by Brooke Baumer
August 15, 2013 … my daughter, Emory, started kindergarten. Sporting a Hello Kitty backpack and matching shoes, she walked into Miss Evans’ class and took a spot on the rainbow carpet. Other kids filed in and sat near her. New stimuli flooded the room. My eyes were glued on Emory. This was too much, more than she was used to. She’s not going to make it. But, calmly she sat.
The bell rang. Miss Evans briefly introduced herself to the class and then said, “Okay kids, wave goodbye to your mommies and daddies.” My little Hello Kitty princess turned, gave me a big smile and bid me adieu. My heart shattered into a million pieces. Fighting back the tears, I grinned back and blew her a kiss.
I exited the classroom and cratered. Not weeping. Not bawling. I’m talking the Oprah “ugly cry.” A fellow parent attempted to console me. “Oh, this must be your first born, right?”
Yes, it was. But, it was more than that. In that moment, I was smacked in the face with a harsh reality – I didn’t think this day would ever come. Why?
Because my daughter has autism.
When I got pregnant with Emory, I had a vision for her life. Trust me, it didn’t include her having special needs. Yet in December 2009, our lives turned upside down when the psychiatrist gave us the news. We knew Emory had been delayed in reaching some of her milestones. But, autism? Are you kidding me?
Within two weeks of the diagnosis, the tornado struck. Our daily lives spun out of control as therapists invaded our home. PT, OT, speech, child development, group social skills. 22 hours a week of therapy. My husband and I were charged with taking everything she learned in these sessions and continuing them in the off-hours.
A self-admitted, recovering over-achiever, I’ve lived the majority of my 48 years under a mantra of “perfection at all cost.” Naturally, I took my part in these therapies very seriously, pushing my daughter hard … never realizing that her brain is wired very differently than mine. I craved progress, yet it never seemed to happen according to MY timetable. My spirit sank. My jealousy of my friends and their neurotypical children turned into rage. I longed to connect with my daughter. WHAT DID I DO TO DESERVE THIS?
But, while I sulked, progress WAS happening. Words started to come. Fine motor skills began formulating. And though fleeting, Em would bless me with a bit of eye contact every now and then. But, these advancements weren’t enough for me. I needed more. Which is why no one was more shocked than me when we received clearance from her therapists and the school district that Emory had progressed to the point that she could enroll in a general education classroom.
And THAT’S what caused the ugly cry outside of the kindergarten classroom – the reality that my daughter, despite all of her deficits, HAD advanced. It was ME who lacked faith in her all those years. I was so wrapped up in my own pain, insecurities and sadness that I failed to see the determined, capable, bright, amazing little girl in front of me. She had proven me wrong every which way possible (and she still does).
Emory will always have autism. I know that. Sometimes, I’m okay with it. Other days, it hurts like hell. I still worry about her future. We start junior high in 18 months and that makes me want to hurl. Everything about living the autism life has forced me to leave my comfort zone, and it drives me crazy.
But, that disruption has also been my greatest gift. Autism has taught me that my little black-and-white life that I’ve obsessed over is really an illusion. Life is actually a sticky, messy ball of gray. And when it’s gray, you can’t see the next step. But, that doesn’t mean it’s not there. It requires trust. For someone like me, that’s petrifying. But, if I take a deep breath and get quiet, I realize that gray is really all there is … and that’s okay.
Yankee-born and Texas-bred, Brooke Baumer is a working LA actress who has graced the small and big screens numerous times since launching her professional career in 1999. When not acting, Brooke enjoys her other career as a full-time mom to two young daughters, and serving as PTA president (which is crazier than being an actress). Learn more at brookebaumer.com or follow her adventures on Instagram via @brookebaumer.