On World Autism Awareness Day, I always think of Erma Bombeck’s famous essay about how God gives children with special needs to mothers with special abilities. Since I owe my career as a columnist and blogger to the influence of Erma Bombeck, I respect her work like you wouldn’t believe. But as the parent of a child with special needs, I gotta tell you: ol’ Erma didn’t know what she was talking about.
The first time I read Erma’s tale about how God and the angel decided to give a child with special needs to a mother with a particular amount of happiness and capability and selfishness, I thought Erma was talking about my own grandmother. My grandmother gave birth to a child with Down Syndrome in the 1950s and cared for him herself until she was 90 years old. I remember reaching for the scissors when I read,
“Yes, here is a woman whom I will bless with a child less than perfect. She doesn't realize it yet, but she is to be envied. She will never take for granted a 'spoken word'". She will never consider a "step" ordinary. When her child says 'Momma' for the first time, she will be present at a miracle, and will know it!"I thought Erma was brilliant. I cut out the article from the newspaper and pressed it into my grandmother’s hand with tears of admiration brimming in my eyes. At the time, I didn’t understand her polite smile, the turn of her head.
I do now. My own son is on the autism spectrum. So I guess I am one of those mothers that Erma would have thought of as special. I don’t feel particularly special, thanks. Because most of the time I forget my son is any different than any other 10 year old boy. At the hands of so many determined therapists and patient teachers, Peter pretty much passes for normal. He plays too many video games. He stalks around our yard with a Nerf gun. He is spending Spring Break digging through his Lego collection for all the bits that have anything to do with Star Wars.
The rest of the world might be surprised how easily I forget that Peter did not call me “Mommy” until he was five years old. I can’t remember whether he stopped biting people in second grade or third grade. I am surprised every time he has a meltdown in class or his teacher says he wasn’t participating appropriately in PE. I forget that I am the mother of a child with special needs. I am unaware. I don’t even have a sticker on my car. I just think of Pete as Pete. He is normal to me.
It is only in those rare moments that the world points out to me in sharp relief that my son is not normal that my chest caves in on itself. It is only in these moments of awareness that I realize the world is not as kind as it is on the pages of Guidepost or Reader’s Digest. I can forget. It is only when the rest of the world is so self-concious in its awareness that I feel myself offer that same polite smile, that turn of the head, that concealment of a knowing no well-meant poem can ease.
Navy wife Jacey Eckhart is Editor of SpouseBuzz and author of I Married a Spartan?? The Care and Feeding of Your Military Marriage available on iTunes, Amazon, and on www.jaceyeckhart.com.