Below is something I wrote over a year ago. I had planned to submit it in hopes that it would be included in this book. I chickened out. So now I am sharing it with all of you.
I will never forget the first time I heard the word autism and Kate spoken together in the same sentence. Those life-altering words were a punch in the gut, changing nothing, everything. Gone were the frilly fantasies of a childhood filled with giggling little girlfriends staying up all night at a sleep-over. Gone were the dreams of an all-star athlete, award-winning scholar, and class president. Such hopes and dreams were replaced with an exhausting array of therapies and appointments, support group meetings, behavior modification that never seemed to work, and a small mountain of paperwork stamped with the word autism, as if sealing the fate of life ahead.
When Kate was a baby, she could light up a room. Her musical laugh announced her arrival as her twinkling blue eyes scanned the room, eager to explore the marvels of the world. She was a charming baby who could captivate anyone with those eyes and that sweet smile. Kate sparkled and exuded life.
Then came what we thought were the terrible two’s. Tantrums, screaming at people, throwing herself on the ground, rigid routines, quirky obsessions. By age two-and-a-half it appeared that Kate’s terrible two’s had lasted longer than expected, and we decided to seek help.
Around the time of the diagnosis, my husband’s sister asked if Kate would participate in her wedding as the flower girl. Although I knew that Kate bouncing down the aisle in a quiet church in front of a few hundred family members in a fluffy dress and new shoes was a recipe for disaster, I accepted the invitation as my way of trying to hold onto a tiny shred of a typical childhood.
Over the next few months, flower girl practice consumed me. Each Sunday we drove a half hour to attend Mass at the church where the wedding would take place. During church we fed Kate an endless supply of praise and goodies for sitting quietly. After Mass we practiced walking, not bouncing, down the aisle. We took pictures of the church and wrote a social story about being a flower girl. That story became a bedtime favorite. We paraded around our house in the fancy dress and stiff new shoes, laughing at the tappity-tap sound they made on the kitchen floor.
The day of the wedding arrived with my stomach churning in anticipation. Would all of our practice finally pay off, or was my sister-in-law’s perfect day going to be ruined? Part of me just wanted to grab Kate, poofy dress and all, throw her in the car and drive away from everything and everybody.
Moments before it was time to begin the processional Kate was sprawled out on the floor, a mound of white tulle and curls. Rolling a toy car across the floor, back and forth, she clearly did not wish to be disturbed. Each attempt to get her to stand up was met with an increasingly louder scream that showed her displeasure.
The processional began, and Kate showed no signs of any desire to participate. One by one the bridesmaids glided down the aisle. Panicking, I told the ring bearer to walk without the flower girl. It wasn’t going to work.
In one final attempt, I gently picked Kate up and whispered calmly in her ear, "Kate, do you want Mommy to carry you or do you want to walk?" My sweet little flower girl looked into my eyes and said in a slow and halting voice, "Walk with Mommy." As she raised her dimpled, chubby hand toward mine, she gave me a shy smile. I grinned from ear to ear, took her hand in mine, and we began our journey together.
As I floated down the aisle with my beautiful daughter I said two prayers to God. The first was a prayer of thanks for giving us that perfect moment. The second was a prayer of hope that some day, some day, my husband would be given the same gift of walking Kate down the aisle.
That magical afternoon we walked together. We walked toward hope and acceptance. We walked toward the future, together.