I wrote this on Mother’s Day, 2006.
“Getting my daughter to love me is the hardest job interview I’ve ever been on. I think I possess the right qualifications, but I’m years away from knowing if I got the job. You see, I wasn’t graced with a daughter who came into this world armed with unconditional love for the woman who gave birth to her, fed her, cleaned her, changed her, and rocked her. At 16-months old my daughter was diagnosed with autism and, for her, love is a learned task.
There is a great deal of heartbreak in this; imagine having to teach a child to love you. However, there is also an incredible lesson to be learned. How do you teach someone how to give love? How to receive love? How do you even teach a child what love is? Does love reveal itself in the tone of your voice? Is it embodied in physical representations? My daughter rebuffs most physical contact so to lather her with hugs and kisses can prove to be rather traumatic. Can she feel my love in those moments when I remit to her silent, yet willful resistance to everything? Or does it linger in the steady repetition of structured days and nights? And while most parents struggle with trying to keep their children well behaved, I struggle to teach my daughter basic behavior. For those of you who have ever been a part of the world of Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA) you’re all too familiar with the mantras, “This is sitting,” “This is walking,” and “This is standing.” Nothing comes naturally except frustration.
I used to lay awake nights wondering why this has happened to our family. Now I have ceased asking “why,” and have surrendered to the fear. The fear of where the future will find my child. The fear of thinking, “Who can give her the care and attention that I do if something should happen to me?” The pulsating panic I feel when I realize that my life, my future, is as uncertain and unplanned as hers.
In moments of strength I gain great comfort in the realization that this journey that I’m on is preordained, and that the lessons derived from it will not only make me a better human being, but will take me to a place that I know I would never have arrived at if this awful pervasive disease had not come into my home. In moments of weakness I fall to my knees and weep.
Currently there is a popular song that plays repeatedly on the radio called In My Daughter’s Eyes. I sob every time I hear it because reflected in my daughter’s eyes is a deep emptiness that mirrors exactly how I feel. Until last week when for the first time our eyes connected. For the very first time she looked at me with purpose and intent. My heart soared with unimaginable joy. In that moment her eyes revealed to me that there is a lifetime of knowledge hidden behind the perceived emptiness. Her eyes emitted the promise that over the long course of days she will reveal to me who I really am; who I am meant to be. But the lesson takes time, and in the interim I must let her teach me how to believe in hope.”
Kathleen has journeyed so far over the course of the last four years; she now has the language to tell me daily that she loves me. I am blessed.
To my darling daughter, Kathleen; thank you for giving me the strength I never knew I had, and for bringing me to a place in my life I would never have had the courage to arrive at were it not for you.
Please take a moment this Mother’s Day to say a prayer for those mothers who untiringly journey beside me day after day after day who will wake up to no hugs, no kisses, no homemade cards or breakfasts in bed; mothers who will spend yet another day in a hospital room; yet another day administering therapy; yet another day laying flowers upon the grave of their child; yet another day soldiering on through their grief, never letting the world see them cry.