At five foot two, he reaches his arms up to hug me. My arms underneath his squeeze tightly as I breathe him in. He is both familiar and mysterious. Stepping back, I stand still as he studies my face.
“Mom, my armpits stink,” he says.
“Oh, I’m sure they don’t buddy. Let me smell,” I reply. “Oh, they do! Well, okay, we can take care of that.”
When did my little boy become old enough to have smelly pits, greasy hair, braces, and pimples? Surveying his current hygiene routine, I load my Amazon cart with essential items while contemplating how we are here.
Raising children with neurodiverse brains tends to shift one’s focus in parenting. From an early age, I learned that simple tasks such as brushing teeth and washing hair are not as straightforward as I once thought they should be. The way their bodies process different sensory stimuli requires creativity and patience to manage activities of daily life. Along the way, I learned to adopt a way of coping with these challenges that often resulted in letting go of expectations and simply taking each moment as it came.
Behavioral and mental health complexities elevate the amount of energy required to survive, and at the end of the day, there is not much left for traditional parenting. Tempted to criticize myself for the places where parenting has felt unmanageable or to justify all the reasons why I have done what I did to survive, I choose to sit in the reality of it all.
There is something both grievous and vital in being able to name what parenting has cost me as a woman.
For twelve years, I have had to change nearly every aspect of how I engage to meet my children exactly as they are. Trust me, I tried to teach them to adapt to my ways. I’m certain our lives would have been much easier if they had been able to acclimate to mine.
Acclimation came, because of me. Learning to love these boys requires me to adapt to patterns of relating that feel unnatural and uncomfortable at times. In my discomfort, I wonder if I have done enough. More importantly, am I doing enough? There are days when I look at the young men they are becoming and fear that the remaining years they are home will pass too quickly for all the lessons left to be taught.
How do we transition into the next phase when we’re still in the middle of so many battles?
But then, I remember who I am and who I have become. I am a woman who knows what is important and knows how to reach my boys in a loving way. Opening my Amazon app, I proceed to check out. Shampoo, body wash, face soap, loofahs, deodorant, and a derma-planing tool. After all, body odor, acne, and a unibrow are much easier to tackle than anything else we’ve had to face, right?
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.