How is This My Life?


Nichole Forbes -How is this My Life3

There are footballs on my favorite chair and a lunch kit on the closet floor. I can see discarded gift bags on the coffee table, smelly socks in the hallway, cleats on the couch and homework on the floor. There are dirty dishes in the sink and iphones charging on the counter. Textbooks, cereal boxes and art supplies vie for space on the kitchen table. The bathroom is a minefield of hair products, beauty products and colognes. And the basement. I won’t even go there. Literally. I won’t go down there unless nakedness or starvation is imminent. (The laundry room is down there, so is the freezer.) How is this my life?

When I was 18 years old and entering university I had all these plans. I was going to get my journalism degree and then I was going to travel the world. I was going to write heart-wrenching stories from exotic locations. I was going to tell stories of justice and humanity, stories that changed perspectives, changed lives, changed the world!

I planned to spend my days exploring dusty villages and sacred temples. I was going sit down with widows, orphans and world leaders. I was going to spend my nights on bedrolls in the jungle and with Bedouins in the desert. I was going to fill my life with interesting people. I was going to be an interesting person! That was my plan.


Twenty years have passed and I am a stay-at-home mom. What the what?! Not one thing I had planned when I was eighteen is true now at 40. Not one single thing. How is this my life?

At 18, I was going to change the world.

At 21, I was a newly married, university drop-out. I knew nothing and I had no plans. While my friends were planning for graduation or graduate school I was trying to find a job while figuring out how to live in the same space with a boy. We ended up in marriage counseling six months into our wedded bliss. How is this my life?

At 25, I was a new mom. I was drowning more than swimming. My husband travelled all the time for his job and we were living in my parents’ basement. I no longer dreamed of writing stories that changed the world. Instead I dreamed of … who are we kidding? I didn’t dream. Dreaming requires sleep and that was something I was deeply unfamiliar with. How is this my life?

Fast-forward four years and I’m 29. I’m the mom of three now. My newest baby is a staunch anti-sleep activist. My two-year-old is in constant danger of dehydration for all the tears she cries and my four-year-old won’t wear the color green, but has no problem parading around town dressed as a Viking (horned helmet and all.) Leg shaving, hair brushing and sex with my still travelling husband have all been abandoned in my pursuit of coffee and finding two minutes to myself to pee. How is this my life?

At 32, I’m sitting in the psychologist’s office. My son, once a Viking now Harry Potter, fidgets with his wand by the window as the doctor says the word “Autism” for the first time. I look at my boy—my beautiful, imaginative, quirky, first-born child. Autism. Suddenly all the pieces fall into place and so much of our world makes sense for the first time. Delayed speech, sensory sensitivity, anxiety, routine dependence, laser focus, repetitive behavior, socially out of sync—it was Autism all along. How is this my life?

We were told that he would probably never have meaningful relationships. He’ll never feel or express love. He won’t ever know how to be empathetic. He will never graduate from a regular high school and will most likely never hold a regular job. He will never be able to live independently. He will always be at a deficit in life.

How is this my life?

The next morning, as I stood in the kitchen making breakfast, the weight of the doctor’s words pierced through my heart. There were so many nevers, so many limitations. I could barely breathe for the sobs I was swallowing back. Then a small pair of arms wrapped around my waist and I felt my boy’s head rest against my back. He whispered, “Don’t be sad, Mom. Please don’t cry.”

I turned around and hugged my boy. I wept into his golden brown hair and told him over and over again how much I loved him. After a minute, he pushed back from me, straightened his Harry Potter glasses and asked if he could have pink milk with his toast and then walked away. I knew then that the doctor knew the diagnosis, but I knew my kid. I knew my kid and I knew myself and I knew my God and together we were capable of so much more.


These last ten years have been a lot—a lot of learning, struggling, failing and starting over. We have learned the meaning of “pressing on” in the face of unimaginable challenges. We have learned what autism is and what it means to us. Autism lives with us, but it is not who we are. It is not who he is.

[Tweet: “Autism lives with us, but it is not who we are.”]

These last ten years I have been a full time autism mom. Can I get a witness? I have been in the trenches, at the schools, in the library, online and exhausted. I have had to learn autism, learn the treatments, learn the school system, and learn the health care system. I have had to be mom, advocate, councilor, translator, therapist, chauffeur and case manager. I have also had to be mom to my other kids and wife to Mr. Awesome. I have had to set aside my dreams and my plans. I have had to surrender it all and just be in the moment with my kid—with all three of my kids.

How is this my life?

My son, who used to be Harry Potter, is 17. He is in high school taking physics and chemistry and English literature. He is an army cadet, a community volunteer and a bit of a fashion icon in his school. He has a crew (or squad or whatever friends are called these days) and a girlfriend. He is a terrific big brother and a fantastic cousin. He is a musician, a writer and a film-maker. He is a leader. He is an advocate. He is a goofball. He is all of the things they said he’d never be and so much more. He is my hero.

My girl is nearly 15. She is witty and brave and creative. She has no idea how beautiful she is, but she shines so brightly. She is an artist, a fashionista and a football player. She feels all the feelings and yet she laughs so freely. She is elegance and ridiculousness all in one. She is a thinker, a writer and a protector. She rises to every challenge and pushes past every obstacle and limitation. She is courageous and entirely wonderful. She is a masterpiece.

The big finale is 12. He is an athlete and an artist. He is adventurous and unpredictable. He climbs and runs and jumps and he hugs, oh how he hugs! He is fiercely loyal and forever the advocate. He is a mysterious combination of compassion, energy and mischievousness. Wit and charm are his constant companions and grace flows freely from his heart. He is a competitor and contemplator. He is an enigma and he has my heart.

