At the first realization of our common thread, we weren't quite sure how (or if we even wanted) to acknowledge the reason. Too late to hide, we both broke the awkwardness with more silence than conversation. We didn't need words because our eyes spoke volumes. Our connection was something most other mothers will never feel. I could see the feeling of struggle, of worry, and emotional solitude pass through this mothers gaze.
While seating her family, we quickly caught up on each of our son's progress. As I passed out each menu, I bent down to say hello to this special child. With a bit of prompting, the little boy greeted me back. What a glorious sound to hear. Understanding the hard work behind the task I just witnessed, it brought me back to the time when my own son struggled with each vowel and consonant uttered. Though still in need of hiking up the hill farther, it was certain (to me) that he would reach the top. In some respects, he already has and is simply trudging up another hill.
After my shift was over, I exchanged information with "Mom-A". A week passes and I have another ironic encounter with "Mom-A". This time, I have my son with me and she is able to see his progress. Instantly, I see the joy she had the previous week, drain from her and become a feeling of solitude. My son is not as severely afflicted as "Mom-A's" son. My heart ached for her. I knew that feeling when I would be at a birthday party or school function with my son's class (most typical peers). It was the feeling of wishing my son could play or run or hop or act as the other kids and then hating myself for having such a selfish thought. This mother was comparing what my son could do to what her son couldn't. I knew it and I knew what she longed for, and I knew how feeling it would torture her as if she wasn't loving him enough for who he was. It is irrational to be so hard on ourselves but that feeling is easier than allowing ourselves off the "hook" during such times of inadequacies.
My next encounter happened while I was waiting for my daughter to finish a gymnastics class at the local YMCA. I was making casual conversation with an employee and talking about my son and the difficulties in advocating. Feeling compelled to join in, a mother ("Mom-B") sitting across from me apologized for the interruption but acknowledged her struggle with the school system as well. Her 7 year old son is on the spectrum for autism and pulled him from the system in order to be certain he would get the services he was desperately in need of. She praised my efforts and we look forward to our "mini" support time in the coming weeks.
After thinking about this conversation, I smiled at how driven "Mom-B" was to add to what I was talking about. It was exactly what I would have done. There are so many times where we can't join a topic of conversation because we haven't experienced the same things that other parents have. In this case, when "Mom-B" finally hears the connection of her experience with mine, she had to take the leap. I understand that need for validation and camaraderie.
The two encounters I had with mothers of autistic children are very different. I'm not sure why having such encounters left me with a good feeling but I venture to guess it has something to do with the feeling of togetherness and that the whole is only as good as the sum of its parts. A quote that can be deciphered a number of ways, but this is the way I think of it:
Autism (and all that,that means) can be dealt with if we lean on others who may be in the same circumstance. There is power in numbers and a sense control takes over when we (the parents) may feel like our control has been stripped away... Proof that control is still in our reach. We may just need each other to grasp it back.