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What a Jasmine Plant Taught Me About My Son on the Autism Spectrum

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Last fall, I planted a jasmine cutting from a healthy, thriving jasmine plant. I was skeptical about its success, but it survived. It stood strong the entire winter, with bright green leaves always gleaming on its lone stalk. The green leaves continued to give me hope that one day the cutting would grow into a plant. However, the single, solitary stalk continued to cast a shadow on that hope.

Winter passed and the warmth of summer set in. I placed my cutting, still standing alone, bearing a few green leaves, in the nurturing sunlight, waiting for it to grow. Nothing happened. The stalk seemed to have been frozen in time. It didn’t seem to grow but neither did it die. It stood there, sprouting hope every now and then through those tiny green leaves until finally, I decided to give up on it and its borrowed life that never really saw what living a full life, giving out branches, reaching in all directions, budding, and blooming means. It probably needed more time, much more than I was ready to give it, so I gave up.

Some days, my life feels like that jasmine cutting. My son feels like one. If he had infinity, he would probably grow and thrive like everyone else around him, but his pace is slow and he can only grow so much in the time that he has. He gains a skill here and a skill there, like those leaves on the cutting, and it keeps my hope going, but it never really is enough for him to live independently. Seeing new leaves makes me happy, but it also makes my wait all the more painful. It makes my hope a burden to carry and it crushes my own ability to feel happiness in its entirety.

Tulika's son.

My son fills my life with joy, a lot of it. It is different, unique, and often unrelatable to many. My joys are hard to put in words sometimes. However, there is always an undertone of worry, of uncertainty that clouds my days and blocks the sunshine. I look at him and just like for that jasmine stalk, the future makes me anxious. I know he has a future, but it does not look the way I imagined it would.

I know my jasmine cutting was trying really hard, giving its best shot at growth every day. It still didn’t really make much of a mark. I rooted for it with all my heart, even though I secretly knew how it’s going to end. My son punches life in the face every day, putting in a lot of nisus into giving it all that he has and maybe more. I, more than anything and anyone in the world, want him to make it, but I see my little jasmine stalk standing alone, struggling, strikingly inchoate against the verdant plants around him, and it breaks my heart every time. I know it’s trying really hard but I fear that it will not be enough. My heart ached to see my struggling stalk thrive.

I fear that one day, when I am not around anymore to champion for him, he will find himself in a corner, his stalks still bearing new leaves but no one to believe in his future. I want my jasmine stalk to grow so bad that it hurts. I am scared to leave it alone, although I know it is strong enough to make it through.

I believe in my son and his ability to grow. I know he has it in him. However, I don’t know how long is the wait until the bloom is his own. It’s a difficult road to travel when you are clueless about where the road leads to or whether the road leads anywhere at all. You don’t know if the light that nurtures and nourishes the rest is meant to give him warmth or burn him up as it does to so many unhardened plants. Some days I struggle to stay positive. The little green leaves don’t seem enough. I need branches, I need flowers! I know, giving up is not an option but some days I want to. It feels so much easier than having to keep trying and not knowing when to stop. I find myself emotionally labile most days, vacillating between hope and despair, but I know that being strong is the only option I have.

I look at my little boy, smiling at me, and I know he is trying and I need to as well. I know that today may be a day of just another leaf, but I still need to marvel at the miracle of it. Tomorrow will be another day — another day of trying, of hoping, and of not giving up. If tomorrow is yet another leaf again, and no branches or blooms, a new leaf is still a promise of change, of growth, and of a future. A future I want to believe in — for my son, for his lone stalk that someday might be full of blooms.

Originally published: January 24, 2022
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