For someone who is rarely sick, and allegedly does not have allergies, I sneeze more than anyone I know.
And not just one sneeze. It’s more like 472 sneezes.
In a row.
Yesterday after one of my epic Sneezapaloozas, I looked up and Zion was looking directly at me, waiting, as if to say, “are you done, woman?!”
I smiled at him.
He smiled back, and simply said, “bless you, mama.”
What did he say?
To appreciate this allergenic Hallmark moment, I have to take you back a bit.
The year was 2006.
Zion had just been diagnosed with autism, and he spent most of his time in a stone-cold stupor. He was not reacting to people or situations. It was hard to tell if he was even processing anything. I could say his name 30 times in a row, and he still wouldn’t turn to look at me.
It was beyond demoralizing.
I didn’t know how to reach him. And I wasn’t sure anyone else could, either.
A few so-called professionals told me he may never speak. Or engage. Or process things the way you and I do.
So let me fully explain how wondrous it is to hear this little gorgeous boy say something as simple as “bless you.”
It means that he isn’t locked inside himself anymore. He is out here with the rest of us, participating in life. He is listening, absorbing, engaging, processing and reacting. Every tiny stimuli from the universe is being received by this wondrous human transmitter, and he is able to process and respond appropriately…without being prompted.
For years and years we couldn’t get Zion to talk on the phone. We would put the phone up to his ear, but he wouldn’t say anything.
I would try my best to get him to say hello to people, he just wasn’t having it. Just one word buddy, just….one…..word!
But here recently he has become quite the chatter bug, and loves to call me when he is at his grandma’s house…to tell me that he has pooped.
This is the way the conversation goes:
Zion: How are you?
Me: I’m good, how are you?
Z: (at the top of his high-pitched lungs) I poop in the potty!
Me: Good job buddy!
Z: My tummy feels better!
Me: I’m so happy for you, buddy.
Z: I love you, mama. Good night.
Me: Good night Zion.
Same conversation. Every single time. Same inflection, same excitement, exact same words.
And I’ll take it.
Last week at the Goodwill store, (Zion’s favorite place on earth because of their constant huge selection of Disney movies) we walked up to the cash register and there were 4 people in line in front of us.
Zion looked up at me with a fair amount of anxiety in his precious little face, and said “And now we go wait.”
Yes, yes we do.
I detest lines as much as the next person, but I at least have the capacity to wait without having a meltdown.
There was certainly a time when Zion did not possess the ability to wait.
Flashback to Zion’s worst meltdown of all time. He was probably about 4 years old. He had marched stoically, quietly, even coldly into the store, saying nothing. He showed no expression the entire time we were there, not even when he picked up a bag of Tootsie Roll Pops.
Well, he did cradle them like a lover. But other than that….stoic.
When we got to the front of the store to check-out, there were maybe 2 people in front of us.
Now….what I should have done was open the bag, give him a sucker, and pray for peace. Instead what I did was to say the words, “We have to wait.”
Oh, but I did.
Zion chucked that bag of suckers as far and as hard as he could, and threw himself down so hard on the ground that he hit his head. He was kicking, flailing, screaming. He proceeded to scream and cry and roll around until he had upset himself so much, that he threw up.
So to remember that moment, and then watch my son wait quietly in line behind 4 people, I learn to count my blessings.
When it was our turn at the cash register, Zion held his hand right up and waved at the cashier, saying “Good morning! I get the movies!”
The man didn’t even respond.
The cashier-eating mama bear in me wanted to smack him in his face. Don’t you realize the gift you have just been given? This child chose to behave and wait and then show kindness to you, when he could have drop-kicked you in the jittles, overturned half the store, and lay waste to the valley.
One of my dearest old friends from high school church camp messaged me this week on Facebook to tell me that her toddler had been diagnosed with autism. Hearing that news never gets any easier, and I still drop my face into my hands and cry every single time as though it were my own child all over again.
It’s a heartbreak and an unclimbable mountain today. But it won’t always be that way.
Ten years ago I couldn’t have imagined our life the way it is today. I was so absorbed in the new diagnosis, the enormity of it all, that I couldn’t find hope.
But hope is there, whether or not you can find it at the time. And it will come to you.
You will look at your child, day after day, wondering if he is in there. Wondering if the therapy is working. Wondering if any of it is getting through.
And then one day something so little will happen that is not little to you at all, and you will know that your child is growing and changing and learning to come out of himself.
You will sneeze, and he will say “bless you,” and your heart will soar like never before.
As I sit and admire my son and the wonder of him, I am blatantly basking in the afterglow of him blessing my sneeze.
I am so full of love at this moment.
We’ve come this far. Think of how much further he will go!
Suddenly I feel another sneeze coming on.
Zion looks up and smiles.
“Bless you, mama.”
No son, bless you.