Loved and Loved Back

Lil D shows Amal some love at her soccer game

The whole family came out for Amal’s soccer game on Saturday morning – Lil D, Hamza, my husband and myself. I can’t remember the last time we all went to one of her games or one of Hamza’s games. All of us. The kids have been playing with the Ansars soccer league for four years now, and many of these kids have been with Amal on teams since they were five and six years old.

Playing with the Ansars is one thing I have tried my best not to compromise for Amal, and now Hamza, even when things get overly tough, difficult or hectic with Lil D. Each season it’s a finely choreographed dance of coordinating practice times with Lil D’s after school therapies, touching base with the therapists to stay late if we are late coming home practice, getting progress reports and updates via texts and phone calls from them, and making sure dinner is prepared and meds/supplements are given at proper times, even when I’m not home.

So when we soccer parents come together again in the fall and spring seasons (skipping a season now and again) it’s like family coming back together. My husband will ask me from time to time – why not put the kids in a soccer league closer to our house or one that only practices/plays on the weekends? My answer? It’s the Ansars. When you’ve stuck with a group of parents, kids and coaches that long, well it becomes family.

I remember four seasons back I took Lil D with me one Friday night to Amal’s game. It was hot and humid, and I knew I was risking a meltdown by bringing him along. Friday night events, after a long week of school and therapy sessions, are a lot to ask of him. That night, with the game starting late and the hot temperatures, the conditions were ripe for The Autism Perfect Storm.

I knew it was coming, and I asked the parents on the sideline to watch out for then 7-year-old Amal. Of course. Don’t worry. Go take care of Lil D, they told me. My memories of that night are a blur of adjectives and verbs – crying, screaming, flopping, hitting, biting, heat, sweat, helplessness, defeat and panic – fear that his meltdown (though I had guided him away from the field to a playground area) was disrupting the game, worried that Amal would get worried and distracted, wondering why I bothered at all trying to do all of this.

When he finally calmed down, I brought him back to the sidelines. Of course Amal was fine. Did he disturb the game, I asked the coach. Nah, she replied. It’s a soccer game. Everyone’s screaming anyway. Don’t worry about it, she assured me.

This season I started bringing Lil D back to Amal’s games again, which are now on Saturday mornings. The temps are cooler, and mornings are usually better for him. The parents were happy to see Lil D back. He got big, they said. He looks good! Glad you brought him.

One of the moms at our most recent game stood with me as we watched our kids play. She has a large family and even a few grandchildren, one of whom has special needs. We’ve been sideline soccer moms together for a few years now. She watched us with Lil D as I kept him from wandering onto the field, gave him my hat when he wanted to cover his face, and as he grabbed my husband and buried his chin in father’s chest with a goofy grin on his face.

No matter what happens, my friend said to me, I can see that he has a lot of love in his life. He looks like a kid who is well loved. And gives a lot of love back to you guys. Masha’Allah.

If there is one thing sustains us on this autism parenting journey, it’s love. The love we have for him. Amal and Hamza. The love they have for us. The love our three kids have for each other. The love the grandparents shower upon their children and grandchildren, and the love and support of friends and family who reach out to us in small and big ways that help to erase the difficulties, setbacks, frustrations, and exhaustion along the journey. God’s love, whom I lose faith in at times, who always welcomes me back.

Lil D cuddles with Nanijan

The love I see when Lil D, as big as he is now, climbs into my mom’s lap and draws her close to him. I think back to when he was two weeks old and I came to my parents’ home for two weeks. As soon as the remains of his umbilical cord fell off, my mother gave him his first bath. She held his tiny body in her hands and dipped him into the water. We all crowded around her – me, my brother and his wife (videotaping the event for posterity of course) and my dad in the doorway, waiting with a comb so he could carefully arrange the fine hairs on his first grandchild’s head.

As we marveled at his tiny body and the experience of the first bath, Lil D promptly released a stream of poo onto my mother’s hand in the water. I still remember her laughter.

Remember that, Mummy, I ask her. Of course, she replies. How can I forget? He was comfortable with me then as much as he is with me now.

This mothering thing, it’s not easy. Nothing profound in that statement there. But it’s worth it. It’s so, so worth it. When I contemplate what Lil D’s future will be, what will he do with the rest of the life, what can he contribute to this world, how will I his father, and his siblings manage his care, I remind myself that he has already contributed the greatest gift of all. Through his love and life, he has taught us what matters. What really, really matters.

Allah says that heaven lies at the feet of the mother (as reported in hadith). He knew what he was talking about. And though I dare not speak for what is in His will for us, I believe to my core that heaven, innocence, goodness and love (and whatever you believe in) lies in the grasp of Lil D. It’s in his footsteps, his breath upon my face, his peals of laughter as he does rough play with Hamza or as he pulls Amal down to play. It’s in his cries  and wails and in the flicking of his fingers. It’s in him even when he is the most difficult to be around, pushing me to my breaking point.

It’s in his eyes, which gaze upon me at times with such clarity and depth and at other times behind an impenetrable wall. It’s in every fiber of his being.

He is loved, and we are loved back. My mom friend at Amal’s soccer game saw it.

It’s good to be reminded.

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