Happiness is a mental and emotional state of well-being. I’d venture to say most people strive for it. But during a dark night of the soul, happiness can be elusive, barely making an appearance. And that’s why moments that matter are so important during these phases. Even a flicker of light makes an impact. Keeps your soul company in the trenches.
I experienced a dark night of the soul when my daughter turned eighteen months.
Up until this point in time, my life as a mother appeared in the typical zone. I felt connected to my daughter, Summer, and she reciprocated the love with cooing, eye contact, laughter. She crawled at six months and walked at eleven months. Indeed, she charmed my every moment, and not so much by what she could or couldn’t do. But, rather, who she was–the sweetest of souls. However, I never anticipated that nearing eighteen months the only word she would speak was mama.
Oftentimes, I fast-forward in memory through five long and stressful years of conflicting diagnoses from specialists. Perhaps Autism. Maybe Dyspraxia. Potentially Selective Mutism. But I always return to the beginning. For without a beginning, a story hasn’t the chance to develop, grow, evolve. Neither can a soul.
In October, 2011, an early childhood specialist evaluated Summer in our home. The week before Summer was hospitalized for Pneumonia for three days, so my emotions were already frazzled. Then, the therapist spoke these words. Red flags for Autism.
AUTISM, AUTISM, AUTISM.
Fear echoed the word into dark cavernous spaces of my being. My heart collapsed, and Fear seemed more than eager to trample it. In fact, Fear then raced to my mind and took up residence as a fortune teller. Murmured all sorts of dire predictions. I whispered back. She’s an only child. What will happen to her when I die? Who will take care of her? How will this cruel world accept my child? At the time I wasn’t fully educated about autism. Of course, Fear loves to feed on the unenlightened. So, it did.
During my private time, I dipped into this darkness and experienced it. I allowed worry and pain to sear my soul like a lightning bolt. I cried a lot when alone. In doing so, each time a droplet of Fear left me. It turned weaker, smaller…fear. And over time, the crying lessened as I nursed faith that a flicker of light would appear and guide me to serenity. Tell me that my daughter and our family would be more than OK in this world.
Unexpectedly that light did arrive a year later in the form of a red balloon.
You see, my daughter’s favorite book at that time was Pip and Posy: The Big Balloon by a wonderful British author, Alex Scheffler. When Pip, a lovable rabbit, accidentally releases his big red balloon, he and Posy, a sweet mouse, chase it through town. As I read this book to Summer, she always smiled. However, I wasn’t sure that she followed the plot since she still wasn’t speaking. But on a magical Valentine’s Day, she pointed with excitement to a red balloon in a grocery store. She then walked to the balloon and touched it as happiness bounced for joy in her little body. Immediately, I bought it for her.
Once we stepped outside, she stopped, smiled wide and free as the cool wind. Then, she…LET GO! The enchantment in her eyes spoke for her. I translated her soul-speak into these words.
Come on, mom. Let’s chase it…like Pip and Posy!
Of course, I beamed back. She wished to reenact her favorite story. Quickly, I tugged her hand and we were off! Together, mother and daughter, raced along the sidewalk, laughing so loud, in gleeful pursuit of that big red balloon. We passed the parking lot. Crossed the street. Kept going, and going, and going. We didn’t stop running until the red balloon floated away over a patch of open field to parts unknown.
In that delectable moment, happiness flooded every piece of me. Gratitude streamed in tears. And fear quivered in hiding. I was free. We both were.
Parents of typical children may hold a suitcase of memories in this vein during a child’s formative years. For special needs parents, sometimes memories of this nature can feel few and far between, especially while dealing with the beginning of your child’s diagnosis. But the imprint a red balloon moment leaves behind remains so indelible and rich, so larger than life, that it more than makes up for all the moments you thought should have happened.
Instead, it becomes as lovely, light, and colorful as the red balloon that drifts off to parts unknown; but is blessed for having known you for that one heartbeat.
Undoubtedly, that red balloon served as the flicker of light in my soul. It resuscitated and floated my heart to happiness. From that point forward, I embarked on the journey of seeing and knowing my daughter on a deeper level. And while our life still meets obstacles, love and happiness rank above them.
If you are a mom at the beginning of this complex journey to diagnosis and acceptance, give yourself a pass. Let Fear happen if that’s what comes first. Forgive it. Because we are humans and mothers and worriers and wonders. Trust me, you will defeat it.
And what comes next, you don’t want to miss it. The gifts gained and gleaned from your child will grow your soul into its most beautiful incarnation. You will move into the seeing and knowing zone. Your child will bless you in a million ways, and Love will anoint you a warrior as you advocate for him or her in this world.
Until your red balloon moment happens, hold on.
All will be well.
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Cry, my love, cry like you never have before. The sky paints beauty for those broken enough to feel.
The soul welcomes the bluest night, aware that light will return.
Love smiles and then lets go.
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Your moments here matter to me. Warm wishes and gratitude…always.