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Our Children Are Our Greatest Teachers, If We’re Humble Enough to Receive Their Lessons

A Mother's Letters to her Non-verbal Autistic Son

By: Sue Sexton MA Licensed Psychologist

“Our children can be our Greatest Teachers, if we are humble enough to receive their lessons” Bryan McGill.   In 8 years, my son James taught me more about myself, the deep horrors humans can inflict on one another, how to heal in profound ways, and the true meaning to life.  All parents can relate to the trials and tribulations that we face, as we attempt to make the next generation a little bit better than the previous.   Our children can teach us how to become our best self.

Dear James:  You’re growing in my belly as I write this.  For 1.5 years, you were a mere speck of desire and hope.  Then one morning at 4:30am, a positive pee stick, a squeal of delight, and waking your daddy to celebrate, my life changed!  Now we play our first game of peek a boo, as you squirm in my belly and dance to Phil Collins music.  I will meet you soon.  My dreams for you are to be happy and loved.  I love you to the moon and back already!  Love Mom.

Dear James:   You’re here!  I am exhausted after 2-days of labor.  You are delightful.  The changes that take place in a newborn and new parent’s life are limitless.   The sleepless nights are ongoing, so I remind myself to enjoy these moments because they will pass, and I’ll miss them someday, or so I’m told.  Your middle of night chubby little grin and squeals of delight are enough to make everything okay, and a small dose of Celexa (yep, post-partum depression is real). As we enter the year mark, I am beginning to have concerns because you’re not interested in rolling, crawling, or exploring your environment.  I try not to worry too much, but I still call Early Childhood Family Education (ECFE) to begin services.  I want the very best for you!  I love you to the moon and back.  Love Mom.

Dear James:  Your first birthday was bittersweet.  You are full of smiles, adorable, and voted the best-behaved baby on the block (you rarely cry!).  We swoon at your dimples, rolls, and sparkling blue eyes.  Everyone volunteers opinions to soothe my worries about your delays: “he’s just a big baby”, “he’s your first and you hold him too much”, “he’ll just be a super smart guy and not very athletic someday”, or other kind yet not very helpful comments.   I know deep within you lies a well of knowledge, yet your body doesn’t seem to respond.   I cry often.  I wonder if a child’s happiness is enough in life?  I am grieving the loss of milestones now and have fears of your future. Will you live with us forever?  Will you have friends, or will you be bullied? Will you be able to work?  Will you walk someday?  My grief is heavy.  Then, the other day, you said, “I love you momma” and my heart about exploded.  I will do anything for you and long to give you the best life possible!  I love you to the moon and back!  Love Mom.

Dear James,  You are TWO!   You have learned how to roll and crawl.  You also spend a lot of your time somewhere else: staring vacantly off.  Wherever you go, it must be nice because you bounce, squeal, and are happy.   You lost your words.   One day, your ECFE teacher entered the room and awaited your greeting. It never came.  Later she told me that you were likely “mentally retarded” and I burst into tears.  Then I fired her.  I don’t know what’s going on inside your head and body.  You had your first grand mal seizure as I rocked you for your afternoon nap.  I thought you were choking and dying in my arms, as I ran downstairs to call 911. I rode in the ambulance and prayed: God, please let my son live.  The neurologist diagnosed you with a main dish of “severe” non-verbal autism, and side dishes of Epilepsy, Low Muscle Tone, and Dyspraxia.   I wondered: Why me?  Then I wondered, Why not me?  I am determined to help you remain happy, while also teaching you to walk, talk, and do as many life skills independently as possible.   You work so hard to accomplish tasks that come so easily for others.  I believe in you James!    Let’s move mountains, sweet boy!  I love you to the moon and back!  Love, Mom

Dear James,  You took your first step on your 3rd birthday and I watched in pure amazement!   I am so proud of you!  As you are bigger, your differences are much more apparent and people stare.  You look normal but don’t act normal (whatever “normal” means).  We discovered food allergies and you’re always sick.  You don’t sleep well. You have grand mal seizures with high fevers.  I lose sleep worrying about you. I feel like a protective mama bear. I love you so much and would move mountains for you.  I love you the moon and back!   Love, Mom

Dear James,  It’s amazing what a year can do!  You are FOUR!  Sometimes you say words or sentences, but it’s rare to hear them again. You work hard every day in therapy and school. I believe part of your role here on earth is to spread joy and love.  Your smile and laugh are contagious.  Yet, I still worry and compare. You engage in sexualized behaviors at times.  I asked other special needs parents and they reassured me it’s an “autism sensory thing”.  I’m not sure what to think.  There are so many caretakers in your life and it requires a lot of trust to leave you in their care. I hope nobody is hurting you.   I love you to the moon and back!  Love, Mom

