When I was young, I didn’t understand unconditional love.
Sure, I took it for granted. Standing idly by and watching as my mom scrubbed floors in apartments I had trashed. Or sitting with my head in my hands, at the age of 19, trying to figure out how to tell my dad I had gotten busted for public intoxication at the university where he works.
But I didn’t really understand why they continued to nurture and help me, until I had kids.
I thought that scrubbing and posting bail was a parent’s job.
Then in an almost cruel twist of plot, with just a sprinkle of karma, I had a child with autism.
Sweet, sweet Zion. I love this little boy…so much that sometimes that I think my heart might burst.
I love on him. I hug and squeeze and snuggle him, as much as he will let me.
But he wiggles away. Every single time.
Sometimes we look a little like this:
But regardless of my attempts to shower my little bunny rabbit with affection, he resists.
Zion comes to me for many things.
Jammed VCRs. (I’m aware it’s 2015, but yes we have one.)
Applesauce foil lids.
Dog poo on his big toe.
But he doesn’t come to me for affection.
He just doesn’t.
For years I took this personally.
Well! I must be unlovable and hideous and fat and troll-like! No man will ever love me!
Come on now.
I think Zion was given to me as my son on purpose. I needed to learn about unconditional love. And that when you love someone, you serve and protect them, you give your all for them, without expecting anything in return.
Sure, a little reciprocity is nice.
But with unconditional love, reciprocity can’t be expected. It can’t be a condition of the love being given.
Otherwise it wouldn’t be unconditional.
But last night I got a little surprise from my bunny rabbit.
I’ve been recovering from surgery, so I was resting on the couch, watching a movie with my daughter.
Zion emerged from the Disney movies and the media room and said, “Mama snuggle?”
(Now don’t get too swayed by the cuteness yet, typically this just means he wants something or he is trying to delay his bedtime.)
But of course I said, “Sure honey, come on in.”
So Zion grabbed a pillow and made a little nest, right under my left wing.
After a few minutes he looked up at me and said, “Mama sick.”
Precious little unicorn.
I said, “No honey, mama isn’t sick. Just tired. I’ll be better soon.”
Then Zion said, “We go to the beach?”
I laughed out loud. Ahhhhh, little boy, you’re speaking my language.
I said, “Yes buddy, we will go to the beach again, just not today.”
He lay quietly for several more minutes before he said, “Zion sing?”
I said “Sure buddy, go ahead.”
He started singing the Alphabet Song, as I continued to watch my movie.
(It’s okay to go ahead and be swayed by the cuteness now.)
About halfway through the song, I looked down at him and noticed he was moving his right hand.
I was astonished.
He was using sign language as he sang.
I had absolutely no idea he knew how to do this. This is just another thing he must have learned from those angels called ABA therapists.
I scooped him up and gave him a huge hug, and when I did he squeezed me back. Hard. That has never happened before.
And then almost as soon as it happened, it was over. He wiggled away, and back into snuggle position.
So this is the way I choose to process moments like these.
His hypersensitivity to stimulation makes it impossible to stay in a hug, because it is just too much to process.
It isn’t that Zion is incapable of love. He is overwhelmed by it.
He isn’t incapable of reciprocity.
That isn’t it at all.
On the contrary, the love that he feels is so deep that if he were to stay in an embrace, he might explode.
Think about it.
Think about the way you feel when you hold your child. Or your lover. Or your best friend.
The love that you feel in your heart is like a fire. An all consuming fire.
Now multiply that feeling times 100.
That is how I believe Zion feels.
It’s too much to process.
So he pulls away.
My son has taught me how to love unconditionally. And that while love can take a million different forms, our love is special because it is unique.
Sometimes love doesn’t look like love or feel like love, if you’re not paying attention. Discounting it simply because it doesn’t look like someone else’s love, would be robbing yourself of a wonderful blessing.