I had a moment recently.
My son, Jax, and I had been in the car running errands for a few hours. I was singing along to the Beatles channel when Jax said, “Mom, I’m hungry.”
Well, yeah, breakfast was a hurried cup of yogurt three hours ago so that’s reasonable. There is no shortage of food options in the strip-malled mecca of Scottsdale, and we chose Chipotle.
We ordered, we got our food, we sat. We were finishing up and Jax got up to refill his soda. He took the lid off, said excuse me to me the man who was fidgeting with his watch in front of the soda fountain, and came back with a full drink. Jax put the drink on the table, said, “I need to wash my hands,” went to the men’s room, washed up, came back. “Let’s go, Mom, I’m ready.”
That was it. That was the big moment. I sat in that Chipotle for a second or two with my mouth wide open, staring at my kid like he was a two-headed extraterrestrial. You wouldn’t have noticed a thing.
In fact, no one noticed anything. The cashier barely looked up when Jax ordered his white rice, black bean, and mild salsa bowl. No one stepped away, giving Jax a wider berth when he took the tray and found a table while I paid. The man blocking the soda fountain didn’t look down on him with that “Awwww, hi kiddo” smile reserved for disabled kids. The man barely noticed Jax, and simply stepped aside, still fiddling with his watch.
There was absolutely nothing about my son to notice. It was amazing. For our twenty minute lunch, Jax’s autism was not on center stage.
A year ago, I would have had to interpret his lunch order because his speech wasn’t clear enough to understand. I would have grabbed the tray because his balance resembled an elephant on a tight rope. He would have walked to the table like an airplane, arms outstretched like wings while making engine sounds, and you better have offered him a wider berth or you would have been clobbered. Jax would have gotten his Sprite by yelling “MOVE!” to the man blocking his way, and I, who would have been holding his hand the entire time, would have immediately intervened before Jax could erupt. I would have guided Jax into the women’s restroom with me to wash his hands, then guided him back to the table, providing a buffer between my son and the world around him.
On a good day, a restaurant with my son used to be exhausting. On a bad day, it wasn’t an option.
I watched my kid over that burrito bowl and realized that we are having more good days than bad. Jax is acting more independently and is less reliant on me. He has friends, he is making better choices, and he is starting to understand the environment he needs to create to help him be successful.
About a year ago, I was talking to my mom about all the ongoing efforts to help Jax – therapies and IEP meetings and Scouts and medical interventions and forced play dates and tutors and you name it – and I said, “Jax has so much potential – he just needs to get out of his own way.”
It struck me how wrong that was when I said it.
Nooooooo, Becca. This kid is right where he needs to be. YOU need to get out of the way.
Forget the scheduling and work-life balance and the bills, the hardest thing I’ve done as a mother is sit back and do very, very little. With bitten nails and acid reflux, I handed the reins over to my son and did what I do worst – I gave up control.
It turns out this kid of mine knows exactly where he needs to be going.
Rebecca Masterson is a writer, speaker, and an advocate for children. For more from Rebecca, follow her on Instagram.