Reader Essay The older we get, I suspect we marvel at how profoundly beliefs we once held so firmly shift and change with time. One important thing I no longer believe is that I am in control of my future or the future of my family. Five years ago, I believed I could get pregnant and have a second perfect child to keep my first perfect son company. I wasn’t right about that. The months rolled by, the stick remained stubbornly un-blue and I became agitated at my inability to create this life I so desperately wanted. There were many things I knew I could make happen just by hard work and good luck and the force of my wanting them. But after a certain age, pregnancy was not one of them. I hunted down the best fertility doctor insurance would pay for-nothing can deter a mother who wants another child. After surgery, scads of tests, tubes and needles, I found myself pregnant at age 39 with my second son. Now in the Lifetime Movie version of this story, we should happily fade to black when I push him out on the delivery table in a joyful, sweaty, tearful haze. My second son was born perfect with a shock of red hair. He is a beautiful child with clear blue eyes, ivory skin and a winning smile. And several specialists have told me he is probably autistic. So you see, we’re already off into a whole other movie, with me thrust in the Susan Sarandon role from “Lorenzo’s Oil.” This “crusading mother desperate for a cure” thing gets old after about the first two years. The reality of my story and the stories of countless families like mine is that we’d much rather our beloved children were typically developing. But instead, as one social worker reminded us, they are merely exceptional, the exception to what most pediatricians deem “normal.” I’ve done what people like me do. I fiercely and unreservedly love my boy, and I try each day to encourage him and push us both a little further. I’ve researched, I’ve worried, I’ve sobbed in the night and I’ve resolved to do better, find better and make his life the best it can be. But despite my hard work, some good luck and the sheer force of my wanting it, I can’t change it. This particular fact weighed heavy on me one afternoon as I searched for a way for us to spend it together that would be constructive and instructive to him. I decided a visit to the public library would be fun, with its puppet theater, stuffed animals, puzzles and long rows of shelves he loves to run down. And it’s not isolating for me, which is a potential danger I face on this road. On the way, we drove past my friend’s new home under construction. The house is in an area where smaller homes have been torn down and McMansions have sprung up in their places. There are French villas, English Tudors, Cape Cod captains’ houses and then there’s Gigi’s. Gigi’s home rises in stark contrast to her traditional neighbors. Her contemporary design, all jutting angles and straight lines, couldn’t be more different from the rest of the block, and in fact it’s dramatically different from most homes in our town. But there it rises, all three stories of reflecting square windows and glossy, gleaming wood trim. Gigi and her husband searched for a long time to find just the right builder to bring their vision to life-the bedrooms, the kitchen, the see-through staircase running up the center of the structure. I remembered when the builders were just framing it, how awkward it looked and how stark. Now just a short time later, the house is already magnificent and it’s not even done. It inspired me on my drive to the library that day. I looked at the unusual design on the street and then back through my rearview mirror at the unusual design behind me, now snoozing comfortably in his car seat. He sighed and shifted slightly, his angel face was relaxed and at peace. I sighed and shifted too. In four decades I’ve learned it’s not easy being different. In the last two years I’ve learned what an understatement that is. Sometimes it’s torturous when your glass and steel and concrete and wood aren’t arranged the way everybody else’s are. But there is a soaring beauty and the undeniable gift that comes with being merely exceptional.
Gigi’s house reminded me of that. And when I look at my son, that’s what I believe.
Joan Drummond Olson, an Elmhurst mother of two, is a television writer and producer. She serves on the board of Chicago Floortime Families, www.chicagofloortimefamilies.com, a support group for families of children with autism spectrum, sensory and other developmental disorders.