This past weekend was Thanksgiving. Yes, in Canada we celebrate it in October, because it’s a heck of a lot more beautiful outside with all the colourful leaves and no snow, which can and often does happen in November. Anyways, we set out to visit my parents this weekend, and I also made plans to visit a life-long friend of mine who lives in Ottawa.
I’ve known this friend-I’ll call her Ang-since I was 8 or 9. We met at an after-school program and were very tight for many years. Her parents would call me their “second daughter” and we would spend summers together; At camp, her cottage, sleepovers or even just zooming down a particularly steep hill in our neighbourhood. Anyways, we fell out of touch for stupid reasons in our early 20s, but reconnected recently. Texting is one thing, but there really is no substitute for real-life human interaction, so it was really great to pull up to her driveway after all these years.
During our time apart, Ang graduated university, landed a good job in the sciences, got married and had three daughters. Her house was busy, noisy and full of children’s artwork and toys, or in other words, a typical family home. Shortly after arriving, her daughters had a horseback riding lesson, and I was invited to tag along. Ang and I used to also love horseback riding so there was some definite flashbacks in the stable as well. While her daughters rode around the arena, we chatted and despite the beautiful surroundings and finally meeting up with an old friend, my mood was gloomy. I told her about the struggles and pain of being a parent to a child with autism or special needs, about how my son still doesn’t speak at almost the age of 4, and how I sometimes carry the emotional weight of not only my child’s frustration, but mine and my husband’s and how heavy it can be. Any sort of pride I felt in my son’s progress-albeit slow- before arriving at her house, was washed aside, when I saw her bonding with her children over a shared love of horses. Her daughters also play together, talk constantly and love to perform gymnastics in every room of their house. My child, meanwhile obsesses, stims and yells over sticks and plants, and still eats like a baby with his hands. He bites and scratches my husband and pulls my hair, and doesn’t even know his own name. He ignores other children completely or grabs their faces when they get too close. I also mentioned that anytime he gets sick, which is often, we have to pull him out of school, even if he’s bouncing off the walls, away from the extra help he gets from his EAs and therapy. Living this way, particularly during the pandemic, frankly has been tough and exhausting sometimes, and I’ve had countless breakdowns.
But after explaining all of this to her in that cold arena, and later to her wonderful parents at dinner, I felt guilty; Given how naturally competitive humans are, it can be tough not to compare your child to other peoples, but is exacerbated even more when your child is “different” and outpaced by children even younger than them. I had thought that I had moved on from this toxic tendency of comparison, but when catching up with someone you’ve known since grade school, it’s difficult. Of course, I’m happy for her that her life turned out really well, but I was feelings pangs of jealousy and disappointment that my family life isn’t quite as “ideal.”
But, and here is the point of this post, I have to keep reminding myself about how lucky I am as well. My child, while autistic non-verbal, is healthy and beautiful. He catches on very quickly to new concepts (when motivated), and we have successfully weaned him off pacifiers and he uses his new potty when placed on it. His teachers tell me how great he’s doing at school, and at therapy he follows the prompts. Yes, he can be difficult, but he can also be very cheerful and cuddly. Where he used to drag me around constantly for everything, now he is opening doors and sitting on his chair at the table on his own. He can also get on his sensory swing all by himself, and it’s pretty funny watching his little butt Cirque du Soleil around the basement. In fact, he makes me laugh quite often, and I often marvel at just how crazy he can be, or how smart. When he’s not making me cry, yell, or throw my hands up in the air, I’m laughing and thinking about how much I love him. He’s taught me, not just to “tolerate”, but love and accept people who think differently, and as someone who has struggled with being neurodivergent herself, it’s an important lesson. He’s also toughened me to the point where minor inconveniences that would bother most parents, just make me shrug. If nobody is crying, bleeding, puking or playing in poop, life is freakin’ good! Besides, I’ve got a loving partner-in-arms in my husband and a great home, both of which should never be taken for granted!
Thanksgiving is not how it used to be when I was younger, and I know that they will only get more difficult, as my parents move towards the latter years of their lives, and I struggle with being an older parent to two young children. But after feeling down, I genuinely did feel thankful for them and my friend Ang, for the moment we were all together, and while it wasn’t perfect, it was pretty great.