As I pull into the busy parking lot, painted yellow from the glare of the sun off the short school buses, I pause and exhale deeply. I don’t want to be here. I don’t want to be at this school. I don’t want to be a special needs parent. I don’t want any of this.
A deep sense of sorrow overwhelms me, but I can’t indulge its grips. The kids filling up my white mini-van need to be shuttled off to their schools…no time for tears. Faking a smile, I swallow the pain welling up within me.
“There is work to be done.” I motivate myself as I park in one of the few visitor parking spots. The single stroller feels so heavy today as I pull it from the back of my dirty van. Everything feels heavy. My heart. My kids. My life. Autism.
Every day feels like a marathon, but I only feel capable of the first mile. Again: “No time for pity. Kids. School. Drop offs”. The baby’s engaging smile reminds me that I have 4 little blessings with me. My spirits are somewhat lifted, but I cannot shake this pain overwhelming me. I look around at all the other parents who are probably feeling this way or have at one point in their life. I feel even more desperate and now sorry for everyone around me.
“Hold the stroller!” I gently command, quietly suppressing the flood of tears that are waiting to rush down my tired face. My older boys stand by the stroller while I get my 3 year old unbuckled from his car seat. Every drop off is a struggle for him. Usually his shoes have been removed on the trip to school. While putting them back on, I’m often met with protests and kicks that I can’t seem to dodge. He often kicks and hits his brothers as they exit the car, and don’t get me started on the walk up.
The parking lot is always bustling with parents consumed by life, schedules, therapies, and all things special needs. The bus drivers are in a rush to get to their next stop. It’s a gauntlet, especially when your 3 year old protests by lying in the middle of the street, covering his body in black dirt.
With 3 other small kids and cars whizzing by, I am always lost as to what to do when this happens. It’s just hard, and to make matters worse, my mom and husband say that they never have this problem when they drop him off. Maybe it’s too much with his brothers here, but I don’t have a choice.
Today is different though. His tiny hand voluntarily grabs the stroller. “Hold stroller.” He proudly announces. Just the utterance of these words brings pure joy to my face. For the first time ever, the five of us walk through the parking lot with ease. My 3 sons hold the stroller while remaining aware of the sidetracked drivers hurrying around us. This is a gift. We are doing this. I can do this. All our practicing and persistence are finally paying off!
When we arrive back to the car, my body collapses in the soft chair. I let myself breathe for a moment; then the floodgates open. I can no longer control the deluge of tears. I hide this breach of emotions from my 6 and 4 year old, because I can’t explain it: tears of pent up pain and frustration awkwardly intertwined with joy, relief, and thankfulness. It is going to be okay. He is going to be okay; WE are going to be okay.
I am happy and proud to say that most drop offs are now manageable. I sometimes get frustrated with his trepidation towards the whole process, but it has remained easier than those first few months. I still feel sorrow when I pull up to the school, but it is fleeting and very rare these days.
This special needs roller coaster we are sharing is hard and painful, but it is so often sprinkled and sometimes showered in joy! Relish the joyous moments, and know that you’re hard work will pay off.
The changes may seem marginal and not be how you envisioned them, but look closely at the small victories. They will add up in the long run, and you will have the pleasure of knowing that you helped your child slowly but surely achieve these goals, positively impacting the trajectory of their life.