“Mining Our Strengths”
Back when I was pregnant with G, I had one of those awful dreams where I failed at motherhood. It was when I was almost due, so even when I was asleep, I could feel her movements, and was aware of someone always being with me, counting on me for survival.
In the dream, my husband and I went out with friends, and we forgot we had a baby at home. When we remembered, we leapt in the car with ashen faces and raced home. As we ran up the stairs to her bedroom, we could see her crib, but the stairs wouldn’t end. We just kept climbing them, silent with panic and dread.. And the dream ended.
I know I should say that the reality was so much better and that I enfolded my babies in the safety of my embrace, and that they were never out of range of my beady eye. But my husband and my mom would laugh, so I’d better stick to the truth.
G and I went to stay with my family for three months when she was an infant, and one morning, after we’d given her a bath, I was dressing her when a huge wasp appeared and started buzzing around us. I freaked out as I always do around bugs, and to my utter shame, I ran away, leaving her there, and yelling to my parents, “SAVE BAYBEEEEEEE!”
They did save her, but were speechless with laughter. It’s been almost fourteen years since that less than stellar motherhood moment, and everyone still loses it when they remember. G developed some pretty keen survival skills living with a mom like me. I shan’t be telling you anymore such anecdotes because one was enough, but you can draw your own mental pictures. All that G asks of me is that I don’t embarrass her too much with my shrieks. I make no promises…
My husband once pointed out that I am apt to leap about and scream and run away when faced with things like bugs and dogs, but he’s never seen me run from shouldering the tough stuff. That’s kind of him to say, and there isn’t anyone else I’d rather have for a companion on this rather peculiar ride. The ironic thing is that we didn’t even realize how much we’d adapted to being autism parents till we’d been doing it for a while. The stakes are higher than we ever imagined, so we manned and womanned up subconsciously, I suppose.
I used to think I didn’t have it in me, but I don’t say those things anymore. I think we all have that strength in us, and we pull it out of ourselves because there is that extra vulnerability in our special needs kids that relies on us not to fail. But we all have to bring our own personalities to this game, so I’ve given myself permission to discard any advice or input that sounds too preachy or irony-free (because I wouldn’t follow it anyway) and I’ve learned to embrace my own style of autism parenting. We all learn by doing, and I’m pretty grateful that A responds well to gentle humor, and is a funny guy himself, and that G doesn’t take it personally if I leave her on the sidewalk and step out into the street when a dog passes by, and that my husband doesn’t mind working on his laptop in A’s room so that A won’t gnaw on the windowsill while he calms down for bedtime. Well, he doesn’t mind as long as I ply him with cups of strong tea. We’ve all made an unspoken pact to let one another be whoever they are, and that’s the kind of family I always wished for.
Okay, I know I said I wouldn’t be telling you anymore self deprecating tales, but my husband just thought of another. He’s the official Output Chief, i.e. he cleans the poops when he’s home. This means he needs to wake up earlier than A, so that there won’t be time for the little guy to make any avoidable messes. Usually it works out, but this one dark, wintry Saturday morning, the hubs got lazy, and was stalling and trying to sleep a little more. A called out a few times, and when he got no response, he marched on over to our bedroom and rousted his dad from bed. A boy of almost no words, he managed to say “Get up!” and it was said in such a dictatorial tone that my husband started laughing, and he did, indeed, Get Up.
Autism parenting doesn’t ask of us that we be perfect. Au contraire, it’s taught me that some eccentricity, humor, and a loose definition of normalcy are a better fit for the job. At least for A, he is most relaxed when the people around him are not so straitlaced themselves. We are happy to oblige. It’s become so ingrained in us to function this way that we wouldn’t be able to change it. Or maybe A gave us an excuse to let it all hang out!
Whichever one is closer to the truth, the fact remains that high stress moments are when our true personalities tend to emerge. I’m really glad that we don’t take ourselves too seriously, because we are in this for the long haul. And hey, at least I’ve learned to bring the kids with when I run off shrieking.