Job Description

There have been thousand upon thousands of essays written about what it is like to be a parent. We write about our strong-willed children, our shy children, our wild children. Tales are told about what it is like to raise a child who is differently-abled, a child who is gifted, a child with amazing athletic ability. When we talk about raising our kids, parents usually say that they want to raise good, kind humans, but while we are all looking for the same finish line, we are all running a very different race.

From the moment I heard about PJ's Autism diagnosis, I assumed I would take on the Mama Bear role. Want to suggest he can't do something? Want to try and keep him from services he deserves? Want to exclude him? I would be fighting it with claws out and bear strength. And I won't lie- sometimes being a Bear is fucking hard. When PJ was first diagnosed, I had so much to learn about the hats I would wear. One example was learning that gathering him up in my arms when he was upset was not always the best thing for him, no matter how much I wanted to shed my bear suit and be a regular Mama. Being both advocate and parent to your child is a tricky thing,

So, fast-forward to six years later. My bear suit had come on for school districts, teachers, insurance companies, other children...really, anyone who seemed to keep my son from reaching as far as I knew he could. I thought it was just what you did. Something in the way? Knock it down. That's the job.

Last month, I was watching the Olympics and catching up on work notes when I heard the strains of a song during a commercial. I rewound to watch it again, and the sweet voice of JJ Heller floated over a montage of tiny future Olympic athletes as they fell on skates, tumbled on skis, and endured teasing from competitors. Each time, their mom was there to soothe their bumps and bruises, warm freezing hands, and offer snuggles and words of love and encouragement.

"Go after your dreams, crazy as they may seem.
Go chase all the stars in the sky.
Baby, I'll be paving the runway
 'cause I know that one day you're gonna fly."

I pressed "Rewind" and watched the commercial again, a few times. I felt my eyes fill with tears, knowing what it is like to watch your child struggle. I could relate to these television commercial mamas who picked up their babies and let them take another shot at the very thing that hurt them. Plus, tiny kids on skis. I mean, really.

I listened to the song as it floated over the pictures. I grabbed my phone and in a minute, the song, Paving the Runway, was downloaded. JJ Heller's song now in my hand, I realized my job description as PJ's mom. I had the verbiage all wrong. I am not a Bear or a Warrior. Those words write a narrative that speaks of being adversarial or at war with this thing that is a part of my son or, more often than not, with the people who surround him. My job is to pave his runway, making sure that every opportunity, every experience, and every chance to learn is right under his feet, and I'll pave his runway until he's ready to take off.

"Paving the runway" became my mantra over the next few days. I listened to the song over and over. But, I can't just have a mantra like a normal person. I needed it with me. So...

I know. I have no chill. Normal people would have stopped at downloading the song. But something about the lyrics were so important to me that I knew I needed a reminder. When I am at a meeting that is making me crazy, when I am frustrated with so much therapy, when I am working so hard to make everything right, I just need to glance down and remember. PJ is going to fly. I'm just paving his runway.

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