I have a son with autism. Most days I forget. He’s just my sweet boy, and he’s so delightfully fun and tender that I completely forget there’s anything different about him. Then there are the days when every single thing is a hard fought battle — days when I’m ready for bed at 11 a.m., days when I simply don’t know how to parent him. Yet, like Emily Colson says, “God doesn’t give all the autistic children to parents who are special-needs teachers; sometimes he gives them to the rest of us.”
Why? Why do mothers like me get children like Mareto? I don’t say that in a whiny tone… I say it with awe and wonder. How did God look down on me and find me worthy of a son like him? I don’t know the answer to that, but I do know that Mareto is a gift — a rare and precious gift for our family. Mareto gives us things we’d never have without him, and he teaches me about the important things in life.
One of the most important lessons Mareto has taught us is joy. He’s taught us to experience true and abundant joy in the little things. Like the time John, Mareto and I were sitting in Carabas for dinner. John and I were talking and eating the amazing bread that comes complimentary to every table. We gave Mareto a piece to play with so he would be occupied for a few minutes. He was poking holes in it and tearing bits off to feed us and occasionally throwing some on the floor. He was being quiet so we just let him have his fun. Then all of a sudden I glanced over to see him take a bite and not immediately spit it out. As I watched, he worked the bread around in his mouth, swallowed it and then took another bite. My eyes welled up with tears, and I felt the golfball-sized lump in my throat. I looked up at John to see tears in his eyes as he watched his son eat bread. For the very first time. Tears of joy. We looked at each other and laughed as we wiped our cheeks dry. Who would have thought I could experience so much joy over a 2-year-old taking bites of bread? Oh, but we did. We giggled and smiled our way through that whole dinner. Joy is contagious, and Mareto had a blast through dinner as well.
Then there was the day I casually opened up Mareto’s sensory toys bin. Usually he plays with the different textured balls or the cars that make different noises. This day he took the rubber textured blocks out one by one. I watched as he placed the first block on the coffee table, leaned over and grabbed another block and placed it on top of the other. I watched him do this four times until he had a little tower of blocks. I was almost breathless while he was working, but when he finished and looked up at me, I smiled bigger than I knew I could, cheered his name and clapped my hands. His mouth spread into a wide grin, and he knocked the blocks down to do it all over again. I wiped the tears from my cheeks and prepared to cheer him on as long as he wanted to stack blocks. The joy in that moment was spilling all over the house. To an onlooker this might seem odd and a little deranged. But it has been months of us trying to show Mareto how to stack blocks… and then all of a sudden he just does it like he’s been stacking blocks forever. Joy.
Mareto has taught me how to have overwhelming joy in life’s littlest things. Without him I would take so many things for granted. All mothers get teary and joyful when their baby says their first word. But how many mothers get to experience that same level of joy over a year later when a toddler finally utters his fifth word? Every day with my family is a blessing and cause for celebration. But how many of us wake up each morning so happy to see each other that we literally giggle with joy? Not many… but Mareto does. When his sister, Arsema wakes up and Mareto realizes this, he lets out the sweetest giggle and kisses her, then hands her a toy.
Mareto can teach us all about how to really enjoy life… even the littlest moments.