Through a blur of frustration and tears, I complained to my mom about all the therapy my son was doing. The therapy we have been doing since he was 18 months old. I am thankful for what my son with autism has taught me.

I had thought it would be something that would decrease with time but have only found more need as Sam aged. Would he ever get to experience a normal childhood? Would my days always be filled and rushed? How would his life look? All the weight forcefully interrupted my morning.

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My mom said something so little I almost would have missed it had she not taken time to explain her statement. In true fashion for someone from Indiana, she didn’t sugar coat her thoughts for me. She’s the one who tells you to get back up when life wallops you. But, she’s also there for you and will protect you until the wars you wage within yourself subside. She is that person.

She told me I wouldn’t be who I am today without Sam and his autism. I scoffed. Admiring the easier way I could parent and take care of my typical daughter. I could feel the eye roll she so desperately hated creeping across my face. But, it failed before completion.

Was she right? Lord knows I didn’t want to tell her. But, of course and as always, she was.

When my son was diagnosed with autism, I changed right then and there. Through waves of grief, I said goodbye with a “thank you” to my twenty something year old self. She was scared, immature and felt alone but it wasn’t the time for that any longer. I hugged her and took a deep breath as she disappeared. She had to vanish to allow for a new version of myself with laser focus, a dash of exuberant determination and fierce love to emerge and get started on the road ahead.

I turned into a mama bear dedicated to equal treatment for my sweet Sam and all like him. My view shifted and magnified things that would have slipped my notice. I felt angry at the lacking options of therapy for all children with special needs. The school system’s failure to recognize and champion these children as different but deserving of equal treatment. The way children seemed to embrace the differences but adults shied away from them and their potential impact on dinner conversation.

I wouldn’t have ever taken up writing. Something that is so cathartic, appreciated and freeing. Sports, schools and friendships would have been taken for granted too. Deep seeded appreciation for who my children are and are not wouldn’t be as visible in my mind.

Sam’s sister would never know, first hand, what it means to make sure everyone has a seat at the table or game.

My husband and I wouldn’t know the utter and absolute joy of Sam exceeding previous expectations and that prideful, crooked smile that follows across his mischievous face. Turning us into the most ridiculous pair of cheerleaders that ever was.

Your future self and it’s acquisition of new outlooks and actions depend on you to drudge through the muck and the mire of the challenges that harden but also complete you. I wouldn’t be who I am today without that day where everything seemingly fell apart. The first and last day an autism diagnosis rang my bell and demanded that I step up and walk before, beside and behind my Sam.

All the different versions of you that you meet depend on the previous version and experiences to get them there. Each stage preparing you for the next. It’s all ordained in perfect, nonsensical order.

Each version of yourself is a little more refined in character, a little more angular in stances and more willing to exist in the belief that extravagant and untamed love are the only tools you need ( maybe some wine too). You’ll take care of the rest because you were brave enough to breathe in those challenges, exhale and expel expectations (that really were limitations in disguise) and found strength to keep moving forward. Making sure you didn’t give away hard fought wins in lieu of perceived ease and unchallenged reign of your life.

Then you meet her again and again and then once more. Until life has taught you what you need to know to become the missing piece of the earth’s puzzle that you were designed to become. So, don’t wish away the challenges, meet them with a smile and the knowledge that you are waiting on the other side.

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Jenny Dombroski lives and loves in Georgetown with her husband, Justin, and two crazy kids, Amelia and Sam. Her days are spent running her kids in two different directions, working on incorporating a little more sarcasm in her days and trying new classes at the gym. She believes in learning and experiencing the good, the bad and the ugly that life has to offer with as much grace as Jesus can give her.

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