Nearly seven years ago, I lay alone in a hospital bed, cuddling my newborn son on my chest. Although my husband and mother had been present for his birth, complications and illness prevented them from being at the hospital for the first full day of his life. Since we had moved only six months prior to his arrival, we had a handful of visitors who were scheduled to arrive later during the day.

Chaos had surrounded our lives for quite some time, and the stillness of that day remains etched in my core. My son, one day old, needed my embrace, and the quiet that was available felt like a beautiful gift. It was only the two of us for the majority of that day, and I soaked in all that was available, not knowing when a moment like that would occur again.

My oldest son was the first one to teach me about sensory defensiveness. He was readily cuddled until the moment he was able to move independently. Then, if he was asleep, he would rest in our arms; other than that, he was in constant motion. He did not give hugs, nor did he want them. A kiss, if allowed, was always wiped away. Grandparents and friends struggled to understand the space that he demanded, but in time, they learned that an acknowledgement or a high-five was all that was available.

By the time my youngest son was born, my arms and my chest were ready to hold another child who was dependent on me. My embrace was necessary and preferred again…until the day that it wasn’t. Over time, this little boy who relied on me for nourishment and survival grew resistant to comfort in ways that are more complex than simply gaining independence.

Recently, my youngest son and I were alone in the house when I heard the most tender voice singing from the other room:

“Every night I lie in bed
The brightest colors fill my head
A million dreams are keeping me awake
I think of what the world could be
A vision of the one I see
A million dreams is all it’s gonna take
Oh, a million dreams for the world we’re gonna make”

I could not contain my tears. He walked over to me to ask why I was crying. I told him I loved that he was singing, and I continued to cry.

“Mom, doesn’t P!NK’s daughter sing that song?”

“She does, on the track for The Greatest Showman Reimagined.”

“Oh, that’s what I thought. Do you think that P!NK cries?”

“I imagine she does; why do you ask?”

“Well, because you were crying when I was singing, so I wondered if she cries. I don’t think she probably does. She’s a little different than you.”

He didn’t ask me again about my tears, for which I was grateful. After all, what would I say. How could I tell him the big “why” behind my tears?

How do I tell him that my heart almost can’t handle both the goodness and bitterness of what it feels like to experience him when he is alone? He always sings during his nightly hour-long shower while the warm water soothes his sensitive body and he has privacy to sing till his heart’s content.

My heart both rejoices and aches when he is safe enough to lower his defenses.

Having a brother with unpredictable, volatile outbursts creates stressors and a feeling of being completely out of control. In his attempts to control the chaos that surrounds him, both in his internal and external world, he is increasing his efforts to create order for himself. His fear often goes without words or explanation, but his behavior points to the fact that he has absorbed too much.

Last night was the first night in seven weeks that my sweet boy went to sleep in his bed. We brought the Privacy Pop bed tent out of the attic, hoping to allure him back to bed instead of the floor, and we were successful. His smile stretched from ear to ear as he enthusiastically proclaimed that he would forever sleep in his tent from now on. As he zipped himself inside, he hollered out his usual lines, “Goodnight Dad, love you! Goodnight Mom, love you!”

Oh buddy, how we love you.

Bethany Cabell, a lover of simplicity, is often inspired to write by the relationships she holds as a wife, mom, and a physical therapist. Bethany, her husband and their boys returned to life in Texas after wandering off to the Midwest for a season. What she once pictured her life to look like has forever been changed by her two sons. Navigating this messy and beautiful path of parenting two children each with their own unique challenges, she finds grace and beauty in the gift of each moment.