My Mom-Mom, among the many lovely gifts she gave our family this Christmas, snuggled a little snowman ornament into my packages. One very plain message is written on it:
Now, of course, this ornament surely is referring to believing in that one magical man so many little children anticipated visiting this season. For adults, it probably resonates beyond Santa to the birth and baby many celebrated, too.
I know my Mom-Mom wasn’t trying to spread the type of cheer one would expect with that ornament. She was sharing a piece of herself… to remind me to believe that our family life, my son’s life, my life can be everything we ever thought it could be, autism or not.
When I laid eyes on the ornament, my first reaction- despite my gratitude- was simply that I didn’t need this ornament. I already believe.
And then yesterday, sitting with my own mother, the topic of eye contact and my son came up during our conversation. “He’s looking a lot, Erin,” my Mom said. “Even at his aunts, even at his Great Aunt today.”
I knew this. I saw this. But I didn’t believe it.
Because it hurts to believe in eye contact. And I need you to know I am a girl with high expectations– I am a former New York City Teaching Fellow who traipsed off to the Bronx to teach special education because I was a BELIEVER in high expectations; if you expect great things, they can and will happen.
Except… expecting eye contact hurts me in a way nothing else does… because when you cannot get eye contact from your child, your sweet baby, it breaks your heart. And with autism, eye contact comes in waves… a few weeks go by where my little boy occasionally stares deeply into my eyes, and then one morning, it’s gone for months.
The winds just change, and there’s nothing to do but attempt to engage, to connect, to get a look. I receive more eye contact than anyone else at this point, but even still, when it fades to fleeting or days of nothing, I feel such ache. After all, my son is only two years old, and autism is newer to us than just being parents.
And so I have not been believing in eye contact. Because it’s easier not to expect it than to, in some sense, mourn it every time I lose it.
I realize now I am doing him an injustice– I am doing myself an injustice. For in not believing, I am keeping myself from giving all I have and expecting all he has. I need to believe. We all have our weaknesses, and I suppose this is mine right now.
So thank you, Mom-Mom. Thank you, Mom. You have challenged me to take a leap of absurdity… to believe.