This morning something pretty amazing happened. I’ve thought about it over and over again and I still can’t quite believe it. But it’s true.
My eight year-old “typical” son was standing in the doorway of the kitchen saying how much his teacher hates that people believe nothing happened before Columbus came to America. We talked about history and science. Then, my eight year-old asked my husband, “If you could be in any time, what time would you be in?” As my husband tickled my son, my husband said, “I would go to October 18, 2009 so I could tickle Oscar. Present moment, wonderful moment.” My husband looked at me like, “Top that one!”
So I thought about going back in time. Would I go back to when I gave Cal all those antibiotics for his ear infections? Would I stop Cal from getting all of those vaccinations? Would I make sure my epidural wasn’t so strong so that I wasn’t numb while pushing? Would I not give Cal bottles and not give him milk as a baby? My answer was very clear and centered. I wouldn’t want to go back and change anything. That’s the amazing thing that happened this morning. I decided, that given the chance, I would not go back in time and do whatever I could to prevent Cal from being autistic. The main reason I wouldn’t go back and change any of those things is because when I pictured the idea of Cal never being autistic, I imagined myself being fat and unhappy. I pictured myself being fat because I used to eat a lot of crap and watch a lot of TV. I pictured myself being unhappy, because I wouldn’t know about all these great mental health tools . Also, I wouldn’t make it a priority to work on myself.
Several years ago, my family and I traveled to visit one of the leading experts in autism in the country. He said that I seemed depressed and it was affecting how I was doing play therapy with my son. When I described my patterns, the doctor said that from now on, “You are only allowed to feel hopeless for one hour.”
The doctor said I needed to be happier to help Cal, so I developed a mental health plan. One of the things I did was I asked my husband if every third Saturday of the month, I could have a day off where he watches the kids. Yesterday was my day off. I planned a solitary yoga retreat at my house. I did yoga. I meditated and read books about meditation. I listened to calming music and wrote in my journal from a Deepak Chopra book. It was such a wonderful day. It helped me be so peaceful and centered. Yesterday morning, I got mad at my husband for using my computer. After our fight, I took a bath with no time limit, lit an Ayurvedic candle and thought about what had happened. I then said to my husband, “I’m sorry for being angry before. When I was angry with you it was because of my own insecurities about myself. When I was angry with you, it had nothing to do with you, it was because of how I was feeling about myself.” My husband smiled at me so happily and said thanks. It was such a great feeling to see that smile.
So if I went back to that moment in time and stopped Cal from getting his vaccinations or didn’t give him dairy, I don’t believe I would have been as thoughtful and nice to my husband as I was yesterday. Instead of sharing that sweet moment yesterday, we would have been fat, bitter and fighting. If Cal wasn’t autistic, I don’t believe I would take off one Saturday a month for myself. So the amazing thing that happened this morning, is that, in my imagination when I gave myself the opportunity to go back in time and “stop” Cal from being autistic, I didn’t do it.
So, this is the question: Do I need Cal to be autistic for me to take care of myself and choose to be happy? Would I do things like take off one Saturday a month to take care of myself if I didn’t believe I “needed” to be clear and happy to help Cal? Unfortunately, I believe the answer is, “No.” I don’t believe I would take this good care of myself, both physically and mentally, if I didn’t believe it would help Cal recover from autism. I only give myself permission to be happy and take care of myself so I can better take care of my son.
I was talking to a friend of mine who has cancer. She said that she told the cancer, “Thank you for coming. I’ve learned and gotten all that I need to from you. You can go now.” Later in the conversation, my friend said that one of the gifts of her cancer is that she is getting to see her adult children much more and how good it feels that her kids are paying so much more attention to her. The way she said it, I didn’t believe she was just happy to get more time with her kids and she’d be fine if things went back to the way things were, when she saw them less. I believed that she really wanted and “needed” to see her kids more and that wouldn’t have happened without the cancer. She sounded embarrassed at being so happy with all of the attention from her kids. I thought, “You lied — you haven’t gotten all you want from the cancer. You need the cancer to give yourself permission to spend more time with your family.”
I don’t have autism so I don’t control whether it stays or goes. Cal has a choice, maybe biology and God do too. However, if I need Cal’s autism to stay, in order for me to make myself happy, I’m not giving it permission to go away. I still need it here. So, where do I go from here? How do I convince myself to do things to help make myself happy and healthy just for myself — not because I need to be clear and centered to take care of someone else?
I know the answer: it’s all for me. If I give a homeless guy a sandwich, it’s for me. Maybe I do it because I feel good helping him or because then I believe I’m a good person. Maybe I believe in karma so I help a homeless guy to prevent something bad from happening to me in the future. No matter what I do, in the end, it’s all for me. If I help Cal, it’s because I feel like a better mother, or I want to be able to have a more complex conversation with him. I want to see with my eyes him playing football in the park with his friends. I want to feel satisfied seeing Cal walk down the sidewalk holding hands with his girlfriend. For myself, because everything in the end is for me, I want to see him graduate from high school. So every moment of every day, I’m going to remind myself now that it’s all for me. Tomorrow, when I play with Cal, if I start to feel like it’s an obligation, I’ll remember, “It’s all for me!”
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