My 12-year old son wasn’t feeling well today before he left for school. I know this because he put his head in my lap and let me rub his head and kiss his cheeks. From the outside, this would have looked like a typical mother-son interaction. But, from the inside, this is actually quite a rare occurrence.
My son has autism and because of that, at least in his case, I rarely get to feel like a mother to him. Sure, I feed him, clothe him, buy him iTunes videos that make him smile, and tell him I love him at least 100 times a day, but 95% of the time our interactions are initiated solely by me. I seek the hugs, I seek the kisses, and although he allows this affection most of the time, he does so begrudgingly.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I know how lucky I am that he even allows that much affection from me, as some parents with children on the spectrum aren’t so lucky, but it still creates a hole in my heart and leaves me wanting more.
So, when my son gets sick, and he actually seeks me out and lets me rub his head or cuddle him, if even just for a few seconds longer, I cherish it.
Now, before anyone gets upset and thinks that I really wish my son harm or don’t know what sick is, believe me, I do. Samuel and his twin brother, Isaac, were born at 28 weeks and for the next six months my days were spent rushing back and forth from the NICU, pumping milk for two growing boys, and facing harsh realities when it came to Samuel’s health.
Isaac, thank God, was what was known as a “wait and grow baby,” meaning that his NICU stay was relatively uneventful and he “just” had to learn to breath, feed, and control his body temperature on his own. He went home after two months, the earliest he could have medically, and never looked back—but his brother was not so lucky.
Born at just 1.5 lbs, Samuel had an uphill battle from the second he was born (actually, earlier than that since he was underdeveloped even in the womb) and it became a series of medications, blood transfusions, surgeries, X-rays, resuscitations, hard truths, and praying—a whole lot of praying. Through all of this, however, I got to pump milk for him to keep him strong, stroke his hands through the isolette on the days and weeks he was too fragile or sensitive to hold, and make medical decisions for him that would hopefully prove to be the right ones.
I felt like a real mother. Hell, I felt like Super Mom, because whatever my baby needed I was there to give it to him. This feeling lasted for the next four years as he had 30+ surgeries, including a tracheotomy which left him ventilator- and nurse-dependent. These days were rough, rougher than we let anyone know, the stuff that nightmares are made of truth be told, but we made it through.
Although the autism diagnosis came at age 3 (to no surprise as we had suspected long before anyone said the “A” word to us), I still held out hope that when his final “tube” came out at age 7, we could be in the clear and could finally function as a “typical” family. Samuel would no longer need me for daily life-sustaining medical intervention, but for love and affection, advice, discipline, and all the other things that come with parenting.
However, at age 12, almost 13, I am still waiting for him to need me for some of those things. I know he loves me, and I know he knows that I love him, but there is still so much more that I want to do for him, that I want him to want me or need me to do for him.
So, on the days when he’s feeling a little under the weather and seeks me out for a snuggle or reassurance, I secretly cherish those moments when I get to feel like a “typical” mom to my “little” boy for however long he’ll let himself need me.