“So much will change,” they say, pointing to your swollen belly, nearly giddy with the kind of knowledge that only experience supplies. “Your life will never be the same!”
I know, you think smugly. I’ve heard it, I’ve read it, it’s the mantra you mothers all repeat.
But they’re right, of course. While things will change, many of those changes are expected: those that arise from the training of birthing classes and pediatricians and aptly titled “What to Expect” books. Other changes will blindside you with their unexpectedness. They are the ones for which you are wholly untrained and ignorant. They don’t tell you that the infant parts, and even the toddler parts will, for you, be the easy parts.
Because here you are in your forties and your children are in grade-school and nearly middle-school, and all the challenging stuff seems to have been saved up for right now. For this age.
It seems the hardest things have been saved for Noah, who refuses to wear an actual winter coat because he doesn’t like its puffiness, and would rather stuff himself like a sausage into the casing of three sweatshirts because he loves the pressure, as some kids with Asperger’s do. So you chase after him on the way out the door when it’s 10 degrees out, hoping that he’ll turn around and change his mind, and take the coat. Though he never does. And he tells you he doesn’t want to eat, and weighs himself compulsively, and lays in bed at night, fretting and grinding his teeth. And he cannot stop, even though he’s been told that the world is not as scary as his mind perceives, and has been told more times than there are numbers to count.
That’s when the younger parts seem easy.
Then there is Grace, who is as nasty as a wet cat when she doesn’t get her way, or when her brothers breathe in her direction, who knows too-well the frustration of her middle-ness, and female-ness, and neurotypical-ness in the order of your children, and lets you know it every day. When her screeching, foot stomps, and door slams make you wonder if being nine might actually be puberty, and if so, how in the name of Zeus are you supposed to survive it? Whose constant stomach pain and head pain and mouth ulcers are causing you to lay in bed at night and think that you’d really rather not have to skate the fine line between paranoia and diagnosis, again. Because you’ve had enough diagnoses. One for each of you, and more.
That’s when the middle-of-the-night feedings were, you think, the golden years.
The challenging stuff seems to have been saved up for Jesse who, because his Asperger’s manifests more as aggression than does his brother’s, gets through nary a school day without a fight. Who hits first, and bites second, and apologizes third. Maybe. He, who swings wildly between affection and violence with the kind of lability that an almost-7-year-old doesn’t express unless there’s an underlying cause beyond the regular growing-up of children. So there, too, you wonder if other things, harder things, are at play.
The wondering itself is even one of the hard parts.
Jesse, when asked by his teacher to write what his school day jitters were, scribbled, “I was nervous I was not allowed to see my brother and my sister.” And you think that if you could cover him—cover all of them—with the protection of yourself and take the hard parts and hurts seen and unseen away from them, you would.
“Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me?…” (Psalm 43:5)
Because, Lord, everything’s getting harder, and the stakes are higher. I have my own jitters, sprouting up like new, daily weeds. Our goal is to make our kids independent of us, and functional in the wide world, and we’re running out of time. I long for the simplicity of baby food and diapers and bedtime stories. The anxiety, the fear, the heartache, the obsession. All of it’s moving us to a place I don’t think I’m strong enough to navigate.
Though the place to which I’m going, Lord? You’re going, too.
“The LORD himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.” (Deut. 31:8)
You’re going with us, Lord. You’ve gone ahead, in fact, and prepared the way. The foot stomping, and teeth clenching, and the yelling and hitting are the hard parts, we know. Maybe they have been saved for now, delivered en mass. Maybe they were delayed until You saw us as stronger, and fit enough to handle them. Our chronology is written by a Biographer of perfect and merciful intentions.
And we know this: great stories include hard parts, delivered at just the right time.