A mother kissing her son on the cheek


Having You Has Made Me A Better Mom — A Letter To My Special Needs Child

Oct 10, 2018

When I held the black and white ultrasound photo (you looked like a giant shrimp), I had a rough idea of what being a mom would be like. I imagined park visits, sandcastle-building, hand-holding. Like most first-time parents though, my vision was completely misguided. Sure, there have been magic moments in between so many balled-up wet wipes and bleary-eyed nights. But the truth is, I wasn't prepared for you.

Having to stand up for you and advocate at school, the playground, the grocery store — everywhere — has given me the skin of a rhinoceros and the tenacity of a pit bull.

I wasn't prepared for your crinkle-nose smile, your flashes of brilliance (yes, brilliance, I'm not at all biased) or your fits of spontaneous dancing and laughter. Nor was I prepared for all the fancy labels you would pick up during your nearly 10 years on earth. Autism. Attention deficit disorder. Oppositional defiance. Anxiety.

There's this saying that goes something like, "God only gives you what you can handle." Though my instinct is still to punch anyone who says it, I'll be the first to admit that being your mom has forced me to grow in ways I never expected. (And not just my tummy, though of course that grew, too!) I never bargained for all the extras that come with being a special needs parent. Does anyone? And yet I am a stronger person precisely for it.

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You never knew the me before you. But let me tell you, I would sooner sit through a Steven Seagal movie than have a confrontation. True story: I once crossed the street to avoid a person who looked like someone I was desperate to avoid. Having to stand up for you and advocate at school, the playground, the grocery store — everywhere — has given me the skin of a rhinoceros and the tenacity of a pit bull. I still loathe confrontation, but over the years I've learned how to take the ass out of assertive. (Yes, I said a bad word — writers sometimes do that for emphasis.) I also no longer embarrass easily because you have a tendency to announce my age and weight in front of strangers, and there was that time you shouted at the cash that we needed to buy cream "for the sore on your lip."

I never bargained for all the extras that come with being a special needs parent. Does anyone? And yet I am a stronger person precisely for it.

The me before you was also impatient. I wanted everything yesterday. Whether it's hopping on one foot or holding a pencil, everything you've done, my child, has taken longer and been considerably harder than it is for other kids. And even though it stings to watch you struggle and fail, I know I have to sit back and trust that you'll get there in the end. Because it was hard won, every milestone you reach is that much sweeter.

Unlike your average parent, I make a huge deal over every success, however minor. You sat through a movie! You ate with a fork! You sitting in the dentist chair without screaming the house down warrants fist bumps and pizza. Every time we have a family bike ride, I watch you peddling in disbelief and remember what it took to get you there. In this house, we take nothing for granted.

And when you ask me the same question for the 5,000th time, I suck in a breath and remind myself that sometimes you just like to hear me say it. That something in the repetition comforts you. Having my patience stretched to the limit is actually a gift to anyone who crosses my path. Just don't expect me to quit saying inappropriate words in traffic.

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And when I am swearing at the wheel, you have taught me to stop and breathe. I have seriously learned the art of mindfulness from trying to teach you. You know that thing about the student being the teacher? Well, the apple doesn't fall far, and in addition to my eyes you have also inherited my big bag of anxiety. Sorry about that. Anxiety sucks, am I right? Because I also sometimes know the panic and suffocation of my thoughts, I feel like I understand in some small way what it's like to be inside your brain. Empathy and compassion make me feel closer to you, and willing to do whatever it takes to help you.

By far the most amazing gift you have given me is perspective. It takes exactly a nanosecond on social media to see all the trivial things in the world that upset and annoy people. The major stuff (injustice, suffering) obviously deserves to be sweated. But the vast majority of things that consume people are trifles. There are weeks and even months when you are really struggling, and when you are struggling it’s like the power’s out in the entire house. So most of the time I am too focused on the bigger picture — your immediate and future welfare — to give in to pettiness.

Am I clinging to the silver lining here? Maybe. But being your mom has taught me, above all, that you have to celebrate the little things and to celebrate hard.

Article Author Julie Green
Julie Green

Read more from Julie here.

Julie M Green is a Toronto-based freelance writer and artist. A featured blogger at Huffington Post and former staff writer at YMC.ca, her work has appeared in several publications, including Today's Parent and the Globe and Mail, and she has given interviews for CTV, CBC and BBC Radio. Julie lives with her Irish hubby, crazy bulldog, and amazing 9-year-old son. Follow Spectrum Parenting for the latest autism-related resources. For more information, check out juliemgreen.ca.

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