This ‘In Their Own Words’ is by J. Lorraine Martin. She digs deep through laughter and tears in her personal blog on life and motherhood at http://cheeselesspizza.blogspot.com. She is the mother to three children, one of whom has autism. She is a writer, graduate student, volunteer/mentor in the autism and refugee/immigrant communities.
I’m standing on a tennis court in my neighborhood.
Despite trees baring no leaves, the weather belies the time of year as the sun warms our exposed arms. I have an unlikely tennis partner by my side: my 17-year-old autistic son. This was his idea today. A breeze tickles through our hair, birds on a Southerly journey pause to sing, as if for us.
My other son–an avid tennis player capable of sending balls at a fast pace swooshing right by me before my eyes can barely register it–stands on the other side of the court, playing left handed so as to ease the pace of the game and give us a fighting chance.
We have playful rallies. We work on helping my oldest son by my side call out “mine” or “yours.” We laugh over mishits, and occasionally my youngest son can’t help creaming a ball at me. I can’t help trying to return it with equal power, most often hitting the net and hoping I don’t tax my old lady joints too badly.
I ponder the present moment. I am playing tennis with both of my boys. No one is rushing the moment. No one is embarrassed. No one is anxious. There are no “scenes.” My oldest son, who usually surveys his surroundings on heightened guard, seems like that layer of self protectiveness is not required on this day. He has stepped outside, something he doesn’t do much in our neighborhood, as he prefers the security and comfort of home. Yet on this day he is standing calmly and happily in the sunshine by his own initiative.
My husband, our dutiful ball boy and resident coach, asks our oldest son: “Why are you smiling so much?”
He answers, “Because I’m so happy.”
We hit some more. I feel comfortably wrapped in gratitude and joy. At the end of our playing time, I hug each son for different reasons; heroes to me in their own unique way.
As my husband and youngest son want to play longer, I ask my oldest son if he would like to walk around to see the other courts, playground and pool closed for the winter. Normally, he would want to leave and go back home to what feels most comfortable. On this day, he says, “Let’s walk.” And we do. Strolling, peacefully taking in the view. We end our walk, viewing my husband and other son playing some more, as we stand on a higher platform looking down at them.
And then expectations begin to seep in. “Maybe you might like to come up to the high school to watch your brother play sometime.” “Well, maybe,” he answers. I imagine him sitting in the stands with us; my heart yearns and hopes. I then bring up that his yoga class will be resuming now that the holiday break is over. An intruding bit of anxiety hits my son, “I’m not sure if I want to go back to yoga, Mom.” He is recalling that the instructor had coughed the last time and how that bothered him. I find myself wanting to say some sort of validating thought coupled with some problem solving advice as I feel yoga is good for my son to cultivate self-awareness and inner calm. I don’t want him to discount all he loves about a person simply because they coughed as he sometimes tends to do. I find a bit of sadness creeping into my heart.
And then I suddenly feel quite aware of myself. Why am I clouding such a perfect moment—the calm and peaceful present—with expectations about the future? Why would I allow such intrusions? I switch back to what matters most: this moment I’ve been given.
The sun. The breeze gently whispering. The crisp sound of my youngest son’s racket making contact with a ball as he plays tennis with his dad. My oldest son by my side, entirely calm, having just happily played tennis and taking a leisurely stroll with me.
He then puts his hand up for a minute to gesture for me to pause. “Listen, Mom to the birds.” And we stand together and hear their song.
He adds, “I feel so good inside.” My boy’s song amongst the birds. A mother’s spirit aloft and soaring.
We stand side by side gripping the iron rails of a fence, looking down at my husband and youngest son playing tennis. My emotions flow forth. “Oh, Mom is crying,” my husband says with a smile on his face as he looks toward me with understanding. My son by my side looks at me and offers, “Mom cries when she’s happy, but I only cry when I’m sad.” My husband replies, “Why do you think she does that?” He says, “Because she is proud of me.”