You wouldn’t think it to look at my wife, but tomorrow she celebrates her 40th birthday. I wanted to mark the occasion by telling her, in this week’s post, how truly special she is.
My wife’s life has not been easy over the past couple of years. It’s been a rough ride. Nothing prepares you for autism- the difficulties of a child who is “exhausting” (as his school report said this week), the awful, creeping suspicion that things were not quite right, the bombshell of diagnosis, the battles with the local authority, health providers and school. The utter feeling of abandonment and isolation post-diagnosis. The impact on your marriage. Like I said, not easy. My wife has had her heart broken and her world turned upside down. She has had to cope with the loss of the life she thought she would have. She’s also had to cope with the loss of the child she thought she would have. I’m guessing this is not quite the path she saw her life taking.
I don’t claim to understand how my wife is feeling. No one can understand quite what a mother goes through, even those closest to her. My wife does a very convincing ‘brave face’ to the point where it’s easy to miss the fact that she is finding it a struggle. I’ve been guilty of thinking she was okay when she was not, of failing to see the struggle beneath the surface. But that’s my wife: the needs of those around her always come first.
The relentless, intense realities of day to day life take their toll on us as parents. A state of near exhaustion is not just common, it’s become the norm. I doubt that my wife can remember what not being tired is like. Despite this, she is utterly tireless in her efforts and abilities to care for, support and understand her children. This is the woman who never ever stops. Whether it be reading up on diets, or ABA, or finding resources on special needs sites, or making her own weighted blankets, or writing the most detailed dla application ever, or applying for Merlin magic wand passes. I have seen her engaged in doing all these things in the last two weeks alone.
As a mother, my wife has all the qualities you might expect, such as empathy, patience, strength and generosity. She is vigilant, selfless and completely and utterly committed to her children and family. It seems to me though that the autism mum needs all these things and so much more. When everyday is a struggle, the strength of character, resolve and sheer bloody-minded determination required is enormous. It also helps to be clairvoyant and a mind-reader. Always being one step ahead is a compulsory skill, as is tremendous self-control. On top of all this is the need to reevaluate, readjust and accept what is happening. My wife has done all these things and more.
If she has a fault, it is that she puts herself under far too much pressure to be superhuman. My wife could never be all the things she needs to be and do all the things she wants to. She’d like to be the ideal mother, but she’s too busy raising her kids, as the saying goes. But the love and the emotional strength she shows are the things that hold our family together, and no one could ask more of her than that.
My son’s success with toilet training is a good example of my wife’s determination, tenacity and utter resolve. Having a (near) five-year old still in nappies is a very wearing experience. Despite the occasional breakthrough, toilet training has hung over us like a cloud. I was beginning to suspect that it would never, ever happen. For a while things were getting worse, not better and after a million failures, I’d almost given up. Not my wife though. Not only has she achieved the impossible and toilet trained our little man, she also managed to persuade school to let him start wearing pants full-time. Sat next to her in that meeting, I couldn’t help but admire this smart, determined woman. The kids could not wish for a better advocate.
I always knew she was special. The girl at college who took the piss out of my accent, refused my advances, then kept me waiting for five years (five years!) before giving into my charms was always ‘the one’. You know that moment of realisation? When you know you can stop looking? I have never been more sure of anything in my life. The years we spent together before starting a family, and the closeness we shared, gave us strength as a couple. Strength enough to cope even when things don’t turn out quite as you expected.
If she was special then, it is nothing compared to the woman she is now. Whether she would admit it herself, or even realises, life with an autistic son has brought out in my wife qualities that make her a truly remarkable person.
So happy birthday, babe. You are the glue that holds our family together, my rock, my soul mate and my best friend. You are the reason our children are beautiful and I love you. And if 40 is a number you would rather not think about, then just tell everyone you’re 30. No one will believe you’re 40 anyway. Be warned though, they might ask who the old man at your side is if they see us out!