“Will Rhema still have autism when she grows up?”
We’d been rolling along smoothly, happily, taking the girls out for a Valentine’s Day Eve dinner. Our dining out in itself a reason for celebration, such a statement to how far we’ve come.
Hope’s question shot out like a canon ball, startling us all, sucking the air out of the car. We’ve talked openly about autism, and we’ve let Hope process things as she is able. But autism simply does not dominate our conversations at home, so I was surprised at the question, and the feeling of tears in my gut.
I wanted to say, it’s a good, honest question. Early on, I’d convinced myself she would in fact “outgrow” it by age 3 or 4, and I was bewildered and then devastated when I met a mother of an adult daughter with autism.
I wanted to say that autism is a part of everything we love about Rhema, a part of who she is, a part of what makes her mind so complex and beautiful.
I wanted to say that the autism that causes her to struggle, traps her, and paralyzes her communication… I would do almost anything to take it away, if I could.
But instead I just said,
“Hope, God may choose to heal Rhema in heaven.”
I could hear the confusion and alarm in her voice as she asked:
“But how will she take care of her children???”
It felt like a punch to the stomach, eyes smarting from a pain I thought I’d buried. Neither Brandon nor I could speak.
“Mommy. Daddy. How will she take care of her children?”
The words hung in the air. We didn’t answer. We couldn’t.
After the girls had gone to bed, I went to work on finishing Rhema’s Valentine’s Day cards. I had to smile, remembering how the girls had sat at the table together. It was a first for Rhema – decorating the cards with us. I’d written her name and tried to help her trace the letters. We were not very successful, but she’d squealed and colored and loved being involved in the activity.
Instantly, I knew I owed Hope an answer and I found her still awake in bed.
“You wanted to know how she will take care of her children.” I said softly.
(In her 5-year old mind it’s pretty much a foregone conclusion that she will grow up to be a Mommy and a princess. And if the princess gig doesn’t work out, a mermaid. She assumes the same for her sister.)
“I don’t know, baby.”
Her eyes and mouth turned sad.
“How will she get married?”
“I don’t know, baby.”
“How will she cook?”
“She will make macaroni and cheese, of course.”
“Did you know that things that seem totally impossible to us are totally possible with God?”
“I didn’t know that!”
I held up one of Rhema’s Valentine’s Day cards so that Hope could see it by the glow of her night light.
“Hope. For with God nothing shall be impossible.”
She giggled at the card, Rhema’s name in swirly letters, nearly every inch of it colored turquoise.
The ache in me eased. I rested.
Maybe I’m a fool. I choose to err on the side of overbelieving in my girl, as Schuyler’s dad would say. Maybe, some days it takes a lot more fighting and a lot more faith to believe that everything’s going to be alright, that she will be ok. I believe in her. I believe in Him.
So we’ll work hard, we’ll prepare for the unknown as best as we can, and we’ll always, always keep our eyes open wide for miracles.