler stuff like playdates and Gymbaroo.
At 3am, after long days of trying to convince doctors that dirt sifting didn’t give me a warm and cozy parenting feeling, I would find myself googling things like ‘hates loud noises’, ‘avoids kids’ and of course, ‘sifts dirt’. Amazingly, given the odd denial of the doctors, most of the returns on my google searches included the word ‘autism’. The only thing that made those dark hours of online demon-facing tolerable, was the awesome women I met online.
It sounds a bit illegal. But it was far from it.
While Australia slept on around me, other women, on the other end of the world, were very much awake and chatting to each other on an autism message board. They were going through very similar stuff to me, and they welcomed me as a friend. We’ve stuck with each other, through thick and thin. Through five years of toilet training (arghh) and transitions to school (even bigger argghh), through subsequent children (not mine, as far as I remember) and battles with Mothers-In-Law (I wish, not mine) and even kids finishing high school (will that ever be mine?).
We’ve learned about autism together, sometimes dipping into unexpected corners of research or philosophy. We’ve celebrated the dropping of diagnoses, and lamented regressions and morphing symptoms. We’ve learned to love each others’ children, and each other. In the simplest possible way, we have lightened the load for each other, despite the fact that most of us have never met.
So, when a package arrived in the mail today, from the northern hemisphere, addressed to me, my heart lifted. It was a book, and a card. From the heart of someone I have never met, but whom I feel I know better than some people I see every day, I received a gift.
Or should I say, another gift.
All I can say is ‘Thank You’. For making the dark days seem like a long time ago…
PS. I’m proud to say that one of those new friends from long ago was Mama Deb. I am even more proud to be sharing a day with her and her wise words on Hopeful Parents.
Valerie's increasingly random thoughts about autism and life can be found at Jump On The Rollercoaster.