Oh, how I ponder this quote. Often. When it is just us in our house, with no external influences or judgments, joy is imminent. Sure, there are the difficulties that ensue upon us that we muddle through and eventually find even more joy. It’s when we compare ourselves to others that we start to question the joy that we are feeling. Why do we let that happen?
Yesterday was Oliver’s graduation from his Pre-K class. It seems like we were just sitting in that same room watching Julian graduate. That was 8 years ago! To preface the situation leading into graduation, our week has consisted of total craziness. Emil has been sick with a fever and has been screaming. (Yes, literally 3 full days of brain numbing screaming and parental worry will zap the life right out of you!) It was also the first week of our incoming 8th grader’s summer break where the tone of the summer is set. Buttons pushed, check; voices escalated, check; utter teenage madness, check; questioning what I’m even doing as a parent, check check. We had Oliver’s Pre-K graduation from his other school program on Tuesday and it was great. He wore his purple graduation cap with his peers and was seemingly blissful about the whole situation. It was outside on a sunny day with just a few classmates and parents and teachers.
I don’t know why, but Oliver has been amazing lately. Great about talking through disappointments and changes. I’m so proud of him and thoroughly happy with his progress. I really thought that we had struck some magic cosmic balance in our world. He is doing fabulously well on his gluten-free diet, too. Before he tries anything new he asks, ‘Is this gluten-free? Because gluten-4 makes my tummy hurt’. And, if something does have gluten in it and he can’t have it he has been fine with that. He’s done far better than I would have ever imagined.
So, we went to Oliver’s graduation last night expecting that he’d just be fine. That turned out not to be the case. He had a complete meltdown and would not participate in the least. We had the perfect combination to get in him through it with Daddy and his favorite teacher guiding him but it was just not going to happen. We spent most of the time in the classroom while the graduation was going on in the other room. Finally, he managed to go and watch with some serious patience and gentle guidance of his dearest teacher, Akiko, and also Daddy.
I was/am so disappointed in myself for being so overconfident. Thinking that he is ‘better’ lately. Not anticipating that he needed to be there a couple of hours early and coaxed through the entire process. What was I thinking?! I clearly just plain wasn’t thinking straight. But, what I let myself do was self-destruct. I rarely cry in public but I couldn’t seem to turn the faucet off. It started when I saw all of the graduates in their caps and gowns with their smiles in tact getting a group photo taken together underneath the brilliant banner that read, ‘CLASS OF 2010’. They had all been creating together for the past few weeks in preparations for the event. All of the moms and dads were proudly taking photos of their kids. Oliver was in the bathroom crying and refusing to put on his cap and gown or even participate. Ugg…another group photo without Oliver in it. Already he isn’t in any of the class photos because he wouldn’t join in. So, here it is, MY expectation that he would participate. Leave a record that he participated and was a part of the group. Next there was his empty chair in the front row that read, ‘Oliver’. More tears. Then there was the look of other parents that said ‘what’s wrong with your kid?’ (not many of them know about Oliver’s autism) I felt the waves of future sadness and grief coming at me full force. Why did I have to go there in my head?! Sure there is a certain amount of grieving that takes place in this process of acceptance, but if I had removed the comparison to others from the equation, as well as the ridiculous expectation that I had set up, this might have been a fine occasion.
After removing myself from the situation to have a mini sob fest, I returned to sit with my husband, my kids, and my parents. The teachers handed out long stemmed red roses that had been lovingly wrapped in lavender tissue and a ribbon. The kids gave them to their moms and said, ‘thank you’. The look on Oliver’s face when he handed me his rose was that of pure love and pride. It is a memory that no group photo could capture and will be forever ingrained in my heart. It was at that second that I felt like a total idiot. Why did I have to let the doubt, the comparison, the expectations in?! He is perfect just being Oliver. I have to revisit my goal in parenting…to help and guide my children to be the very best THEM that they can be. Yep, I think that it boils down to just this. Seek the joy and embrace it!