My story is simple: I am a single mom. I have three sons. They
Yes. All of them. And I have been raising them alone since my
youngest was just three weeks old. Even though they share the same
diagnosis, Autism Spectrum Disorder, they are affected in very
different ways. My 6-year-old takes anxiety meds and will only wear
purple shirts. My 4-year-old cannot gauge where his body is in
space. And my 3-year-old cannot recover from a meltdown in under 15
minutes. It isn't easy, but they are mine. So I strap on the
superhero cape and rock the mommy job all day, every day.
Mother's Day has always been my favorite day of the year. In
2002, I celebrated my first Mother's Day by bringing my firstborn
home from the hospital. In 2004, I celebrated another Mother's Day
by bringing my second son home from the hospital. And in 2006, I
"celebrated" yet another Mother's Day by asking for a divorce. But
none of those days counts as the day that changed my life forever.
That distinction goes to Mother's Day 2007.
Early in May, my best friend and her son (my godson) came over
to visit. One pizza, two Disney movies and three bedtime stories
later, all was quiet in my house. In only a few short moments,
there was an eruption of crying from my sons' bedroom. I walked in
to find excrement smeared all over the bedding, the floors, the
toys, the drapes and the walls. My sons had been finger-painting
with their own feces. My friend and my godson gave the boys a bath
while I bleached the room, removed the curtains and changed the
bedding. Together, we managed to clean up the mess and get
everybody back to bed before midnight. But that was with three of
A few days later, I celebrated Mother's Day by doing what I
normally do every other day of the year: cooking, cleaning and
caring for my children. That evening, however, I found a new feces
art project in their bedroom: 4-feet-high and 12-feet-wide. I
couldn't believe this was happening, again, on Mother's Day. How
was I going to clean this up all by myself? I went into the
kitchen, grabbed the Clorox and the paper towels and I cried. Like
a baby. Sobbed, actually.
In that moment, I was unsure how to cope. I was crying and
crying and crying because I was tired and they were tired and their
room smelled foul and I had just cleaned up this same mess a few
days earlier. And I realized all of a sudden that this was my
Happy Mother's Day to me.
In that moment, I wasn't complaining or feeling sorry for
myself. I was simply noticing the reality of my situation for the
My life looked very much like I had imagined it would during the
previous 35 years when I fashioned my dreams out of words and
images: I had beautiful children, I had friendship and love and I
had security and success. But my life also seemed so foreign to me.
I didn't feel like a superhero just then.
So I prayed instead. Hunkering down in a crisis and turning it
all over to an unseen deity is not the first thing that would occur
to me in my time of need-unless I have no other choice. And that
night I had no other choice. Since it was Mother's Day, I invoked
Mary to intercede because I think she is brave, and I think that
any mother who can watch her son die is worth knowing. I prayed for
patience, peace and help. I cleaned up that nasty mess and I was
calm. Still crying, but calm.
But as I was crying, I walked into the bathroom to dress the
boys and my middle son looked straight at me and said, "What
happened, mom?" It was clear as day and, mind you, he can't talk.
But he said, "What happened, mom?" and then my oldest son said,
"Kiss'll make it better …" and then I was crying for new reasons.
My sons spoke. My sons knew I was sad and cared.
So I dried them off in the darkness and dressed them again and
crawled in bed with them. They covered my face with kisses because
I was still crying and offered me Band-Aids to make the crying
stop. They proved that some autistic children can register pain and
can register sadness and can do something about it. But then, as
sleep almost overtook me and as the kisses almost wore off and as I
had almost forgotten what life was like for a single mom with three
autistic children, I heard in the dark, "Purple shirt, Mom."
So, I got out of bed, went to the closet, found my son's purple
shirt and I dressed him again.
Jennifer Wheeler is a single mom with three sons with
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