Sometimes I feel overwhelmed when I compare my own home school with others. This happens most often at home school gatherings—conferences, field trips, support group meetings. I tearfully watch mother hens surrounded by broods of quiet chicks, and I wonder, “What is that like?” I will never know so many of the experiences of the average home schooler. I cannot sit for hours on a cold winter day, snuggled under a pile of blankets on the couch with all my children sitting quietly around me, peacefully sipping hot chocolate and reading book after book.
In those discouraged moments, I am drawn back to a realization of who I am. I did not choose this life. I am a chosen one. I have been blessed, entrusted with a fragile gift, the responsibility of raising a challenged child.
My emotional release comes through writing. In one of those moments of despair several years ago, I wrote an essay, its conclusion writing itself. I reread it when I am discouraged. I share it with you now. If you do not have a disabled child, perhaps it will give you a glimpse into my world. If you are like me, a chosen parent, even if your child’s needs are different than my child’s, may you be blessed to take a ride on the roller coaster of my life.
Of Windmills and Roller Coasters
A story circulates among parents of special needs children, one that is meant to encourage them and give them hope. The story tells of a couple who planned a trip to Rome, learning the language and customs, studying the history, choosing the sites to see. They finally embarked on this trip, and when the plane landed, they were alarmed to hear the airline attendant say, “Welcome to Holland!” The language was different. The sites were not the same. The history was less familiar to them. They were in shock, unable to enjoy themselves because they were not in the place they expected to be.
Eventually, though, they learned to speak the language. They came to appreciate Holland for its windmills and beautiful flowers, for the slower pace of life afforded by not being in a commonly visited place like Rome. They reached a point not only of acceptance but also of finding joy in where they had landed. The intention of the story is that parents of disabled children will see that they, too, can accept their children’s slower developmental pace and learn to appreciate life’s beauty in that setting.
Homeschooling an autistic child has not been at all like the experience described in this essay. I suspect that there are other disabilities that are similar to the Rome vs. Holland comparison, but autism is not one of them.
I like to compare my experience to an amusement park. I get in a long line of people, thinking I am waiting to get on the merry-go-round. It is a familiar, safe ride. All the animals look pretty much the same, none of them truly dangerous, all going the same direction. With the exception of some that move up and down while others stand still, they all make the trip around the circle in pretty much the same fashion. That is a ride I can appreciate—safe, fun, smooth, easy, gentle.
When I arrive at the front of the line, however, I discover that this line does not take me to the merry-go-round. Instead, I am seated and strapped into the wildest, fastest roller coaster in the park. As the coaster now makes its twists and turns, I can look down and see the merry-go-round blithely making its trips around the center post, its riders relatively oblivious to the experiences I am having, except to occasionally look up and say, “I could never ride that thing. It looks too intense for me.”
Meanwhile, I wait breathlessly at the top of a hill, knowing that at any second the slow clicking of the back of the train getting over the hill will stop, and we will dash wildly into a valley the bottom of which I cannot see, because the angle is too steep. As the bottom approaches, will we rise to another hilltop, or will we twist almost violently into another turn, a complete reversal of direction? Only the designer knows for sure, and it is his skill that I must trust.
Just as a roller coaster’s design is carefully examined before it is ever built; just as it is tested multiple times for speed, efficiency, and safety before riders ever get into the seats for the first time; so also this roller coaster called Parenting a Child with Autism is familiar to the One who saves and protects me as I travel its rails. I do not accuse Him of designing a ride that is unfair or unjust. I do know, though, that He is able to save me, to protect me, and to bring me safely to the end of the ride one day. And just as I get off thrilling roller coasters at amusement parks with a great appreciation for the designers whose skills brought me a few moments of excitement, so also I can survive the scary moments of this coaster, knowing that, in the end, I will have a great appreciation for the Designer Whose skills brought me safely to the end of this ride, Who gave me more thrills than the greatest roller coaster a man could ever build.