Dear Danielle’s Mom,
If you are like me, you end most days exhausted. Mentally compiling a laundry list of things you forgot to do today. Feeling guilty for the things you didn’t do but meant to (walk the dogs, take the kids to the park, do a load of the boys laundry, clean the heating and cooling vent Parker peed in. Yes, I’m serious.)
Feeling guilty for the things you did do– ignore Parker’s bloody murder SCREAMING. Mad because he had to sit in the stroller so you could walk your crazy out. Then YELL at him eleventy-million times in Mommy’s inside-only-psycho-voice for refusing to remain in the front yard as you tried to clean up those awful prickly gum ball thingies that fall off the trees in plenitude.
If you are like me, your house is a little dirty. Always. Your fridge is a little bare. Always. And toys mark the presence of children in every single room. And there are so many things you wish you were doing better. I want to tell you that none of that matters. Nope — not one little bit. Let me tell you why.
Last week my husband Michael and I went to visit our son, Greyson, during his lunch period at school. He’s in kindergarten in a special autism only classroom at the same school as Danielle. We were so excited to bring Greyson one of his favorite food items in the world, second only to hot dogs- McDonald’s French fries. I walked into the cafeteria, nervous, excited and hopeful. I’m always curious to see how Greyson interacts with the other children. I saw two, longer than my eyes could even see rows of cafeteria tables filled with chattering, eating tiny little humans. I realized that the Special Needs Kindergarten and General Education Kindergarten classrooms were mixed together for lunch and recess.
My eyes darted up and down the rows eagerly searching- until finally settling on Greyson, somewhere in the middle. I ran to him so excited it felt like Christmas morning. I tried not to hug or kiss him too much. If Greyson could talk I’m certain he would say, “Mom! You are soooo embarrassing.” Your girl, Danielle was sitting next to Greyson, talking away to him. She didn’t care that his head was down, or that he wasn’t looking at her or answering.
“Hi”, I said to her. “I’m Greyson’s Mom.”
“Hi”, she replied. “I’m Danielle. D-A-N-I-E-L-L-E.” She excitedly spelled her name, which started a cascade of children who also wanted to spell their name for me.
Danielle and I had a fun conversation about her lunch and her family and her favorite color. She told me what she liked to do for fun and at least twenty other things I can’t remember right now.
“I saw you talking to Greyson when I walked up. He won’t say much to you, but I want you to know he is listening. In fact, I would even say Greyson loves it when you talk to him.”
Danielle’s face exploded into a smile. Even her eyes were smiling. “Okay!” she said with an audible exclamation point. She turned right back to Greyson and picked up right where they left off. The size of my smile matched Danielle’s, and I’m certain together they filled the entire cafeteria. And then Danielle continued to talk to Greyson on the playground. She didn’t seemed phased when he ignored her. She just kept smiling and moved on to the next person to see if they might want to play.
Oh Momma, I won’t tell you how lucky you are that she can talk. You already know that. In fact- I imagine have a chatty child brings with it different struggles. I’m sure there are moments you want to use your inside-only-psycho-Mom-voice and say, “SHUT UP FOR FIVE MINUTES.” I’m sure there are times you are SO SICK of answering questions over and over again.“Can I have Mickey Mouse pancakes? Can we go to the park? Why not? What are those red spots on your face? Why can’t I go to grandmas? Why do turtles have shells? Why can’t we eat cookies for dinner? Can I get purple shoes? Are dragons real?”
But I will tell you this, You are doing an amazing job, Momma. I’m so proud of you. At the end of the day rest easy knowing that you may not have crossed off your entire to-do list, but you are doing something so much more important than that. You are raising a remarkable young lady. She is compassionate, happy, kind, curious, tenacious, sensitive, and the light from her eyes fills up a room. You are doing the stuff that truly matters most, and this Mom thanks you with all her heart.
Parenting is hard. Parenting a child with autism brings with it a number of additional challenges. But like you, at the end of the day, I hope my child is happy and surrounded by people who will treat him kindly. I hope people will notice his gifts — like Danielle did.
He’s a pretty incredible little boy. I want to tell you I see Danielle’s gifts too, and I have no doubt she learned her compassion from seeing it in action at home.
There are million more things I want to say but my heart is in my throat, so I will simply say, thank you. Not a day has gone by that I haven’t thought about Danielle and smiled.
Greyson’s Mom, Chrissy