As I settle in under blankets and switch from sipping sweet tea - the table wine of the South - to hot tea, I am aware of a feeling that seemed absent from the holidays last year. It was buried deep within the hollows of a heart that was still hurting from my boy's autism diagnosis six months prior. It was covered with a heavy blanket of longing and regret that my boy was not anticipating the holidays with the glow of joy that I imagined and awaited after the birth of him, my first child. It was overshadowed by regret over the things that would not be that holiday season - like watching him eat turkey, or delight in Santa, or rip through presents with anticipation.
What was buried within, and what has begun to escape this year, was thankfulness.
Perhaps it's complacency, but I feel more at peace with the holidays this year, even in what will be their modified state. The things that would have given me sadness last year - like Jack being unable to partake in Thanksgiving dinner or not understanding the magic of Santa Claus - seems so normal to me now that I barely give it a second thought. This is simply how my family operates these days, but I am thankful for that acceptance. It makes it easier to enjoy the season to come.
I am also thankful for the blessings that I have with an autistic child. Yes, there is much to be thankful for with being a special needs parent. I am thankful for the plethora of therapists, teachers, and doctors who work with my little boy on a daily basis, who take my calls and emails on weekends, and who work tirelessly to help my boy achieve his milestones. I am thankful for the wonderful network of fellow special needs parents that I have met in the past two years, for it is with them that I've found the best resources, the most kindness, and the greatest understanding.
Most of all, I am thankful for the lessons my son has taught me over the past two years. As a result of his own sensory needs, he has made me infinitely more in-tuned to the world around me. I see potential sensory triggers when I might have ignored them before. I also see the beauty in the things that catch my son's eye, like bubbles floating on a breeze, the soft glow of a light-up toy, the gentle rhythm of a ceiling fan's endless spin, or the way that light can hit a table just so. Imagine all that I would not see and experience in this world if not for my boy! I am thankful for that opportunity.
I am thankful that my sweet boy has helped me appreciate the little milestones in life. When he was an infant, I focused on the milestones that were listed in the books - walking, talking, crawling, etc. When he met those milestones late - or did not meet them at all - I lived in a place oscillating between denial and despair. Now, not only do I not worry about the milestones he has not met on time - which is nearly all of them - but I treasure the milestones that are missed by parents of typically-developing children. I rejoice when my nearly 4-year old eats a meltable (cheese puffs!) for the first time. I am elated when he produces just a few markings on a page with a crayon. Each word out of his mouth is sweet music to my ears. Each smile - and yes, even the flapping hands that often accompany it - simply lights up my life and I appreciate each and every one.
I am thankful that my boy has helped me find my strength. My voice. My courage. Before he was diagnosed, I was content to sit silently and allow the world to pass me by. I did not want to rock the boat. Leave change to the other people. Once my son was diagnosed and his needs were greater than I could have ever imagined, I found that I was not only willing but able to fight for the future of my little boy. I began writing more. I got involved. I found that I did not fear action. I wanted to become an instrument of change.
All of this because of one little boy.
This year, I am thankful for him. For each and every moment he has presented to me that has helped shape who I am today. I am thankful that I have the courage to approach the future with optimism, realism, and hope. And I am thankful for all that is yet to come.
Jeanie is a former engineer turned stay-at-home wife and mom to an amazing 3.5-year old little boy on the autism spectrum. After her only child was diagnosed at 24 months with autism and an alphabet soup of special needs, she began to write about life parenting a very young child with special needs with honesty, optimism, and as always, a touch of humor.