I love to talk about the positives of my life and children. So often, though, it feels like we put our worst foot forward for the sake of comedy. We share exaggerated videos of annoyed parents in Target or memes about how the kids never listen. I laugh along too, but I try to always accentuate the good points in my conversations and in my writing.
Inevitably, though, when you do that, someone will come by and make sure you understand the harsh nature of your situation beneath it all. I might talk about how funny my daughter is or some of the wild things my special needs child might do. That’s when I get greeted by that upturned look. The words that follow are usually something like:
Enjoy it while you can. They’ll be grown and out of the house before you know it.
Be careful with him, those things won’t be so cute when he’s older.
Save up. You don’t know what tomorrow brings.
They walk away with a smile and feeling of pride. In their head, you needed that. You needed to hear the truth about where your life is heading. It’s not even done strictly to be mean either. Some unhelpful helpers deeply feel that they are doing me a service. The world is darker than I’m painting it to be obviously. With all of this positivity, I must be missing out on the bigger picture. I just don’t know that life can be bad. They feel the need to tell me that.
I listen as they do and wonder to myself what my life would be like if I actually was the person they thought I was. Could you imagine being that person? The one who apparently doesn’t realize that life can and eventually will hit a brick wall? I wish I was that person, but I am far from it. Truth is, I think about those things a great amount of the time.
Don’t mistake positive vibes or a happy demeanor for lack of understanding. As a 41 year old man, a parent, and a member of society, I am keenly aware of how the world around me works. I’ve seen the timeline go long enough that heroes become villains, empires fall, and all the people around you disappear. I understand that. I’ve lived that. Many adults have.
My daughter is ten and is the most wonderful little girl I have ever met. I look at pictures of her and my heart skips a beat with pride. She is wonderful in every way. I think about those good things whenever I see her.
I also think about her whenever I watch the news or a documentary about a troubled adult and they show a picture of them from when they too were ten years old. I see that same spark of youthful excitement that my daughter has today and it freaks me out. I realize how much can change and how her future, no matter how much we prepare for it, is still up in the air. I worry about her for reasons that don’t yet exist and my fear of the future unknown balances out all my contentment with our present reality. It’s there. It’s in my head. I’m just not talking about it. What would be the point?
My son is seven, non-verbal, and has Autism. I love him exactly the same and entirely different from his sister. His personality, while confusing to some, is magical to me. We laugh and even his shocking moments like stealing food from babies or sometimes running when he gets excited are facts of our life. I tell stories about it with a smile on my face because, well, what else can I do?
When people remind me that “he can’t do that when he’s older”, I shake my head. I know. That’s kind of the whole point. I’m not actively encouraging him to steal from babies. I’m not creating environments where that happens, so I can have funny fodder for PTA meetings. It’s happening because it’s our life and it’s what happens in our life. I try to prevent it when I can but, when I can’t, I try to make it into a funny tale to tell others after the fact. The waitress who dropped your birthday cake didn’t drop it on purpose and isn’t proud of it, but after it’s all over, she might joke about the embarrassing situation with friends. It’s the same thing.
I know the potential future for my son can be incredibly grim. I have mentally prepared myself to possibly take care of him until I’m too feeble to stand. I’ve also intricately imagined alternate scenarios from the day I might have to let him go and live in a group home. It kills me, but I think about it. I’ve thought about it much more than some people might comprehend. I’ve basically pictured every worst-case scenario and then pictured how they could become worse than that. I want to say that it doesn’t keep me up at night, but, honestly, sometimes it does.
The bottom line is that I’m ready for anything. I’m not excited about it. I’m not happy about it. I’m not looking to have long talks about it. But I am prepared for it.
I’ve had times in my life where I was on top of the world and I’ve had times in my life where I didn’t know where I would sleep that night. I’ve been up and down all the spectrums and learned that today is today. Tomorrow is something else.
No one has to remind me that one day I won’t be smiling. I know that. I’m ready for it. That day isn’t today, though. When it comes, I’ll know. Maybe you will too. For now, though, just let me smile.