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My Positivity Failed Me Today

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At heart, I’m a glass-is-half-full type of girl, although admittedly, I’ve had phases when the glass was half empty – and sometimes even bone dry.

Still, I think my propensity to be positive is what has kept me mostly sane on this autism journey. I try to keep my essays about Barrett positive, because I loathe the thought of anyone feeling sorry for us. But sometimes, sometimes I can’t conjure up my inner Pollyanna.

I’ve been thinking about my Bear-Bear a lot lately. We recently had his annual IEP meeting, and it was good. As I mentioned last week, he’s also miraculously become a member of his school’s track team. I’m so freaking proud of this kid, so much so that I occasionally feel guilty about it. The accomplishments of my other three children rarely garner the crazy enthusiasm that Barrett’s do.

This past Saturday was Barrett’s autism anniversary. 12 years ago we received the diagnosis. 12 years – it’s unreal.  I can no longer claim it’s all just a dream. The diagnosis wasn’t a surprise, but that didn’t make it any less devastating, life-altering, or dream-crushing.

I consider the four years after the diagnosis as the dark ages. Keeping a positive outlook was difficult. With the exception of my daughter’s birth, I walked through my life with a very heavy heart. I was wounded and recovery didn’t feel likely. But recover I did. I’m not the same person I was pre-diagnosis, but I no longer consider myself broken.

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I have new dreams for my son, ones that are more aligned to who he’s come to be. To coin a popular phrase, I’m hopefully optimistic about his future, because he constantly surprises me. 12 years ago, I believed that with intensive therapies, Barrett would “recover.” I didn’t worry about the future too much. I focused on the present.

By the time my son got to kindergarten, reality began to dawn for me. I accepted that he would have a life very different from the one I’d originally imagined. I grieved accordingly, and reconciled myself to our fate. That doesn’t mean I’ve given up on my son – far from it. I still have high expectations for him, but I made the choice not to dwell on what could have been.

Six years ago I never would have thought my son would play or participate in any sport that wasn’t supported by an organization like the Miracle League or the Special Olympics. And that was okay. I’m a proud and hyper cheerleader at the Special Olympics each year. So I’m thrilled (and honestly, scared to death) that I’m going to be able to cheer for Barrett when he runs his first track meet, on a team that is not specifically for special kids.

Why am I rambling on? Because my positivity failed me today. I don’t know if it’s because of all the autism awareness thinking I’ve been doing, or the looking back that I’ve indulged in because of the anniversary. My stumble down the rabbit hole surprised me. Lately, I’ve been thrilled about my Bear-Bear, but there it was: a melancholy-filled moment of weakness. A feeling of regret so strong, that it really did hurt my heart.

This morning, as I watched Barrett walk up our driveway to his bus, I experienced a pang of grief, almost like a foreboding, which is something I haven’t felt in a long time about Barrett. He was dressed in a “GQ”-like manner (because of course I picked out his clothes), and sporting a new haircut. He had his backpack on, and over his shoulder he carried a duffle bag filled with the running gear he would need for track practice after school.

Bear usually gallops to the bus, because he loves going to school. But this morning, he sort of sauntered. He was grasping the shoulder strap of his track bag, so it wouldn’t slip off his shoulder. A wave of nostalgia slowly washed over me and started to pull me back. In that moment, he appeared so cool and confident, and I had a flash of what might have been. Of who he may have been, if not for autism.

I hate self-pity. God, it’s a useless emotion and an obstacle to living a happy life. But man, sometimes, I just can’t avoid it.  But that doesn’t in any way alter the love, gratitude and pride I have for my son today. No way.

A longer version of this post originally appeared on “The Latchkey Mom.”

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Originally published: April 3, 2015
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