Not long ago I wrote about how my son never joins us at the table to eat. Not for breakfast or lunch or dinner. I wrote about how he chooses to eat alone. It has been his way since he was a toddler. His autism and sensory issues always made it difficult for him to join us at the table. Still, I always extended him an invitation and made sure he knew he was always welcomed.
But something’s been happening with Emilio lately that is nothing short of awesome and pure delight. I’ve been noticing such a change in him these last few weeks that I can hardly contain my excitement. A tremendous shift in his emotional and mental maturity.
The first subtle change was a few weeks ago at Easter. We had a family gathering and this is when Emilio decided to be part of the celebration. In the past, he would be pacing all over the house and eating on his own. Not this time. This time he decided to sit at the table with the rest of his cousins and he even sat with them in the living room afterwards. He was engaged with everyone talking around him. Seeing him sitting there, wanting to be there and having no need to seclude himself from all the loud talking and noise, marked a significant milestone for him.
The second big change was last Tuesday when he walked through the front door and announced he wanted to go camping with his school. I always encouraged him to go to this annual event but he always refused. “I’m not ready”, was his response. But this year he proudly declared he was ready and that he’s really looking forward to going.
The third monumental change was yesterday while we were having our Mother’s Day lunch with my parents and the rest of the family. As usual, I had set up a place for him at the table but this time, much to my surprise, he sat down with us and when his uncle offered him some baby back ribs (something he has never tried) he said “sure”. Not only did he eat it but he helped himself to two more and an egg roll! Him joining us at the table on his own free will, plus happily eating a variety of different food he’s never had before, didn’t go unnoticed by everyone sitting at that table.
Of course, as it is with my son, we cannot show any form of excitement because that will only throw him off. Instead, we have to celebrate in silence, each one of us making eye contact with one another and mouthing “oh my god!”. Legs are being kicked under the table with mummers of “are you seeing this?” My heart felt like it was about to explode.
He lingered with us at the table long after he finished eating. He only got up when he saw me getting up to clear the dishes.
And just like that he found his way to our table – to his table where I always made room for him.
It’s been a long journey for him to find his way to his table. He tried many times but he always walked away in the end. It was always too difficult for him. I had many people who had good intentions, pointing out what I was doing wrong. I should be more forceful with him. Don’t give him a choice, tell him he HAS to sit at the table or else no food for him. If I don’t put my foot down now, he’ll be calling the shots all the time after.
But I know my son and I know he’ll do something when he’s ready. As long as he knows he’s being heard, he’s understood, that his challenges, both big and small, are valid and respected, I knew he would eventually find his way. He always has.
Milestones don’t always come in a graduation gown and cap. They don’t always come with a drivers license or tickets for your first unchaperoned spring break vacation with friends. Milestones can show up at any time and sometimes for a fraction of a second. They’re still valid. They’re still milestones.
Milestones can show up on a lazy afternoon when your child spontaneously asks you for something to eat or drink without prompting. They can disguise themselves as ordinary moments but you know all too well there isn’t anything ordinary about it. They don’t come with a specific timeline, so we don’t know when, where or how they will show up. But they do show up and when they do, it’s extremely overwhelming.
I’ve wondered many times if my son really understood when I told him there is always room at the table for him. Well, today he’s shown me that he has always understood. He slipped into his chair with all the comfort in the world, like he’s been sitting there the whole time. An open invitation he knew was there waiting for him, anytime he was ready, and that he would never be judged for it.
He sat with us long after we finished eating, no longer trying to escape a situation that once brought him great discomfort.
Today this table unites him with us in another way. Today this table brings him joy and as his mother, I am incredibly elated and proud at how far he has come.
Thanks for stopping by….