How Humor Saved Me After A Life-Changing Diagnosis

by Pavi Raman
Pavithra Raman

I always thought I would be this perfect mom. I pictured myself lounging in the backyard with my bright eyed little baby, both of us contently playing with finger paints for hours before heading inside for a healthy snack of fruit and Greek yogurt. My child would look at me with wondrous love and I would smile back with an elegant toss of my head as I perused my idea book for our next hands-on activity. The late-afternoon sun would filter in just so, and my whole life would be lit with that warm sepia glow of a successful motherhood experience.

*Record scratch*

*Freeze frame*

Voice over narrator: “Yeah, that’s definitely not what happened!”

I had my son, postpartum anxiety, and a world of guilt for not being the mom I thought I would be. I constantly critiqued myself for every choice I made, every parenting crossroads, and every time my chunky baby tripped over his chubby wubby feet (mostly because of me). I hated that I was neither elegantly tossing my head, nor raising a child who ate only organic fruits (handpicked by angels at the first break of dawn). I wanted to be close to perfect, dammit, and I was laughably…..well…not. I had this cute-as-a-button child, and I was a hot mess.

Flash forward to April 2012. Button was 20 months old, newly diagnosed with autism (bonus points if you rightly guessed that I blamed myself for that) and I was staring at a new world of therapy and appointments and special education. I looked at him, still chunky and still beautiful — happily flapping his hands, unaware of that sheer terror in my heart.

That’s when I had my first parenting AHA! moment. This child of mine is not a statistic. He may be autistic and he may need a ton of help everyday, but he is mine to mold. No autism book will ever completely describe him, and no therapist will limit his potential. Only I decide how hard I need to work for him and to be his voice until he finds his own. Only I (and his amazing dad) can determine how to parent him. That knowledge of the power I held in my trembling hands gave me the courage and the will to start most days, ready to fight.

That’s not to say that I’m supermom. I do not wake up all glowy and perfectly adjusted. Most days, I’m a drooling zombie until my coffee has kicked in and I’ve had 10 quiet minutes to myself. But what I do possess in spades is a kick ass sense of humor. I swear plentifully and generously and I am not miserly with my snark.

Every time I feel that familiar dread settle into my bones, I pull out that trusty funny bone (see what I did there) and the world stops spinning momentarily. There is no situation that a joke cannot diffuse (maybe except labor and delivery — that bad boy can really shake you up). And as long as I have that, I’m a-okay.

My boy thankfully has the same goofiness in him. He learns by being silly, and if tickles were dollars… gosh he would be the 10th richest kid in the world. He has this infectious giggle that rises from his belly, and soon all of us are cackling with him. I’m hoping that, as he matures, he never loses this ability to see the humor in everything around him. He laughs at farts and falls, at bumper cars and bubbles popping comically on his nose. And honestly, my heart — it grows a few sizes, every time I see his face about to break into this big, unabashed smile.

The other day, I chatted with this mom of a little girl. Turns out, they had just received a diagnosis of autism and understandably they were terrified and lost. “What does she like to do? Does she like to play with blocks or puzzles? Maybe Play-Doh?”

“Oh, not really, Pavi,” the mom replied. “She’s still not into toys. But she loves to bounce on our couch and laugh.”

“Well there you go, then! Bounce next to her and giggle with her. Hold her hands and spin her around and watch her light up! Use her magical ability to laugh and mold it into a superpower! Try it and see how happy it makes the both of you!”

I may not be teaching my son five languages or how to perfect his table manners, but that’s okay. I’m not mass producing an ideal child who will please everyone around him. Instead, I find myself raising this silly, bright eyed goofball, who loves to play and find joy within and around himself.

No matter what highs and lows our day brings , one of the perks of having a sense of humor — we always go to sleep with a smile on our faces.