Dear Mama of a Nonverbal Child
Heather is an autism mom, writer and coffee devotee. Her poems have been published in literary journals such as Illuminations, Birmingham Arts Journal, Ruminate, and others.
I just wanted to sit beside you, green-sleeved lattes in hand, and talk. I know talking to me is no substitute for the conversation you long to have; I know you've gone years upon years waiting for a voice. I know you'd gladly give up coffee for the rest of your life—or books, or music, or whatever gets you through the day—if it meant you could hear his little voice. Her little voice.
I know the twisted, breathless feeling you feel, deep inside, when someone casually asks, "You sure you want him to talk? I can't get mine to shut up!" Clenched fists hidden in the pockets of a fleece jacket. And—as if taking a cue from your baby—you say nothing.
Like you, I've hesitated in checkout lines when well-meaning cashiers kindly question my son: "And how old are you, young man?" Like you, I smile—as if waiting, too—before replying for him.
I've hunkered down to face my child, tears racing from my eyes and his, echoing, "I don't know what you want, baby" before going through the daily show-and-tell of objects:
"Apple? App-app-apple?" (red fruit in hand)
"Movie? M-m-movie?" (holding out a favorite DVD)
"Drink? D-d-drink?" (pouring water into a sippy cup)
I've marveled while talking with kids my son's age—asking such simple questions, just to hear their answers. "What's your favorite color?" "Blue! No, orange. No, blue!" For just a minute, I imagine what it would be like to ask my own child these questions and hear his reply.
I've heard kids in Target singing along with Idina Menzel: "Let it go! Let it go! Can't hold it back anymore!"The embarrassed mom sees me, a kindred spirit with her own littles in tow. "They haven't stopped since the DVD came out!" A shared joke between moms. She thinks I've been there, too. My story is too long to tell between aisles of home decor and bath towels, so I just smile and nod.
There have been times I hit the tiny "x" on my newsfeed when Facebook friends bragged about their genius toddlers. Ignorance is bliss, they say, and I don't know if it's bliss, but sometimes it's better. I think you've probably hit that tiny "x" a few times, too.
You know what else I know?
I know the indescribable feeling of watching another child approach my son and stacking blocks, one by one, beside him. "You want to help me, Milo? Let's build a tower!" The total joy that comes from knowing that my child is seen.
I've heard the pure laughter of children, my son's friends, when they chase him. "We're gonna get you, Milo!"
I've watched patient therapists capture my son's attention and work so diligently, week after week, to elicit even a vowel sound from him.
I've been blessed by high school students who give up their Sunday mornings to serve as aides for my little boy. Every week, I sit beside my husband and soak in Gospel truths because of their sacrifice.
We've known sadness, but we've also known acceptance and unconditional love. I hope you have, too.
We are in this together.