Change is often a gradual process. The subtlety of its signs are often overshadowed by our daily routines. It’s not that we don’t notice our children daily—we do. We learn an incredible amount of completely random things through our daily interactions (for example, red food coloring has historically been derived from ground-up cockroaches). However, it isn’t until the weather gets colder and flip-flops take a backseat to sneakers that we realize the same children we lay eyes on daily have somehow outgrown every pair of closed-toed shoes they own!
Other times, change is abrupt and the universe undergoes a massive shift, overnight. We wake up on the First of November and after reasoning with our children about why Halloween candy isn’t on the menu for breakfast (okay-maybe just one piece), we realize that just as quickly as we’ve flipped the page on the calendar, we’ve welcomed in an entire season of change.
The arrival of November represents the beginning of the season of being thankful. Once the clock strikes midnight and Halloween is but a memory, everyone seems eager to share with the world all of the reasons for which they give thanks. Social media becomes a literal sounding board for this very purpose. Unlike other trends, this is one I can (and do) get excited about. I love the positivity of it all, mostly because it opens the door to self-reflection in a very refreshing way. Too often, we lose sight of the fact that social media is, in essence, nothing more than a highlight reel that invites us to compare our lives to others’. The sudden shift in perspective that November seems to bring is a welcome one. Taking the time to find something to be grateful for in every day is good for the soul.
The time I’ve spent reflecting this month has taught me more about myself and my values than in any years, past. The things that I am thankful for this season come from a much deeper, infinitely more personal space in my heart.
First, I am thankful for the small group of family members and friends who cared enough about my daughter, Piper, to say the words that hurt to hear instead of the words I wished to hear. The best of grandmothers thinks all her grandchildren are the closest thing in life to perfection, so I know how much it must have hurt you to have to stand up and point out to your son and daughter-in-law that your granddaughter desperately needed help. As a parent, the pain that comes with realizing that your child has real challenges is visceral. You feel helpless, yet you temporarily live in a phase of grief and denial. In that phase, you feel frozen and unable to act. It often takes a full blown “Come to Jesus” meeting, not a gentle nudge, as a call to action. I am thankful for you beyond words, because you didn’t allow me to unpack and set up residence on denial island.
I am thankful for the growing bond between all three of my children. When you have multiple children and one of them is diagnosed with autism, you get so caught up in the whirlwind of social evaluations and therapies, it’s easy to forget for a while that the most fundamental social interactions your child can establish happen right in your home, with their siblings. As soon as Piper gained the ability to communicate, I saw these beautiful social relationships begin to flourish. I never knew seeing three children dismantle a living room to build a fort together could be so beautiful. I am so thankful for the significance of the underlying beauty in all of that chaos.
I am thankful that my oldest daughter has regained her confidence and sense of self. The preteen years are never easy to navigate, emotionally, but I would be remiss to deny that the unsteady path our lives took us on for a while contributed to some of her angst and self-doubt. I know it worried her deeply to see her little sister struggle. I am thankful to catch a glimpse of her smiling as she daydreams instead of finding her up in the middle of the night riddled with worry. I’m thankful for the re-emergence of her spirit and for everything about who she is.
I am thankful for the compassionate heart of my son. At the beginning of the year, I tasked him with walking Piper to her classroom each day to ensure her safe arrival. Months later, she knows exactly where to go on her own. I didn’t realize he was still walking her in until she was home sick last week, and her teacher told me that he reported in to her classroom as usual just to announce she’d be absent. Just last night, he asked to come with me to watch her ballet class. As she danced, he touched my arm, never taking his eyes off of her and said “Mom, she’s doing great! Tonight, she’s the same as every other girl in that room.” I don’t know that he will ever realize how profound a statement that was. I am thankful every day that he is so aware of her needs and her feelings.
I am thankful for early intervention and the team of individuals who have given of themselves (and continue to do so) throughout Piper’s journey. I’d like to look at this beyond the traditional facts about intervention at a young age and quality of life. On a personal level, I am thankful because the results of this immense, collaborative effort have given me gift of quality time with my children. For so long, I dreaded trips to the grocery store. I ventured out alone. Those trips were so lonely for me. They were honestly hard to get through for a while. I’d see mothers with children Piper’s age chatting happily through the aisles, and I didn’t feel like we’d ever get to that point. She would get so overwhelmed, I would never bring her with me. It felt like I was punishing her. My older children stopped asking to go, probably because I was so stressed and not a lot of fun to be around. I’d be gone twice as long as I should have been, because it took me that long just to motivate myself to get from the car into the store. Now, I have company just about every time I go anywhere. I’m sure that at some point, like any mom, I’ll long for a trip to the store by myself, but not right now. Right now, I’m just thankful for the opportunity to share the experience with children who enjoy being with me, and with each other.
There are so many things for which I am thankful—I haven’t even scratched the surface. It’s been amazing to realize that the things I’m most thankful for aren’t “things” at all. Maybe I’m just growing up, but I think it has more to do with the perspective I’ve gained through learning the ins and outs of raising a child with autism.
No matter what the reason, it’s always a good time to be thankful. Despite what you see on the surface, no one has an easy journey through life. It’s easy to get down, and even easier to stay down. That’s why it’s so important to reflect on all of those tough days that you’ve survived, and to be thankful for all the ways you’ve grown. I encourage any of you, regardless of your personal situation, to take the time to read those “Why I Am Thankful” posts on your newsfeed instead of scrolling past them. It is true that on most days, maintaining a positive attitude is a choice we make, but it’s also true that positivity and a grateful spirit can be contagious!