While people are divulging their resolutions this week, I hear the making of solemn promises – to do better for themselves, to do better for others or to do better for the world. I make all kinds of promises throughout the year that I work toward, but I am not a typical New Year’s resolution maker. I consider myself more of a constant work in progress, so I applaud those of you who have a habit of making (and keeping) resolutions year after year.
As I listen to the goals my friends have made with these resolutions, I can’t help but think about simpler times. Many of the resolutions have folks returning to activities or events that they had enjoyed from the past—to be the weight they were 20 years ago, to finish a project they started before kids arrived on the scene, to get back to playing a sport they loved, or to find time to enjoy a skill or craft they had perfected before joining the rat race. For many, finding that former weight, that oneness of self or being able to carve out a bit of time where the rest of the world doesn’t matter for a moment is important. Who doesn’t love the chance to feel like they are in charge of their life again while gaining some positive results in return?
Resolutions give us permission to go back to the past, to yearn for yesterday and to dream again of what we thought was perfection. A lot of us want that, and many wouldn’t mind going back in time to make it happen. I know I’d wish for a redo given the chance. How I’d hold onto things I never should have let go, and how I’d appreciate the little things that, when added up, make me feel whole. Oh, how I would change parts of the past! Bad decisions and terrible choices would be the first to go. Anything that now includes life-long reminders of awful choices I made would be given the boot. Anything that brought forth heartache or disappointment would be quickly erased. Mean people? Gone. Rotten attitude? Vanished. Wasted time? I’d ask for a refund and promise to spend it wisely instead in the future.
To go back. To remember when. To learn from the past. To try to go forward. I, for one, would take a second-chance past to appreciate time, people and events differently. Pre-this or pre-that—career, children, stress, anxiety—from when I had no clue to now, as I realize that what I face as a parent, is ten times harder but has made me infinitely stronger. What a difference life would be to see and re-experience a return to yesterday.
Even knowing that I can’t go back, and that I can only move forward from moments that are now just a memory, I haven’t fully given up on yearning for yesterday. Reminders of yesterday are scattered throughout my house and cross my path several times a day—each time I walk toward the refrigerator (which is peppered with eleven year’s worth of pictures of all of my children). When I walk past the door jamb that has multiple horizontal lines marked with dates notating how tall my children are (showing the progression of height of each of the kids on their birthdays as that is the official day to be measured in our home). I remember what was as I toss another pair of pants that have been outgrown into the giveaway pile (knowing that the pants themselves haven’t shrunk, but that my children’s childhoods are flying by faster than I expected). All of these reminders draw me to the past while I simultaneously envision the future.
Reminders of the past are everywhere even while I try to fully live in the present. Out of everyone in my charge, Ronan’s past haunts me greatly and is the one that I wish the most I could change.
As I change his diaper upon wake up
As I dress him from head to toe
As I cut up his food into smaller-than-bite-size pieces so as to encourage proper chewing
As I pack sippy cups in his lunch box
As I strap my ten-year old in a five-point harness car seat
As I listen to his favorite Baby Einstein songs hoping they calm him down
As I guide him again through the same routines he has yet to fully grasp
As I end his day by bathing him and brushing his teeth for him
As I repeat the same prayer plea nightly—for him to be able to speak, for him to be able to play with his little brother, for him and for all of my friends’ children to be fully healed in mind and body
Ronan’s past and my past are intertwined so tightly. Decisions I helped make directly affected him and did so negatively. Choices I didn’t know I had now occupy my mind. When there is a lull in the day I drift back to the past and wonder how we’ll ever break free from it. Memories of Ronan’s stalled early childhood, and how his current development mirrors skills he should have mastered by now, seems inescapable. His yesterdays, some that are full of sadness and frustration, along with the determination it takes to keep Ronan happy and healthy, are the reasons that our todays are as full as they are.
I am a work in progress. I was yesterday. I am today. And, I know I will be tomorrow. I don’t doubt Ronan will be as well and for some time, too. It’s a challenge to know exactly what will be easy for him to accomplish today and what might continue to be a challenge tomorrow. Nothing has been easy from start to finish. That has a direct affect on how confident he and I both are. But, as long as we are moving and making an effort, even when it feels like every effort can never be enough, it is something. And, something is always more than nothing.
No, making resolutions with my friends to do something better or to do something more isn’t what I need to make. I do much more than that already. Year after year, as long as Ronan needs me to walk with him, to hand-over-hand guide him, to be ready to catch him when he falls and to push him just enough to give him the confidence he needs to make the next step by himself, is life as I know it. It’s done with love. It’s done fully, completely and whole heartedly for Ronan. It’s part of my mission. It’s my calling as Ronan’s Mom, and it continues to be my everlasting hope.
Cathy Jameson is a Contributing Age of Autism.