“Labels just give kids an excuse to misbehave.” The words sank to my very soul. Did she really say that about my precious son? There I stood, speechless on the steps of the little library in the small Oregon town we had recently moved to. I had my newborn daughter in her car seat in one hand, my 20 month old toddler waiting patiently beside me and in front, my screaming three year-old son. Screaming because the library was supposed to open at 10 a.m. It was two minutes past ten. We had waited in the car until 10:01, just to make sure a situation like this would not occur.
It was commonplace in our household then, and now, to watch time very carefully so as not to upset the delicate balance of my son’s Autistic tendency of relying on time. We had just gotten out of the car and headed up the steps. The sign above the door said open, but when my son’s hand reached for the handle, it did not turn. I knew it was coming; immediate frustration. I tried my best to calm him.
“I know it’s 10:02. Yes, I know the door is locked. The person inside is late. I’m so sorry, Titus. I know you are upset.” The screaming just got louder and more high-pitched. Titus was virtually non-verbal, only speaking a handful of words. Screaming was his only way of expressing his frustration. My other son, Noah, didn’t make a sound and continued to wait patiently. Baby Ciciley in the car seat, however, was startled awake and began to cry. Just then, a woman walked up behind us and stood for a minute, obviously alarmed by the screaming scene. I spoke as kindly to her as I could over the screams, “I’m sorry about this. The library was supposed to open four minutes ago and my son just doesn’t understand. He has Autism.”
“Labels just give kids an excuse to misbehave.” She said cooly. In shock, all I could do was let my jaw drop open and hold back the tears. A minute later the door to the library opened and the woman pushed in front of our foursome to get to her important library business, shaking her head impatiently. The screaming stopped as soon as we entered and my boys went to the beloved children’s section while I found a spot to get comfy and feed my littlest one. We spent a few quiet minutes in that place but my mind was racing.
I continued to stifle the tears until I had put all of my children back into the car and headed to my husband Aaron’s work. I couldn’t go home just yet. I needed to share my heart with Aaron, who worked only ten minutes away. As soon as I turned the key in the ignition, I could hold back no longer and tears started to stream down my cheeks. “Are you okay Mommy?” came a sweet little voice from the back seat. “Yes Noah, Mommy is okay. Sometimes Mommies cry too.” So many thoughts rumbled around in my head and my heart. This woman had no idea what life was like at my house. From her appearance, I supposed that her children were grown and gone and blissfully “normal.” To this day I’m sure she has no idea of the scar she left on my heart that morning.
I arrived at Aaron’s work, sobbing, as the boys made their rounds to all the friendly people with whom he worked. I told him all about it and of course he came up with several comebacks on the spot, a talent I’ve often been jealous of. When I had calmed down and was able to drive home, God gently reminded me of the birthmarks.
I don’t remember what day I realized it. I was so busy as a new mom and the days ran into one another. I’m sure it was an ordinary day when I realized that Titus and I had the same birthmarks. I have a birthmark on my right shoulder and a birthmark on my left jawbone. Titus also has one on his right shoulder and on his left jawbone. This is very significant because Titus is adopted. In fact, he looks more like me than my other three children, who happen to be biological. God knew the future of my little son. He knew the challenges that would lie ahead. With those birthmarks He was showing me in a very visual way, “See? I hand-picked this child for you. I didn’t make a mistake. You are the best mother for this little boy.”
The day at the library was just the beginning. It was the beginning of the absolutely heartbreaking days that have come since. It was the beginning of the ignorant and judgmental people who come into our lives for a split second. It was the day I realized that our other children would be deeply impacted by their oldest brother. The little voice in the back seat was my second son, Noah, who has graciously taken on the role as the older brother and keeper of his mom’s heart. On that day at the library the word “label” was used. Thinking back on it, labels tell us important information: who made it, who manufactured and how to care for it. The matching birthmarks on my son’s and my shoulders and jaws are labels. They remind me that God made Titus just the way he is for a delightful purpose. He manufactured this wonderful blessing in our family. He is the one I can choose to look to for how to care for my children. On the challenging days I KNOW in my heart that God says I am the best Mom for my son.
That little son is now taller than I am and just went to his first prom. There are still challenges and screaming as well as ignorant and judgmental people; it comes with the realm of autism. Along the journey, we’ve also met some amazingly talented and caring people who have helped our son grow into the cool teenager that he is. Life is so not “normal,” but I’m thankful for it. I’m thankful for the stronger relationship with my husband that wouldn’t have formed without the challenges. I’m thankful for the other three amazing children who are who they are because of their oldest brother. But I’m mostly thankful for God’s faithfulness to me in providing the labels.
Karen and her husband, Aaron, reside in upstate New York. She is the mother of four amazing kids, ranging in age from 8 to 14. In addition to being the cook, housekeeper, nurse and head chauffeur, she runs a quilting business out of her home. Karen has written articles for her local Right To Life newsletter and she and Aaron are in the process of writing a book about the adventures of parenting a child with Autism. You can see more information about the amazing quilts Karen makes through her business, Quiver Full Creations at www.facebook.com/QuiverFullCreations