I tottered into the kitchen to find my dad slumped against the cabinet below the sink, his head in his hands and his shoulders shaking with sobs. “What’s wrong, Daddy?” I asked, squeezing my Pinocchio doll tight against my body as I stared at him with worry in my eyes. He looked up at me, his eyes shining with tears, and he choked out the words, “I’m leaving.” I stared at him. “What do you mean, Daddy?” I asked, sensing that something was very wrong. “I’m leaving!” he yelled, breaking out in fresh tears. I felt hot tears spill out of my own eyes as I ran from the room.
That is the earliest memory I have. My parents divorced when I was four years old, and I remained practically fatherless for five years. My dad would visit on weekends, take my brother and I to movies, hang out for a day, then leave. As his car would pull out of the driveway, I would feel as if someone was slowly and deliberately pulling my heart from my chest. I would run inside and cry for hours, wondering why my dad couldn’t stay. Now, my dad and I are very close, but it took years for us to get to that point.
Had I remained robbed of a strong male figure in my life, I would be a drastically different person than I am now. But my mom found an amazing man named Chris Taylor, who changed everything. Chris taught me discipline(God knows I needed it), chivalry, respect, and honesty, qualities both he and my mom drilled into me with ruthless efficiency. For years my mom was my only foundation, my only support beam holding me up off the ground. When Chris came in the picture, he became an extra support beam, lifting me even higher off the ground and sharing some of the emotional baggage with my mom instead of watching her tackle parenthood alone.
But above all else, they both taught me how to live, love, and flourish. My mom sat me down one night very recently, took my hand, and said, “I’m the bow, Hayden. And you’re the arrow. My job is to shoot that arrow as far as I possibly can, and with as much purpose and faith as I can possibly have.” She paused and looked me in the eyes. “I think I’ve done a damn good job.”
Parenting someone with Asperger’s is rough. It’s not for the weak. There will be days where you’ll want to pull your hair out, scream, “I’m done!” and storm out of the house. But if there’s something they need more than anything else in the world, it’s unconditional love, undying support, and deep understanding . We spend so much time living in terror of the world that we need someone to run home to and hold on to when things are tough. We need that bow to be tough and ready to shoot us as far as we can go.
Whenever your kid is experiencing a meltdown, a tantrum, or a sensory issue, look at it as a cry for help instead of a devious plot to test your patience. If you look at it as a plea for help, you’ll be able to look at the situation with softer eyes and, ultimately, help nurture your child’s sense of self-worth and importance.
Just remember: Whatever happens, you are your child’s ally and staunch advocate, an example for them to live by and learn from. So shoot that arrow, and watch in awe at how far it travels.