When I was a young twentysomething dating my now husband, I enjoyed going out to eat, sipping on wine and dreaming of a future together. We dated for several years always looking for some sort of adventure or outing whenever we went. We’d find neat things to do on weekends and enjoyed time off with friends. After years of having no luck in the dating scene, Valentine’s Day was finally a day I liked. Holidays were more exciting too as I had a steady boyfriend to accompany me to my family’s traditional gatherings. I was so happy, so thankful and so excited.
I was a lucky girl because every now and then my guy would bring me flowers. These flowers were never for a birthday, an anniversary or a special event. They were the ‘just because’ flowers. Funny part is these were usually leftover flowers about to be tossed into the trash from whatever wedding or social event of the season. Steve started working a part-time second job late into the evenings at a catering company. He’d watch the rich and famous get louder and louder as they got smashed, oblivious to the common man (and sometimes to common sense). He didn’t mind. It was a decent job with built-in entertainment, and one that allowed him to bring me several beautiful bouquets of flowers.
That was forever and a day ago. We’ve been married long enough to have five kids, three homes, several careers and a stack of bills for Ronan’s needs from here to somewhere way over there. Since our dating days flowers have shown up once, maybe twice. I’m actually fine with that because I’d be upset if I knew money was spent on something that’s going to wilt, be forgotten and then start to stink. Oddly enough, some flowers now make me sneeze.
Pre-marriage we both worked at our professional jobs during the day and picked up night shifts in the food or tourism industry to save money for a wedding and future family. That was so typical of how we both were: we’ve always been “worker bee” kind of people. That sort of work ethic didn’t stop when he switched careers and when I became a stay-at-home mom. It spilled over to our in-house workload when we started having children. It multiplied exponentially when we started to worry about Ronan.
I don’t get paid to do my current job (Super Mom to five), and I haven’t brought home a paycheck in years. Steve continues to though. He also still works two jobs. He heads out the door in the morning on his way to the office confident I will get through an ever-growing To Do list created so that I can remember everything that has to be done. When he’s at work I pray that I can face the day and deal with whatever pops up as I tend to our entire family’s needs. Each day I also hope that nothing upsets the balance of the family in my attempts to manage, fix, coordinate, schedule, organize and then survive from sun up to sundown.
We are just so busy and have been for many years now. Sometimes I yearn for us to be simple folks with an easier schedule, but then I think we’d probably get bored waiting around for something to happen. It feels like I’m personally working five, sometimes six jobs at one time. I know Steve sometimes feels the same way. The balancing it takes for us to do what I have to do for our children takes away whatever time he and I try to find to squeeze in as a couple. Our own time and space is usually overlooked or gets completely forgotten. We try to remember to tell each other to slow down. To just sit. To be still. To feel at peace. For one minute, maybe two. But, the constant interruption from real life doesn’t always allow us to reconnect. When we do get a quiet moment together long after everyone is tucked in and fast asleep, we sit on the couch determined to stop long enough to watch an entire movie from the opening credits to the very last scene. Even though we're both exhausted and can think of hundreds of chores or tasks that need to be finished, we do stop and finally sit down together. It doesn’t sound like much, but uninterrupted child-free moments are hard to come by around our home.
I’m grateful that my husband works so hard, believes so firmly in Ronan’s abilities and gives all of himself to the children he whole heartedly loves. The kids think that man I married is the neatest Dadd-i-o with endless amounts of energy. He tells them super cool stories about people he’s gotten to meet. He gets down on the floor for rough and tumble play trying to make each one squeal louder than the next. Ronan expects Steve to spend all of his time playing with him. He climbs all over Daddy who sits on the floor giving belly zerberts, wrestling or playing whatever game he’s asked to play.
I glance at those happy people from the kitchen where I prepare another dinner. It looks so typical American family in that split second. In reality, we are anything but typical. We had no idea how strong we’ve had to be. We had no idea how much of a strain raising a special needs child could be on us as a couple, on our family and on several siblings who still only know how to love and protect their brother. The kids don’t know how taxed we are. They don’t know how much I lean on their father to get me through emotional roller coaster rides. They don’t know how much work each of their parents have done to keep them safe and healthy and happy. One day they might discover how much we’ve worked and sacrificed for them, but I pray they know how much they were loved and appreciated and that they see how truly blessed we are to be their Mommy and Daddy.
Steve doesn’t bring me flowers anymore. I don’t expect him to nor do I think them necessary for our relationship. Instead of bouquets he brings me feelings of safety, security and happiness. His honor and devotion to our children, and especially to Ronan whom he adores, is gift enough. For my birthday and Christmas I am showered with material gifts which I readily accept because I know he’s thoughtfully chosen them. As I unwrap a present I feel all giddy inside, similar to our early dating days—he likes me; he really, really likes me! On a regular day, when our regular is anything but typical, Steve brings me my favorite candy bar. It’s usually on a day when he’s had to work later than expected. Or, it’s on a day that I didn’t want to complain about something but did. He slips the candy into refrigerator letting it chill just so. After my long day, as I put away leftovers from dinner and begin to think about the kids’ school lunches for the next day I see that candy bar sitting on the shelf. I smile knowing that my husband and I are still so connected and remain close even though life and stress sometimes tries to put a wedge between us.
We both don’t know where Ronan’s needs, nor our other kids’ lives, are going to take us. We didn’t sign up as man and wife knowing half the stuff we do now. We both didn’t know we’d be walking this path right now, but we promise to get there together. There’s no other person I’d rather be with. I think he feels the same way. Father’s Day may come but just once a year, but Steve is more than just a father. He’s Daddy to our typical children – and now “DaDa” to Ronan. He’s genuine and thoughtful and the type of man I could only dream about meeting one day. I thank God that he turned into so much more.
Happy Father’s Day to all of the Dads in our community who also know how to love, respect and promise. Blessings to you and yours, today and always.
Cathy Jameson is a Contributing Editor for Age of Autism.