Today, like every Monday and Tuesday, I picked Piper up from school to take her to therapy. I’ve grown to love this routine for many reasons. I love the one-on-one time we share in the car. I love how proud she is when she finishes each session with Kate, her speech therapist. More than anything, I cherish the look of elation on her face when she spots me walking toward her. She hugs me with every ounce of love inside of her, and leaves her friends and teachers with a smile, an emphatic wave, and a heartfelt “Goodbye!” She brings light and pure, innocent happiness whenever she goes.
Today, though, something just felt “off” as soon as I laid eyes on her. Almost immediately, guilt set in. A rainstorm had slowed my drive. I was five minutes behind, and instead of sitting in her normal spot by the front entrance, she was with her teacher, loading her friends into the vehicle that takes them home. Her teacher reported that she’d had another fantastic day, but I could see she was hurting. I assumed that by being a few minutes late, I had thrown off her routine and had been the cause of her melancholy spirit. She didn’t say goodbye to anyone. She clung to me, and stared over my shoulder at the school.
As I carried her towards the car, she let out a whimper that I’d never heard before. I stopped walking, and attempted to meet her gaze. “I’m sorry, sweetheart,” I said. “Are you sad because you didn’t get to ride home with her friends?”
Her eyes were still fixed on the school. “No. I don’t want that.”
With a heavy heart, I buckled her into her seat. It was when I fastened the last clip that I saw large tears rolling down her cheeks. My sweet child was crying, silently. She looked completely heartbroken. I tried to hide my own heartbreak and once again asked her what was bothering her. Because she still struggles to consistently carry on conversation, her direct response stopped me in my tracks.
“I want my MiMi, and I can’t get her!” (MiMi is her baby blanket- her security.)
Not fully expecting her to further respond, I asked if she had left MiMi in the car, with her friends.
“No, Mommy. In Rachel’s room .”
Relief washed over me. I quickly unbuckled her and reassured her. “Come on, P. We’ll go get her.”
We didn’t even reach the door before her teacher rushed up to us and offered her apology for not packing the blanket in her backpack. Another teacher overheard our conversation and offered an apology of her own. She explained to me that Piper had tried to tell her she needed to take MiMi home, she had mistakenly thought it was just a blanket for rest time, and had denied her request.
“She really did try to tell me, over and over. She’s a smart little girl. I’m sorry, Piper.” Her apology was heartfelt.
With that. MiMi was returned. Piper relaxed and offered up the goodbyes she had withheld just moments earlier. Just like that, my child’s sweet demeanor returned. I got her situated in the car one last time and we set off to therapy.
It was while I waited in the therapist’s office, or ‘Kate’s house,’ as Piper would say, that I had my “Ah-ha” moment.
To many moms, the above exchange might have been received in a whole different way. Instead of feeling guilt over throwing off my child’s schedule, I might have been annoyed that my own timeline had been interrupted. I say this not to pass judgement; I say it, because I’ve been that mom in the same type of situation with my older children. In my head, I might have said to myself “Are you kidding me? We’re running late to begin with, and now we have to go all the way back into the school for a blanket!”
Not this time, though. This time, as I sat there, the significance about what had unfolded at school that afternoon washed over me. That small exchange left me in complete awe of my little girl and all she has accomplished.
Six months ago, a moment like that would have been a complete disaster, because six months ago, my daughter could barely communicate basic needs. She would have felt lost and scared without MiMi, and would have had no way to let me know. I wouldn’t have realized MiMi wasn’t in her bag. The further away we got from school, the more terror she would have felt. Undoubtedly, it would have quickly turned into a full-on meltdown.
Not long ago, Piper could barely find the words to tell me she was thirsty. Today, we made a true connection, She was able to show me that she was upset, and using the words that were trapped inside of her head for so long, she clearly and concisely communicated to me what the problem was. Even more, she had communicated it to her teacher! I’m sure that I can’t even begin to imagine the relief she must have felt.
It’s amazing how empowering an exchange like the one we had today can be! It’s something truly worth celebrating. She’s had to work incredibly hard, hours on end, just to get to this point, and I’m not ashamed to tell the world how proud I am.
When you have a child with autism, like Piper, these are the exact victories that demand to be celebrated! In failing to do so, we would be failing to recognize the hard work and sheer determination of our children. If we didn’t celebrate these breakthroughs, we would be failing to recognize the therapists who dedicate their lives to helping our children find their voices, and in turn, change our lives, as well.
There is no shame in making mountains out of molehills. In doing so, we are showing our gratitude and building the confidence of our children, who will undoubtedly move those mountains, someday.