I woke up, half-dazed, to the sound of Cailyn screaming in her room. I glanced at the clock…just after 5:00 AM. Amber had already left to go work out so I was on my own. We didn’t get to bed until late the night before because Cailyn fought sleep and screamed herself to sleep. Of all the days to have an important (and early) meeting.
She asked to go downstairs and watch “Nemo” so I took her to the basement, got her a small breakfast and went upstairs to get ready for work…and now I was running late. Minutes after I hop in the shower, I hear screaming and banging again. I jump out with shampoo still in my hair, throw on a towel and run out to Cailyn screaming for fruit snacks.
“No, Cailyn. Eat your breakfast and go downstairs, you’re going to wake up your brother.” I say firmly, but quietly, as I usher her back down to the basement.
“FRUIT SNACKS!” Cailyn yells, as she immediately begins hitting her chin, stomping her feet and screaming at the top of her lungs. I start to walk back up the stairs, when suddenly I’m face to face with Dalton, who is standing there holding his stuffed dog by the tail.
“Daddy, I couldn’t sleep. Sissy was loud. Can I have fruit snacks too?”
Cailyn sat on the bottom step and just kept yelling.
“FRUIT SNACK! FRUIT SNACK! FRUIT SNACK!” Each successive rang louder in my ears, yet I could hear my own heart beating.
“QUIET!” I yelled, myself, cutting the entire scene with silence. “FINE!”
I walked over to the cabinet, pulled out a bag of fruit snacks and threw it at the wall and it slid down the stairs.
“I DON’T CARE ANYMORE! TAKE EVERYTHING YOU WANT! ROT YOUR TEETH, BE SPOILED, OR WHATEVER! JUST PLEASE, FOR THE LOVE OF ALL THAT IS GOOD AND HOLY, SHUT YOUR MOUTH!”
I turned around and went back to the bathroom, imagining that both kids were just standing there scared and watching me leave them.
On my way to work, my mood was’t helped by the traffic. After repeatedly watching a car change lanes, slow down and turn their signal on, only to speed up and then cut immediately in front of me to turn, I had enough. I laid on my horn and started screaming again.
“WHAT IS YOUR PROBLEM?! YOU HAVE NO FREAKING CLUE WHAT YOU’RE DOING! CAN YOU GET ANYTHING RIGHT?! AHHHHHHHHHHHH!” If anyone were in the vehicle with me, they would be sure I was having a breakdown. This was the culmination of what I term a “dark period” in my life; One that would soon bring me to beg for help from my wife. I was only partially yelling at the car. I was partially yelling at Cailyn…I was mostly yelling at myself.
Later, after I came home from work, it was time to push Dalton to practice riding his bike. Dalton is a perfectionist and demands a lot from himself, just like his father. He hated riding that bike because he was embarrassed but I’d watch him admiring the kids across the street. He wanted it so badly. Just as things were going well, I watched his foot slip off the pedal. Then came the ensuing meltdown, as he yelled and started to walk off.
“I JUST DON’T CARE! I’M NOT GOOD AND I DON’T WANT TO RIDE THE BIKE EVER!” he yelled, nose scrunched, eyes wet, and face red.
“Dalton, you can’t quit because you messed up. You just don’t know how to do it yet. You have to be patient and practice. Someday, you’ll be good at this and you’ll be so glad that you didn’t give up.” At this point, I realized the irony of the conversation and, choked up, I struggled to finish. “It’s okay to mess up. It’s never okay to stop caring…to stop trying.”
It’s hard to hear people say that I’m a good dad or that Cailyn is blessed to have me. Most people who say that will never spend more than a couple hours around us with Cailyn. I go back and re-read my own advice, philosophies, and stories and don’t always recognize the person talking. Posts are so infrequent because the path to each success is covered in scars. Looking back, I sometimes feel like I’m being chastised by a better version of me, ridiculed as a failure, completely incompetent…an abject hypocrite.
The truth is that perfection doesn’t exist, nor does fate. Life is messy. One of the most damaging myths, especially in the church, is that there is one perfect path or destiny. We grow to believe that, if we make the right decisions, there will be a current that ushers us to immediate and lasting success. It doesn’t prepare us for the struggle and too many quit when they fall. There are no 15 minute abs or miracle muscle pills, and there is no superhighway to your happiness.
Not everyone has a child with Autism. Some are losing their marriage, their job, or their health. Others have lost a sense of purpose and feel like they’ve missed the only on ramp that would lead there. In reality, the past is over and you haven’t missed the boat. Each day, we are called anew; Called to learn from the pain and respond by being better in the now. Even if you fell yesterday, you can only fail today.
It’s not easy for a perfectionist to publish their struggles but it’s one of the last remaining meaningful broadcasts. In a world, where everyone is their own brand, we crave transparency. There is beauty in the fall, because our own hope hinges on the redemption of the inherently imperfect.
Autism is just another facet of this imperfection; a view into a tainted life and world, that would otherwise be exposed through another lens. Normal is an illusion and perfection is a lie. Your satisfaction with life will never be dictated by external happenstance, but by your willingness to rise above it.
My rise began when I came to the realization that Cailyn isn’t the reason I fall short…she’s one of the only challenges that I’ve ever loved enough to face the fear of standing back up.