It’s the little things in life that always mean the most. The tiny moments that will stay with you years down the road.
Sometimes in the moment you know it, you know “I will never forget this moment”. Like yesterday when I casually asked Damien what his favorite present this Christmas had been and he answered with a full pure heart, “Kaitlyn”. His favorite part was his oldest sister coming home for the holiday. It was one of those Mama moments when your eyes fill with tears and you know you’re going to cherish it for years to come. Sometimes though, the moments that mean the world to you and you cannot shake, are not monumental when they happen. This week, thanks to Timehop, I was reminded of such a moment.
At first glance it’s just a picture of me holding Caleb while he sleeps and I’m not smiling. However, I knew what this picture was about the minute it came across my screen. This was a hard day. I’m not smiling because it was taking every ounce of my energy to not burst into hysterical tears.
As many of you know about 2 1/2 almost three years ago I joined the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, or as it is more commonly referred to, the Mormon church. I could write a century long saga on my cycle of joining the church and how it has gone. It’s been a whirlwind and I don’t know if I could rightly call myself a Mormon currently, it’s complicated and long and maybe someday I will try and explain it. The main point you need to know is that it is REALLY hard, as in close to impossible, for me to get all five younger kids successfully through a day at the church.
For those of you who don’t know, Sunday involves three meetings, each an hour long in the LDS Church. The first hour is the sacrament meeting and we would all sit (ha!) as a family and receive the sacrament and listen to talks. It was usually a circus but I could handle that part. We would sit in another room and listen through the speakers to the talks and then the kids wouldn’t bother anyone else during their worship. Additionally, the chapel can be quite the sensory overload so being in another room helped us try to manage the sensory triggers so we could (in theory) head off any meltdowns.
The last two hours the kids were supposed to trot off to primary where they go to classes based on their ages. This is where is falls apart. My kid with attachment issues is going to be anxious about this and his teacher getting him to sit and listen or even follow instruction is all but impossible. My kiddos with sensory issues are going to be on the edge of meltdowns and trying to self regulate which can involve some funky behaviors. My kiddos with Apraxia of Speech cannot participate in discussions or answer questions and it’s often assumed they just are not getting it since they cannot respond appropriately. That by itself is crazy and then there is Caleb. The dress clothes make him uncomfortable. The lights bother him, the sounds and all the people are overwhelming and before long the day often dissolves into me taking Caleb to a back corner of the church to start walking and rocking and trying to soothe him.
By this point I was usually already pretty close to tears. I would have prepped a new way I thought for sure would make it easier on the kids and the people at church who work with the kids and it never quite worked how I imagined. Additionally, as any Mom will tell you, it is heart wrenching to see your child inconsolable and not be able to help them calm down. That’s how it is with meltdowns and Autism, I cannot always stop the storm raging in Caleb’s body, sometimes all I can do is ride it out with him so he isn’t alone.
The day of this picture had been hard for Caleb. He had a huge meltdown that involved a lot screaming, a lot a crying, a quite a bit of slapping at me. To add into this mix, I was a new Autism Mama. I hadn’t gotten used to the careless things people say so each one stung as a fierce condemnation. Things such as
“I wouldn’t let him do that”
“He needs to learn that doesn’t work”
“You really shouldn’t let him hit you”
And those were just the things said to my face. That’s not counting the looks of disgust and eye-rolls that came our way from nearly everyone who passed us in that back hall. To be fair, these were not spiteful or mean people. These were normal people who simply do not understand Autism or that neither Caleb nor I can control how his body reacts once he starts having a meltdown.
Eventually, Caleb’s meltdown had exhausted him and he fell into a fitful sleep. I was so relieved the worst of it was over, I sank to the floor in this corner of the church praying he would find peace in that nap and that nothing loud would accidentally wake him up. I was sitting there feeling like the biggest failure as a Mom and as a church member. I had not heard one bit of a talk, I had not been in fellowship with anyone, I am not even sure if I got the sacrament before it all went downhill. I was also not fulfilling my calling to lead the music in relief society because I couldn’t get into the room long enough, I would pick the songs out but the Sister Missionaries had to fill in for me almost weekly. One more harsh word and I would have been crying as hard as Caleb had been a few moments before.
For reasons that confused me at the time a thought kept coming to me, “take a picture, you’re going to want to remember this”. At first I scoffed, why in the world would I want to remember being huddled on the floor in a corner, on the verge of tears after Caleb just had such a hard time. The thought kept coming though so I took my phone out and took a picture. I’m glad I did.
It was around the holidays and there were lots of fun things happening in those meetings I couldn’t go to. Everyone had just started the third hour meetings so the hallway was blissfully quiet. I was sitting there in my corner, watching Caleb sleep and praying over and over that I could become a better mom and I could help him more. I know it was not that I was a bad mom, but at the time that’s how I felt. I had been a mom less than 2 years and I had five kids with very high needs that I felt I never could meet well enough. It was an overwhelming time in my life but one I wouldn’t trade for a second.
I suddenly saw a Sister I knew only a little come out of the Relief Society room and head towards us. The bathrooms were in that direction too so I didn’t think much of it at first. But no, she was making a beeline to us. I mentally started preparing to hear her say the hateful things I’d been saying to myself about being a failure. At first she just sat quietly next to me and gazed down sweetly at Caleb. Then she whispered that in relief society they handed out Temple Christmas Tree ornaments and she wanted me to have one and she inquired where in the church I had left the diaper bag so she could slip it inside. Then she whispered the words that I hear whenever I see this picture of Caleb and I
“I don’t really know what to do with Caleb but how can I help? Now that he is asleep would I be able to hold him while you went to relief society?” (No, if he woke up it would be even worse) “I see how hard you’re working and you’re doing a great job, I want to help but I don’t know how. What can I do?”
To be honest I had no idea. I had no idea what would help and I told her as much. She assured me that the minute I knew what would help that I could call on her. She sat with me in silence a little longer, then patted my arm and went back to relief society. That small moment of love she offered me was like offering water to a dying man in the desert. I savored every drop of it. I was feeling so lost and alone and for those few seconds I didn’t anymore. I felt seen, not seen in the same way as the previous people who watched Caleb and I struggle and passed us by in judgement. I mean I felt like she saw my heart and Caleb’s and knew we needed a little moment of peace and love.
I still don’t have answers on how to help the kids through church, that’s why we aren’t there on Sundays if you look for us. I don’t know how to make it work and to be honest it’s been a hard year. Every day has been hard and I cannot take too many more back hallway meltdowns right now. Will we figure it out to make life easier? Yes, we get closer every day. Will we figure out how to make going to church possible again? I hope so, I pray for a solution regularly.
I don’t know the answers but I do know this. We have all had those days. It may not be because your son is having an autism meltdown. It may be because you lost your job, or a relationship you valued fell apart, or life has just dealt you some heavy blows of illness or loss. We have all been in that lonely and painful place. Sometimes when you see someone there you want to reach out and help but the situation seems too complex, it’s out of your wheelhouse and you are at a loss. You don’t have to know the answers either. The best thing we can do for each other in times of trouble is just be there. Just let each other know we aren’t alone in this and that we can overcome.
That moment with the Sister in our old ward lasted all of five minutes but it still brings me such peace and comfort all these years later. You never know the weight someone else is carrying and you never know how deeply your words and actions can penetrate. Be there for one another, even (and especially) when you don’t know what to do to help- just show up.