How is this my life? How did I get chosen to lead this magnificent life? How did I get so blessed to watch this hard-fought miracle unfold day by day? How is this—all of this goodness, all of this learning, all of this love, all of this grace, all of this triumph—my life?

I’m so grateful that not one thing has turned out as my 18-year-old self had planned. If it had, I would have missed out on all of this. And yet … she wanted to tell stories of justice and humanity. She was going to tell stories that changed perspectives—that changed lives and changed the world—wasn’t she? She was going to fill her life with interesting people and she was going to be an interesting person, right?

I tell my boy’s story. I talk of his humanity and his dreams and his accomplishments. I tell my daughter’s story of bravery and strength. I watch my youngest, a justice seeker and advocate for all, and I marvel at the stories he tells. Their stories have changed my perspective. They have changed my world.

I may not be the interesting person I had once planned on being, but I am raising interesting people. I am raising people who are interested in justice and peace and love and other people. I am raising these strong, brave, magnificent people.

How is this my life?

Nichole Forbes
Nichole is just a regular gal loved by an extraordinary God. She believes in community, justice, freedom, reconciliation and the sacredness of storytelling. Her journey to connect with her Metis culture and history has been her own liberation song. She tries to live bravely every day and say the kind words that need to be heard. She raises her three Not-So-Wee-Ones in the middle of the Canadian prairies with her favorite person ever—her husband, Brad. Nichole blogs, writes and speaks on the things that fill her heart and frame her world. 
Nichole Forbes
Nichole Forbes

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  1. Marlene VanderLaan says:

    So well written, this is my first exposure to the magazine and I chose to read your article, needless to say – well done woman of great worth! Makes me want to read on…

    • Nichole Bilcowski Forbes says:

      Wow! Thank you! Please do read on. There are so many fantastic voices and stories here. These are quality women, these SheLovelys. You will find humour and strength and vulnerability and beauty here. You will find a place to just be.
      Welcome home!

  2. My life, my life, I think I said about a hundred times reading this! How is this my life, but now it is a treasured way forward. With two adult sons in their late 20’s at home, both soon to be married, a husband unemployed, but finally healthy, waiting for a new job, and so many other young people literally sleeping in every bed, on spare mattresses, in the hallway, even the garage over the years!
    I LOVE my life, so much more to tell, but…..ADHD, Autism, Extreme Anxiety and so on, just meant I could help, and share with others the truth of our rich, chaotic life!
    Love my boys so much it swells my heart, and my two nearly daughters in love just add to the texture of it all. Praise God for a messy, funny, heart-breaking, amazing journey. 🌻

    • Nichole Bilcowski Forbes says:

      Yes! I love how you are loving all the people who enter your world. I aspire to be a soft place to land for all of my kids’ friends … whether they are with us for a meal or for a night or with us indefinitely.

  3. Tracy Nelson says:

    yes!!! “hard fought miracle” it IS. We have some Aspergers in our home – it is, like you said – living with us but not US. Thank you for this.

    • Nichole Bilcowski Forbes says:

      Thank you for taking the time to read this and share about AS in your home. These kids really do have beautiful minds, don’t they?

  4. Kathleen Bertrand says:

    Oh this hits my heart today! Thank you for your words. As someone a few years behind you, I have so much hope reading this.

    • Nichole Bilcowski Forbes says:

      I’m so glad! Our kids are incredible humans. They are resilient and gifted and full of surprises! And you, mama, are a capeless superhero! You can do incredible and ordinary things you can love your kid like no one else and you can advocate for him like no one else. ❤️ I’m cheering you on!

  5. Roos Woller says:

    Love this Nichole! Such a good piece and so much to chew on.

  6. This is so beautiful! In the terrifying conversations happening in our house around maybe starting a family soon, your story makes me weep and gives me hope. You are a hero!

    • Nichole Bilcowski Forbes says:

      Be brave! This journey of motherhood has made me a much better, kinder, wiser person than I would have been otherwise. These kids are a gift to my soul!

  7. Kerri holferty says:

    All the feels, Nichole. Your life in all its messiness is perfectly perfect.

    • Nichole Bilcowski Forbes says:

      Yes it is. I have to remember that when the mess and chaos overshadow everything else!

  8. Helen Burns Helene Burns says:

    Gosh, I love you Nichole! This is so beautiful in every way that truly matters… how blessed are your children and how blessed are we to get to see a glimpse of your story. xoxo

  9. sandyhay says:

    I vacillate between laughing and crying and cheering and seeing your face and smiling and wishing we could share coffee together again…which we will some day.

    • Nichole Bilcowski Forbes says:

      Thank you! I can’t wait for our next face to face visit! You are such a dear, Sandy!

  10. I loved reading about your great kids and your great life with them and Mr. Awesome. I think we may be kindred spirits. I remember pulling six plates out of the cupboard one day and asking myself, “Where did all these people come from?” My husband and my four boys are the blessings that I didn’t know enough to pray for, but which God gave to me anyway.

    • Nichole Bilcowski Forbes says:

      I often ask my kids when their parents are coming to pick them up. Lol. So much chaos sometimes! I’m savouring the chaos though … I’ve got fewer parenting days ahead than are behind me.

  11. Courtney says:

    I love this Nichole!!

    “so grateful that not one thing has turned out as my 18-year-old self had planned. If it had, I would have missed out on all of this”

    Right? Sometimes the biggest blessings are unanswered prayers (I think that may be a country song?)

    • Nichole Bilcowski Forbes says:

      Absolutely! I have to remind myself of these every day blessings though … I still have my moments sometimes.

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