Dear James,  You are now 5 years old!   I can honestly say I feel at peace most days.   In fact, your dad and I decided we wanted to have another baby, so you’d have a sibling to grow up with.  I have a feeling you’re going to have a brother.  Why?  Because I was napping the other day and a little boy whispered in my ear “mommy, everything’s going to be okay” and I woke up, but alone.  I’m excited for you to meet each other, grow, and play together.   Daddy is adjusting his work to part-time, so that mommy has more help.  I’ve been managing full-time work at myPrivate Psychotherapy Practice and juggling your therapy schedule now for 5 years, and I insisted our lives find more balance.   As my belly grows, you are really becoming anxious.   I keep reminding you everything’s going to be okay, but it’s like you know something I don’t yet.   I also worry because you continue to engage in sexualized behaviors, especially while laying next to me in bed.  (Insert a slew of curse words) - OMG! My goodness!  Our life suddenly changed overnight!   Your daddy moved out when I was at work the other day and he’s not coming back home.   He’s having an affair.   I don't know what to do and am in total shock.  I’m scheduled to deliver your brother Jack next week (yes, I'm 9-mo pregnant).  I am so sorry you must experience this, my sweet boy.  I promise you we’ll get through this.  I love you to the moon and back.  Love, Mom

Dear James, You’re now 6.5.  We spent the past few months finding new footing together.  Your baby brother, Jack is here.  You are so protective, loving, and doting on him.  You started Kindergarten this fall.  James, you are so confident, kind, and sweet.  I’ve advocated this year to have inclusion in your school day.  Everything aligns perfectly a few times each year and you mutter full meaningful sentences.  You are also using a talking device and answer “yes/no” questions with great ease.  You have a way to communicate with others.  The other night, as I fell asleep, I met you in my dream time.  I saw where I imagine you travel when you stare off or seem aloof.   At least I hope so, because it was amazing to witness what I saw with you.   I see a depth to you, that others may overlook.   I am determined to seek and understand.   Thank you for being here with me James.  I love you to the moon and back!   Love, Mom

Dear James,  Wow!  Seven years old.  I have pretty much stopped trying to change or fix you (we quit your therapies).  I realize you were never the one broken: it was me all along.   Myperceptions of your life experience and journey, were due to my own belief systems, which were handed down to me from a family lineage of shame, abuse, and dysfunction.   This year was a big year James.   I held you tightly, as you cried to the core of your soul and vomited for hours, after you disclosed to me that you’ve been getting sexually abused by not only one but two women.   I am so sorry, my sweet boy that I didn’t protect you.  My heart bursts with sadness, guilt, and anger.  You were exposed to this abuse, because I failed to address my own sexual abuse.  I was molested by my mom and dad, when I was an infant and toddler.  My memories were deeply buried until recently, though the symptoms were always there.   I chipped away at my shame and abuse, finally uncovering the root.  I am determined to help you heal. I will do everything in my power to keep you safe moving forward.   I will find the right tools, healers, and methods to create a new life.   I love you to the moon and back!  Love, Mom

Dear James,  You are 8 years old.  You have changed so much the past 6 months.  In fact, you grew half a foot and you look like a big boy.  You sleep soundly.  You are so much happier and present.  I am amazed at how much the mind-body-spirit methods we have used have truly helped both of us heal.   We are not who we were just 9 months ago.   I am so proud of us.   It takes so much courage to face the trauma, pain, and horrors that humans do to each other.   I am excited to see what will unfold as we journey ahead. I am grateful to be your mom, mysweet boy.  I love you to the moon and back!  Love, Mom.

At some point in every parent-child relationship, you will face trials and tribulations.  You will witness your child face unimaginable circumstances.  You will want to protect them, take their pain away, or feel deep grief and regret over your part on creating their experience.   Nobody is perfect.  The one thing we all have in common is that we will all face the tragedies and victories in life.   When they arise, allow the messiness to rise, spill over, dump out, and create space for new to emerge.   It is through facing and feeling our inner darkness and tragedies, the cracks that we all have in our beautiful sculpture of life, that light can emerge for a new day.  Thank you for honoring our healing journey. Feel.  Heal.  Own your Story.  It’s your turn to become your best self: The world needs you!   

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