When People Started Asking Questions About My Kid’s Behavior

The joke was on me. After two and a half weeks at home — two of them plagued with cabin fever and epic tantrums — The Kid was all dressed up and ready to go back to school on Monday. I kissed him and The Husband goodbye and watched them back out of the driveway. Then I headed back inside to where Little Brother waited for his morning meal – which I’d be giving him as we both sat on the couch, season five of “Downton Abbey” unspooling in front of us.

hand But it wasn’t to be. Within minutes, I received what I vainly hoped was a prank text from The Husband informing me that school resumed tomorrow, not today. The Kid arrived home shortly after, his winter coat making a mockery of both our plans. I resigned to my fate: no upstairs/downstairs drama for me. As The Kid pitched another mind-blowing fit on the floor, I bitterly switched the DVR to “Mickey Mouse Clubhouse.” MeeSKA mooSKA bitches.

All was not lost, though. We just joined the gym at the local church where The Kid attends preschool, and they have childcare. So at midmorning on a day that could have been a wreck, I decided to cut my losses and hand my kids off to strangers so I could run – if not from my problems, then around a track. I returned to the nursery an hour later to reclaim my baggage, and The Kid’s teacher informed me that the director wanted to speak to me. Fear struck my heart – I felt like I was being called to the principal’s office, which for someone who in school was never actually called to the principal’s office, is a terrifying prospect that doesn’t diminish over time. The older lady said hello, then mentioned The Kid’s speech delay. And that’s when I realized it.

People are starting to ask questions.

Back when I worked for a living, I was one of the question-askers. So I know what it means when someone says, “Is there anything else we need to know?” or “I’m just trying to figure out ways I can help him.” These questions, with their dual nature of good intention and curiosity, seem innocent enough to the asker but fall like a bullet on the heart of a mother, because this is what I hear:

What’s wrong with your kid?

I can barely handle a question with implications like this — my defenses raised and my ire piqued and the fact that I want to scream it from the rooftops that he has been through hell and back and is sitting here smiling and that is what’s right, what’s beautiful. But not everyone in the world has been walking this road with us or reads my blog (unacceptable) and so I give her The Kid’s bio — The Cliffs Notes — and at the end I know she’s still batting words like autism and spectrum around her head because of how he’s not talking yet and he likes to sit in one particular spot on the carpet and gravitates toward the same toys, and I know I will be answering questions for a while. Including my own.

Heading to the car with The Kid and Little Brother, I felt a tidal wave of emotion approaching – the fears that stretch out in perpetuity or at least until he starts talking, the sense that The Kid will be written off by people, placed in a box or assigned a label. The unfairness of it made me angry and sad. And it was convicting, because I used to carry labels everywhere myself and dispense them freely. I climbed into my seat and told my boys I love them, and then I prayed.

The one word that kept poking through as I poured out my messy heart? Advocate. “You are his strongest advocate,” I heard, and it was like a joke because of all the things I was feeling, strong was definitely not one of them. This scenario requires more patience and more strength and more faith than I ever signed up for or claimed to have on my customs declaration when I arrived from Non-Parenthood. What a joke this would all be, what an impossible situation, if what I brought with me were all I have.

Grace is a necessity as much as a gift. It’s everything. It’s what tells me, whispers in my ear and my heart, that maybe I’ve come to the kingdom for such a time as this. That – imagine the thought – this is not a joke or an accident. That everything in my life has led me to the moment I’m in and prepared me for it. That grace will, thank you very much, take it from here, and there, and everywhere, because I’m not required to produce a resumé but just to be who I am. And grace will work with that and fill in the gaps and take my hand and turn this from a dirge into a dance.

I asked my own question at his last checkup, finally mentioned a word I was afraid to speak, and his pediatrician gave me the answer that was not an answer, not a certainty – and yet it echoed and affirmed what my heart had been telling me. That The Kid doesn’t fit into a box; a strict label simply can’t be applied right now because so much has happened to him and so much is yet to be determined. He’s what he is – and right now, as a 3-year-old who doesn’t speak yet knows all his letters and numbers, arranges his blocks instead of stacking them, tries to figure out how his toys work instead of simply playing with him – he’s what the world would call different.

And I can work with that. I, a girl who was no stranger to different herself, whose quirks drove her to a keyboard and to a city and to grace and made them all fit. And though I never checked the box marked “different” for me when I was signing up for this life and parenthood gig, here we are anyway: pitching our tent in an area not on the itinerary, where the GPS doesn’t work, where answers are in short supply. It’s all very inconvenient, for the world and for the girl with the labels, to operate without a handbook. But I also know that different is what keeps me returning to the well of grace more than I ever would have otherwise. And grace is what renames what we thought we knew: Them becomes Us, in spite of becomes because of, different becomes beautiful, and we go from the being in the unknown to being the known.

A relative who doesn’t frequently reveal his emotional hand confided that he loves The Kid even more, after all he’s been through. And as my boy grabs my hand and presses it to his face without a word, I hear what isn’t spoken. I look down at him with the eyes grace gives and know I have never felt more fully or seen anything more beautiful, and I tell him, “I love you too.”

This post originally appeared on Plans in Pencil.

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