Every morning, my son, Cooper, would relentlessly ask, even before my eyes had focused, or I’d had my coffee, “Mommy, what are we doing today?” And then he would ask again thirty more times in a row. Cooper had an agenda, and if it wasn’t accomplished in due time, he would be edgy and fragile. And I would be already exhausted before even waking up.
I stayed home with Cooper and his twin brother, so my entire day was dictated by their needs. On top of being energetic boys, they were both diagnosed with autism at four-years-old. Yes, both of them. Every day was, and is, a constant lesson in patience and selflessness.
Their diagnosis gave me a path to navigate and helped me understand why things were so hard. But I was grieving, overwhelmed, and fragile myself. My husband and I looked for help wherever we could find it. I even took a part-time job so we could afford to pay for private occupational therapy for our boys. Their therapist was a God-send. She understood them like no one else we’d met. She helped equip us to move forward, even if it was just a small baby step—so we weren’t paralyzed with indecision.
She recommended a schedule for Cooper, and desperate to try anything, I bought a magnetic schedule, with different buttons to place on the days of the month. Every morning, when I heard, “Mommy, what are we doing today?” we’d go through our schedule. He would draw pictures or use the buttons to order his day.
Simple really, but wow, it was as if someone handed me a manual for my son! When he knew what was coming up, he would relax. Do you know what it’s like to have an on-the-verge-of-a-meltdown child suddenly relax?! It changed our lives!
I used to think he wanted me to entertain him all day, but he really just wanted to know what to expect. No surprises meant he felt safe and no longer lost.
The kicker was when an a-typical day came along, something out of the ordinary—like a dentist appointment or a haircut—it would throw us (yes, I mean all of us) into a tizzy. Cooper called it “DIFFERENT DAY.” He had a special category in his head that helped him understand it. It was the opposite of regular, it was different. As we did for typical days, we would talk through the details so he knew what’s coming. The haircut goes faster if I sit still. I get a toy out of the prize box if I let the hygienist clean my teeth. Although he was still more anxious than usual on those days, and it didn’t cure all the meltdowns, it certainly decreased them.
On Different Days, I also reminded Cooper constantly that no matter what happens, I love him. His dad loves him. God loves him. No matter what happens! Even if nothing goes according to our plan, I would get to him as quickly as I could, and God never, never leaves him. He can talk with God even when he can’t talk to me or to his Dad.
I think a lot of us can relate to Cooper, I certainly can.
I don’t like it when things are out of order. When my world is unpredictable, I feel out of control. It’s a helpless feeling. Cooper has helped me realize how I must pester God with some of the same questions like:
“What’s going to happen today, God?”
“How are you going to handle this?”
“Why aren’t you doing what I want?”
“This isn’t going like I planned.”
In those times of uncertainty, I also want to melt down, and sometimes I do.
One day, in particular, I was struggling with paying the bills, and I was emotionally exhausted. I was putting the boys to bed, and Cooper could tell something was wrong because my eyes were damp, and he asked, “What’s wrong, Mommy?” I replied, “Sometimes, days are hard, Cooper.” He said, “Different Day, Mommy.” “Yes, baby, Different Day.” He understood.
On those days, God wants us to trust. Sure, we can make a schedule, place our predictions, and voice our hopes, but when all that goes to pot, we have to trust that God’s loves us and has a better plan.
I may not always understand or know the plan, but I know God loves me. God loves my family. And when I can remember that, it helps me rest.