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Agatha All Along


I stood at the sink rinsing a fresh bunch of grapes, a task now ritualized through repetition. Each little orb was faithfully removed from its stem, some surrendering willingly, some clinging fiercely. The act of meticulously removing fruit from vine was oft-rehearsed, but it remained a chore accompanied by such disquiet that breath was habitually suspended, lest some errant wind-born particle spoil the mercurial endeavor. These particular grapes, though, seemingly held some mysterious secret revealed through their very liberation. As the tap water washed over the now-untethered fruit, an uncustomary bodily awareness washed over me, reconnecting me to the moment. I found my breath, and mercy found me.


There is a sort of emancipation celebrated by parents universally as their toddler masters mastication to the degree that cutting grapes in half is no longer a life-preserving necessity—an invisible load unexpectedly lightened, if ever so slightly. No longer beholden to the duty of removing each fruit one-by-one, a parent’s produce drawer bestowing an intact bunch of grapes stands as testament to the successful rearing of one’s child. Alas, the rinsing and storing of grapes in bunch formation was one facet of suburban household banality that was to forsake us.


At the threshold of her whole-grape eating journey, Emaline was firmly entrenched in her role as connoisseur of fussiness. She was wholly horrified by even a whisper of woody tether. No stem fragment could dare linger, no flesh appear the slightest bit askew. The serving of fruit, once promising, would be condemned entirely. Indeed, the meal itself would draw to an abrupt close, a plate of one mother’s desperate hopes rejected and left behind.


“You have to set the rules. If you want her to eat, you have to make her,” rang the familial chorus of opinion. Here the burden of blame was hoisted firmly on my shoulders. It was my inability to execute the duties of a good parent. Just make her eat. I would not demand that she deny her own bodily autonomy. I would instead set out for myself an odyssey of emotional exhaustion and physical fatigue navigating every capricious requirement that might allow her to eat. You have to control the situation to control the outcome. And still, no hallowed scroll of mommy-blog wisdom (be they free or paid), no medical professional or licensed counselor, no amount of radical acceptance would prove successful at repairing her relationship with food. And so it went, a truth to become carved in stone—I am a failure.


All of the struggle, the self-flagellation, the worry and weariness and second-guessing. The moments of darkness that convinced me that she was better off without me. I never recognized all that I carried, but it was no less my steadfast companion. I was a failure, and she, my littlest hero, bore the weight of my inadequacy.


Disney, April 2022. A forced smile concealing that I had just been sobbing behind sunglasses because I wanted so desperately to stop existing and inflicting any more pain and ineffectual parenting on my children

Except. There were signs. Little breadcrumbs that had been scattered along the way—the meltdown over a new pair of shoes, the flaring temper over clothing, the protests against music that was too loud, the refusal of any outdoor activity because it was too bright and too hot, and the newest one, covering her ears in crowded places—not mere breadcrumbs after all. They were the trail markers, signposts pointing toward a bigger truth.


And so, the grape encounter. As I stood there with hands immersed in water, I was suddenly engulfed by an unfamiliar but no less definitive observation: I can let go. A seemingly mundane affair turned into a watershed moment as self-compassion and grace flowed over me. The unwavering chorus, "It was me all along," reconfigured into a new refrain. Emaline’s recent diagnosis has been a validation that has eased my heart and washed away those painful convictions. So today I know, it was autism all along.

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