Defining Resilience


I would say that raising a child with autism while serving in the military would fit the definition quite well.

Resilience. I remember a good friend of mine sitting with me during a briefing, encouraging Army spouses to be more resilient and mentioning that our children were some of the most resilient individuals around. She reached over and whispered in my ear, “I hate the word resilient.” She had so much distaste for the word that I could feel the puff of air from her mouth push my hair from my cheek as she whispered the word, “hate.” The funny thing was that I already knew why she detested it so much. The word “resilience” has been thrown around the military world so much to the point where we numb ourselves to the true meaning of the word.

I heard it first when I received news back in 2005 that my husband would not be coming home from Iraq after a yearlong deployment. Instead, he would be extended for an unknown length of time. I was told that my family needed to be resilient even though my husband was supposed to be home in 10 days. Hayden had turned two and Broden was an infant at the time. I guess I should have just focused on the fact that Mark was lucky enough to have seen Broden two weeks after he was born.

According to the Merriam Webster definition, resilience means the “ability to recover from or adjust easily to misfortune or change.” Chewing on the definition after reading it three or four times, I would say that raising a child with autism while serving in the military would fit that description quite well.

I’ll have to admit, I’m grateful that my husband is not deployed at this time because we have had to move out of our house twice in one month due to leaky pipes and asbestos. There are so many positive aspects with living on post, but there are a few negatives that come lurking around from time to time. Mark and I were worried about Broden when we found out that we had to move for the second time in one month. We briefed Hayden on the plan that once Mark got the keys to temporary housing, we needed to start packing so we could get settled and ready for the school week. I started to help Hayden pack and talked with him on what he would need for the next few days. With gym twice a week and cross-country practice, packing was a little bit more difficult for him. I threw a pile of shorts, t-shirts, flip-flops, and some workout clothes on the bed in a big pile for me. I figured the boys were the priority.

I saved Broden for last. I slowly opened the door and peeked my head in to see if he was in his bed or in his teepee. Broden sat up out of his bed and asked, “Going to new house?” I explained to him that we would stay in a new house, but then be back to our “real” house in a few days, just like we did a few weeks ago. I grabbed a backpack and he started to pack his favorite toys in his bag, including his fart book. We couldn’t forget his fart book.

It took us a few hours to get settled into the new house. The boys were late to bed, but at least they wouldn’t have to move while getting ready for school that day. The morning came way too quickly. After dragging myself out of bed and slurping a cup of coffee down, I started to get the boys up. I dragged Hayden to the bathroom for him to take a shower.

After Hayden finished up in the bathroom, I tiptoed into Broden’s temporary room and rubbed his back trying to get him up. He slowly opened his eyes, but then looked angry and slammed his hand down against the bed. He rolled over and put his back to me. I sat down next to him and reminded him that we have to keep going. I told him that even though he was tired, he still needed to go to school. He rolled back over and opened his eyes again and gave me an exhausted stare. I knew what he was feeling. I was tired of living in temporary housing too.

Those were the moments where the word “resilient” are defined. A child with autism was sleeping in a bed that was not his and being asked to walk into a bathroom and sit in a bathtub that was not his. He was tired from getting less sleep than he usually did and was still asked to perform as if nothing in his life had changed when, in fact, so much had changed that morning.

Frankly, I was close to saying “screw it” and let the boys stay home. Was I demanding too much from them? Hadn’t they dealt with enough these past few weeks? As these thoughts were going through my head as I was watching Broden look at me so depleted, he did something that humbled me like nothing before. He got up from bed and walked to the bathroom. •

 Shelley Huhtanen is an Army wife with two children, one with autism, whose husband is currently stationed at Fort Benning, GA. She is an autism advocate and currently the parent liaison for the Academy for Exceptional Learners.