I didn’t notice you when I first arrived at the local aquatic centre. Amongst the usual commotion of scuttling children and bustling parents, I was too distracted by my two excited little boys, each racing off in different directions.
Although I’m at the pool every Wednesday afternoon, taking my sons to their swimming lessons, today was the first time I’d seen you there. You and your remarkable daughter.
I was sitting alongside the pool, attentively watching my eldest boy at one end practising his freestyle stroke, and my youngest at the other end blowing bubbles under the water. You probably didn’t notice me, lined up with all the other mothers.
But I noticed you.
You were nearby, in the warm water therapy pool with her. With your intriguing daughter, who was looking only at you, but not really seeing you. With your beautiful daughter, who, with my somewhat medically-trained eyes, was living with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), and in another world. But that’s not what made you stand out to me.
The brightly dressed lifeguards were busy patrolling the lap pools, and the lesson pools, and the free-play pools, and the wading pools. Kids of all ages and sizes. Parents of all ages and sizes. The lifeguards didn’t bother you. They didn’t attend the therapy pool. Amidst the chaos, you and your daughter had all the time, all the space, and all the calm you came for. But that’s not what made you stand out to me.
Your daughter’s intense face was framed by a short and flattering hairstyle. I wondered how bearable it had been for her, with ASD, to sit still in the hairdresser’s chair. I wondered how well she had tolerated the hairdresser’s touch. And I wondered if she recognised the effort you put in to her appearance. But that’s not what made you stand out to me.
You held her and moved her, letting the water soothe her senses. Your intimate connection, born from years of close care, was obvious, even without your touch. But you looked tired. And you looked worn. Even as a mother myself, I knew I could never comprehend your tiredness. Nor your life. But that’s not what made you stand out to me.
What made you stand out to me, and what I admired more than anything else, was your strength.
Because not only were you a mother at the pool with your autistic daughter, but your daughter was in her forties, and you in your seventies.
Your life as a parent has been so different from most. Your journey as a mother unrecognisable to most. How many tears have you cried for the sake of your daughter? And how many dreams have you put aside?
Although it may not be the motherhood that you would have chosen, it’s a motherhood that you have courageously embraced.
Time drew in and you gently helped your daughter out of the pool, just as I did with my boys after their lessons. Your daughter became distressed when being led towards the rinsing showers, and it took you a long time to coax her under the spray, while my boys dashed in and out of their own showers in childish delight. And you eventually urged your daughter quietly into the change rooms, as we noisily made our way into ours.
In the car park I passed you once more, tenderly leading your daughter towards the car. While I silently applauded your patience and grace, my boys whooped their way over to the nearby playground. By the time I dragged them away from the swings, you had finally settled your daughter into the backseat.
And then, as you buckled your adult daughter into her seat and I buckled my young sons into theirs, it was obvious that we were mothers side by side but worlds apart.
We drove our separate ways, but you still filled my mind. What does a home with ASD hold for you? What does a tomorrow with ASD hold for you?
Your daughter may never be able to appreciate how much you do for her. And how much you care. She may never know how truly lucky she is to have a mother like you.
But I want you to know that I do.