As I took a needle and thread to my youngest son’s best friend, ShaggyDog, and tried to give his constitution a little more strength, my mind wandered back to the day he came into Quinn’s life. He was a gift from my grandmother, Quinn’s great-grandmother, whom he has never met. ShaggyDog came to us plump, shiny and new, plush gray fur with glossy eyes and a perfect white snout. Now, he is sort of a greenish-gray, threadbare, with scratched-up eyes, holes everywhere, and nearly out of stuffing. He has swum in mudpits, climbed trees, snorkeled in the toilet, camped out in the backyard, been forgotten in department stores, dropped in the mall, chewed by our dog, slept snuggly in Quinn’s arms, and been loved as we all should be.
My grandmother sent ShaggyDog to Quinn shortly after we moved to Maryland. We were living in my brother-in-law’s basement; my husband, Kris, was looking for work and I was trying to navigate the state and county programs available for our oldest son, Ian, who is severely autistic. Everyone thought Quinn was going to be OK. We never guessed that the information garnered then would also be applicable to him. It was a hard time. One of the hardest of my life. So many emotions, so many fears. We had gone from an independent family of four to one dependent on parents, brothers, sisters, grandparents. But, we told ourselves that the move was for the best. We were doing what was best for Ian. He had a chance to beat this autism thing and, as we were not independently wealthy, getting him to a place with progressive county-run programs was our best bet. Sometimes I think being so dependent on others is one of the hardest and most humbling parts of living with children on the autism spectrum. The days of answering only to yourself are long gone. Suddenly you are asking everyone you know for help. I look around at other families functioning so independently of their extended families and marvel at the miracle it is.
Yet, I have learned so much through our continued dependency. I believe in the value of family, in each amazingly different member and the soulful importance of cultivating strong, grace-filled family relationships. It is so easy to slip into a solipsistic world-view – seeing family only as passing figures in a self-authored production. I think we often forget that each individual person making up our family is unique and separate unto themselves. Their lives, their hearts, their dreams exist apart, even in spite of our own. The consequences of our actions toward those we are so intimately tied to, be them good or bad, matter so much more than if they involved strangers, and their effects can penetrate more deeply than we ever imagined. Yet, we so often take these relationships for granted, never realizing the limitless potentials they offer. Five years ago, I would never have thought so many people would give so tirelessly to help our two, special boys. The impact of their selfless love, of their grace, has been immense. It has changed Kris and me in so many ways. We have become kind of like ShaggyDog, I guess. Living with autism has worn us so thin. We are tired, our souls are frazzled, our wills full of holes. But, because our parents, sisters, friends, aunts and uncles take turns sewing us up, patching our holes, and strengthening our constitutions, we believe we will make it through another day and one more time through the wash. And we do.
If you enjoyed this essay, please consider making a tax-deductible contribution to This I Believe, Inc.