Walking Hand in Hand with My Son at the Zoo – Finding Cooper’s Voice

Yesterday, I went on a field trip to the Minnesota Zoo with my oldest son Cooper and his class.

It was pretty amazing really.

He is 13 and autistic and it’s a really big deal that his class goes on field trips because not all special education programs do. But it’s so good. It’s so good for the kids and the community and the businesses and the parents.

Cooper and I walked together every second of the way. We held hands or he held onto my arm. He was never out of my sight.

Let me tell you he did amazing.

I can’t believe how far he has come in situations that used to be impossible.

As we wandered I found myself wondering. Wondering if it will always be this way…the two of us. A mother and son the same height. Walking along. Communicating in their own language. Near but far from the people.

With my second son I find myself walking by my myself these days. He’s always running ahead or lost in a sea of friends. And when he does hold his old mom’s hand I take note because I know deep down it’s coming to an end.

My third, he is my truly independent, want to grow up immediately, I do it myself mama, son. He hasn’t needed me for years. And he is only three. He has always climbed to the tallest slide and ran down the road after the neighborhood kids.

But not my Cooper. He has always needed me differently.

When he was a toddler, I followed behind because wandering was his favorite. At four I climbed through the McDonald’s Play Palace. At five, I hid under a table with him during Christmas dinner. At six I held his hands around a plastic bat during Miracle League and ran the bases with him in tow.

At nearly 41, I always get in the pool. I still slide down every slide, although my knees are starting to feel it more these days. And I lower myself to the ground during a meltdown to keep him safe.

I encourage. I help him communicate with other kids. I am a buffer of sound. A gasp at trains. I lead the way. I follow behind.

And I watch the other parents. In the beginning, I remember I used to feel jealous. Wishing I could stand with a coffee in hand watching my kids play. And as the years went on, I wish I could sit in the lobby of Speech Therapy and relax on my phone instead of helping the therapist engage with my son.

It’s different now. I am different. He is different. And yet in the smallest ways we may seem frozen. Together. His body getting bigger. The wrinkles on my face appearing.

His progress is undeniable though. Because we got to go to the zoo. With people who understand our life. And we got to have a fun day.

I don’t know if I will ever be the mom who sits, even though there are days I wish I could. I don’t think that is my role in this story.

And that’s okay. Because truly, honestly, I have never been prouder of him.

Because we went to the zoo. And I got to be there.

Finding Cooper’s Voice is a safe, humorous, caring and honest place where you can celebrate the unique challenges of parenting a special needs child. Because you’re never alone in the struggles you face. And once you find your people, your allies, your village….all the challenges and struggles will seem just a little bit easier. Welcome to our journey. You can also follow us on Facebook.


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