Sam wants to know if she is a challenge to raise.
I have my computer open to a research study concluding that mothers of autistic children have a thirty per cent higher incidence of heart disease than mothers of neurotypical children, all else being equal. Fortunately for all of us, I have already scrolled past the title, and Sam is not reading the text carefully when she sees the words “challenging children.” I say this is fortunate because, had she seen the title, she would no doubt be insisting that she is killing me.
Is she a challenge to raise? Does the sun rise in the east and set in the west? Every. Single. Day.
And yet I know that I am not allowed to laugh incredulously at her naïveté in asking such a question. So I pause. Kelly, sensing my apprehension, hastily jumps in to explain to her sister that all children are challenging. “I’m a challenge for Mom to raise, too!” she reassures Sam. However, the research about my compromised health and my persistent, low-level irritation with adults who insist, “all children are special” fire my neurons in a different direction. This may be a mistake, but I’m in it for the long haul now.
“Yes,” I carefully answer. You are a challenge to raise. More challenging than some other kids. Do I wish you had never been born? No, certainly not. Challenging does not mean worse. We talk about her artwork and whether she prefers the pieces that require less effort for her to create. She can recognize her pride in some of the pieces demanding more effort, and she seems to realize that effort does not determine value, satisfaction, or even outcomes. For a moment this comparison satisfies her. Then comes the zinger: Do you wish I hadn’t been born with autism?
In my head (and heart, I suppose), I am thinking that I wish all kinds of things. I wish my kids were born good at everything and never needed to learn resilience because they never met failure. I wish my husband and I never argued. I wish Kelly never felt alienated from her friends. I wish sleet never fell when I left the house without a jacket. I wish I could take the good without ever encountering the bad. I wish pain, unhappiness and struggle did not have to be part of existence. Of course I wish that this child were not so consumed by anxiety and fear.
But there’s a reason that last sentence was written in the subjunctive mood. What I might wish for in a hypothetical world is irrelevant. At least I stop long enough to realize that Sam needs a yes or a no. I answer her firmly. “No, I do not wish you were born without autism. I love you just as you are, and I am lucky to be your mother. The last sentence of this declaration requires no qualifications or ambivalence.
After the aforementioned researchers upped my likelihood of a premature demise, they threw in a lifeline. Every positive interaction a mother has with her children during the day lowers her risk of heart disease. As I brokered a dinner-table argument between Sam and Kelly about the relative value of $1.27 (Sam says it is a small sum if it is the amount over twenty dollars she spent on groceries; Kelly says it is a lot of money if her not having it represents the difference between buying or bypassing the candy bar she craves.), I smiled. My heart beats strong.
Next up: Sam dreams that she has to write an essay about whether God put human beings on Earth intentionally or accidentally.
Just kidding! Not about her dream, but about weighing in on this one with a blog post. To my Jewish readers, L’Shana Tovah (Happy New Year).