Thirteen years ago, my mother-hero’s journey began. My almost-three-year old’s teacher stopped me at the classroom door. “We’d like to have someone from special ed come in and observe Ellana. She’s not like the other children.” My heart raced. My world whirled. Hours passed and I began to extract meaning from the teacher’s words, concluding that she thought something was wrong with Ellana. I wept. I raged. I decided that Mrs. Francis was wrong. I refused the Call to Adventure. I rejected the labels the teacher and observer wanted to associate with my beautiful, brilliant daughter.
Twelve years ago, I acknowledged that my child was very different from the other preschoolers and accepted the challenge to be the kind of parent (I thought) she needed. I decided to overcome the autism spectrumy thing. I donned my battle gear. I read, researched, and planned. I drove my daughter to therapy appointments and sampled treatments of many flavors. I had a goal: I would help Ellana to modulate odd behaviors and acclimate to the ordinary world. I would fix the glitches in her system. I would make my child normal.
Eleven years ago, when my second child was two, he was evaluated and given an autism diagnosis. While Ellana’s way of being defied labeling, Daniel had never spoken a word. He pressed the buttons on his toys repeatedly. He gleefully stemmed, flicking his hands in front of his face. He was happy, affectionate, intelligent, and obviously autistic.
Nine years ago, my first grader was in her fifth school in five years, when we were asked to withdraw midyear. I plunged into the abyss. Amidst deep, dark despair, I experienced a moment of insight: I would teach my daughter at home.
After five years of homeschooling, after much yelling, crying, and foot stomping from mother and child, revelation dawned: I did not need to fix my daughter or her brothers. They were not, and never had been, broken. None of them resembled the children I had envisioned, but they were perfectly themselves, and I loved them, no changing required.
Four years ago, my three children went to school. For the first time in eleven years, I was home alone during the day, so I decided to write a book. I interviewed mothers of autistic children and wrote about the transformative power of our parenting journeys. I was healed and enlightened. I recognized my children’s inherent awesomeness. Life was easy and good. And we lived happily ever after.
~ The End ~
Cue the laugh track. While the above is an accurate, though drastically abbreviated, telling of my parenting experience (the whole is told in Swan Mothers: Discovering Our True Selves by Parenting Uniquely Children), and though I did feel as if my mother-hero’s journey had come to a natural conclusion, I relaxed on my (virtual) lounge chair on the beach, margarita in hand, rather briefly. The end was not The End, but a curve in the spiral of life, circling into another loop of The Journey. I had arrived . . . somewhere, yet felt more unmoored than ever.
Mother, a small BIG word, gave my life purpose and meaning. It was I, who knew what my children required. It was I, who fed and healed. It was I, who soothed and strengthened. I was needed, heeded, indispensable. Until I was not, not needed to fix, for they were not broken, not heeded, for they invoked their own wisdom, not indispensable, for they were competent and complete. Mother, a BIG small role, forged the woman I am today. It is I, who practice non-interference. It is I, who aim to advise less and listen more. It is I, who teach and support. I was heated, hammered, beaten into shape. Until I became, cool and unrestricted, flowing like water, expansive and pliable, open to constant change, sovereign and free.
Since I first heard the word autism, 13 years ago, my Awareness has expanded exponentially. My worldview widened, and continues to grow. I evolved, and continue to evolve. Before autism (and my children) expanded my Awareness, I was very certain of what I should do, how people should act, and how the world should be. Because my children didn’t match my image of how children were supposed to be, because I loved them, and because I wanted to be the mother they needed, I softened. I realized the value of being like bamboo, flexible and bending with changing conditions. I recognized the importance of acknowledging when I was wrong. I learned to be different from the mother I’d been expecting to be. Without the gift of autism, I would be shallower, more narrow-minded, and more rigid.
Thirteen years into the journey, I am trying to not try to figure out a new purpose for being, striving to adjust to the flow of life’s currents, and learning to thrive in this uncertain space. I do not remember what I know every day. I relearn lessons I previously mastered. I slip, stumble, and fall. I notice twists, hills, and valleys on own journey honor the journeys of those around me.
The spectrum of people on the planet today is an invitation to see the essence of one another. It is an invitation to look with new eyes and listen with new ears, and to perceive with our hearts or our senses. It is an invitation to expand our perceptions and evolve. It is an opportunity to embrace uniqueness and individuality while recognizing our oneness.
Natalia Erehnah lived her first 29 years in beautiful and secure ordinariness, enjoying a pleasant childhood, school and job success, easy friendships, and a happy marriage. Motherhood landed her in a new land, for each of her children arrived with a clear mission and unique way of being. One was diagnosed with autism. None developed in accordance with timelines or charts. Life as she knew and envisioned it, was over, and the journey of a lifetime had begun. Natalia loves connecting with mothers on-line.
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