Sunday, May 11, 2014

Dear Alex

“Well, I’ve been afraid of changing ‘cause I’ve built my life around you. But time makes you bolder, even children get older, and I’m getting older, too.”—Stevie Nicks, “Landslide”

Dear Alex,

Twenty-three years ago, just before Mother’s Day, I found out that you would be coming into the world in the not-too-distant future. Well, I didn’t really know that it was you, but on an early spring morning, a home pregnancy test confirmed that my nearly lifelong dream to be a mom was coming true. In those months as you grew in my womb, I imagined the person you would be and thought of all the things I would teach you. In those blissfully naïve dreams, I never stopped to think that autism would be part of our lives.

In the early days, as you hit your developmental milestones on time, we reveled in your achievements and found those few quirks of yours amusing. Sure, you seemed more interested in books than toys, but we were certain that was because you were smarter than most kids your age. While I thought we would have to teach you to love books, you seemed to have inherited that interest from us as you preferred to pull our books off the shelves, studying them intently, to looking at your own picture books. Nonetheless, you sat patiently and happily as I read you Dr. Seuss and Little Golden Books and children’s poetry and fairy tales. Soon we were to discover that we didn’t need to teach you the written words because you had already figured out how to decipher them yourself, an amazing feat for a three-year-old. Once again, you had proven to us how clever you were, and we were pleased that you had discovered the joy of reading.

While you didn’t say much, you always seemed to be observing the world and taking in every small detail. After we were told you had autism, we had an explanation for some of the things you did and didn’t do, such as getting upset when the vacuum cleaner was turned on or why you didn’t point to things, but that label didn’t really change who you were, an easygoing obedient child. Basically, you were the happiest kid I had ever met in my life, and we were going to do everything we could to make sure you stayed that way.

When we decided to home school you, we wanted to provide you with an education that would help you succeed, and we thought that teaching you one-on-one was the best way to do that. Also, we wanted to protect you from teachers who wouldn’t try to understand you and from kids who would be mean to you. What we didn’t realize was how much you would teach us. While we taught you the traditional studies of math, science, social studies, and English, we also shared our interests in music, cooking, and sports, hoping to make you well-rounded. Most importantly, we wanted you to learn faith and kindness, and you took to these lessons well, making us proud. Despite frustrations that your fine motor delays made things “too hard for little hands,” as you’d tell us, you kept plugging away. Even though I like to think you inherited that tenacity from me, I’ve come to realize that you possess even greater determination, and that inspires me to keep going when I think I cannot.

Because you’ve shared your interests and the research you’ve gathered from books and the internet, I’ve learned about the stock market, NASCAR, astronomy, meteorology, and pi, none of which I would have cared much about, had it not been for the enthusiasm you have conveyed. When you talk about these beloved topics, your eyes light up, your face breaks into a smile that reveals those irresistible dimples, and you draw us into the sheer delight you feel. Sometimes you can barely contain your enthusiasm, and you don’t just walk away after the conversation; you “happy hop” away, a combination of skipping and galloping that shows that you’re still that happy little boy inside a young man’s body.

When you and I walk together in public places, I’m reminded that you are fully grown as you tower over me, but sometimes you slip into little boy mode as you reach for my hand. I’m never sure whether this is because you need reassurance that I’m there for you or that you are reassuring me that you are there for me. One of the good things about the way our life has gone is that you don’t seem to mind that you have led a sheltered life because you have needed protection from the world. You’ve never wasted time worrying about other people’s opinions of you, and your life has been more content for that. However, nothing makes us prouder than when people tell us that you have nice manners or are so sweet or have a great laugh or are very smart. Even though we know all these things, we always appreciate when someone else notices and tells us. You, on the other hand, just go on your merry way, not caring what anyone thinks of you.

Now that you are a young adult, we hope that we have taught you most of the things you will need in life, but we realize that we must help you to become more independent. While it’s easier for us to do things for you, we want you to be able to do things on your own. If we stand back and let you struggle, know that we believe you can do it yourself, and we’ll be right behind you cheering you on and lending a hand when you need it. As I have been your teacher, you have been mine, too—in fact, you have been the greatest teacher in my life. You have helped me develop my weakest quality—patience, taught me the value of hope, strengthened my faith, and made me love more deeply than I thought was possible. From the challenges that tested me and your childlike trust and innocence, I have become better, stronger, and happier, thanks to you. What mother could ask any more of her child? Thank you, my precious boy, for the gift you truly are.

Love always,


“Yes, You have been with me from birth; from my mother’s womb You have cared for me. No wonder I am always praising You!” Psalm 71:6


K. C. Wells said...

So beautiful, Pam. ❤️ Happy Mother's Day!

Dad said...

I remember August 14, 1962 and I saw you for the first time. You did not seem to be a newborn but already wise beyond your years. As you sat there, I thought you were thinking "Whats next". From that moment until now and into the future, I am very proud of you and we can ask "Whats next" but the answer to now has been good.
Love Dad

Pam Byrne said...

Dear K.C.,
Thanks for your kind words. Your sweet tributes to your kiddos were part of my inspiration for this entry, you know. :) Hope you had a wonderful Mother's Day.

Pam Byrne said...

Thanks, Dad, for your very sweet note, but more importantly, thanks for your support and love. There's a line from a country song that makes me think of us as I was growing up: "He was in his paper; I was in my room. How was I to know, he thought I hung the moon?" As an adult, I know that now. :)
Much love,