I still carry my son.
He wraps his legs and arms around me and buries his head into my shoulder, sometimes raising his eyes just enough to watch what is happening behind us.
I am a rather petite woman. My son is nearly half my size. We get a lot of strange looks walking into elevators, stores and restaurants.
Sometimes someone will smile at me and ask, “How old is he?”
“Almost 5,” I’ll answer, as their eyes widen slightly. Then I kiss his head, smell his little boy hair and hold him even tighter.
Sometimes I catch someone rolling their eyes or even remarking I’m spoiling him. Maybe I’ll explain my beautiful boy has autism. Maybe I’ll ignore them. Maybe I’ll cut my eyes at them in a way only a special needs mom can.
My son is a “runner.” My son is impulsive and often has little regard for danger. He gets uncomfortable in new or unexpected situations, and when I’m carrying him, he’s less likely to melt down. He won’t jump, he won’t yell, he won’t stim. He’ll dig in and hold onto me even tighter. He feels safer when I carry him. I carry him for him.
Though if I am honest, I carry him as much for myself as I do for him. I carry him because I still can. I can protect him for just a little while longer from this outside world that isn’t made for him, that isn’t easy for him.
The overwhelming fear of not being able to keep him safe from physical harm, from emotional harm, from judgment and from misunderstanding keeps me up at night. It takes my breath away in the middle of the day. It makes me shake my fists and it brings me to my knees.
If I knew, without doubt, I could keep him physically and emotionally safe forever, I would lift weights until I was 80 so I could keep carrying my 50-year-old son.
I know this behavior physically can’t go on much longer – my body won’t be able to handle it. Pretty soon, we will have to figure something else out.
But for now, I’m going to carry my boy everywhere I can and anytime I can because he needs me to – and because I need to.
I’m just not ready to set him down yet.