“The String Under Our Left Ribs”
My husband, R, and I just returned from a weeklong trip to Singapore, where we attended my nephew’s wedding, and R was one of the array of handsomely clad groomsmen. It was a whirlwind visit, but we got to see a ton of people, and even do a little touristy stuff.
Since we are just back from wedding fun and clamor, I am here to tell you that A’s bleats and bellows sound exactly like a nadaswaram player tuning up. Pip-pip-phwopppppp.
The push-pull of respite is so complicated. Our brains and bodies needed the break, and we also want to be part of our beloved nephews’ and nieces’ lives. They are, after all, sort of-kind of like our kids too. We love them and their partners the same, but without all the parental commitments, heh. And we wanted R to go have some mindless fun with his cousins. And I wanted to see my parents and siblings and friends, and…and…
And yet. What kind of piecemeal worlds do we live in, where such pleasant entanglements were only possible because we left our darling pumpkin, A, at home? The issue is not whether he was content in our absence, but why we cannot avoid fragmenting our ideas of family. The answer is simple: we are an immigrant autism family, and, unlike some of our peers, we don’t have tentacles of relatives in this country with us. The issue is how we felt being there away from A, and I can tell you, I felt devastated to never be able to bring together all my families. It isn’t doable, my head knows that. And I have to accept the reality, blah freaking blah. But I am taking a moment to voice that, as a mother, it fucking hurt in my heart.
But let’s be truthful about other stuff too: being there, masquerading as a “normal” family, allowed us to participate in moments which would not have been possible if we were doing our autism thing. There was the luxury of in-depth conversations; the snapping of the cord that leads directly to the kitchen and all its chores; the drinking in of flashbacks to my old ways of thinking; the freedom from sameness. I read a whole book, pausing only to doze, on one of our flights back.
Which led me to a profound revelation—of how easy it is to fall back on ableism. We were doing it, so why not others who have few connections to autism? I can see how seductive it is. How tempting it is to lecture someone like me about being more civil to, and understanding of, ableist assumptions and instincts. How it might be momentarily enlightening to deal abstractly in autism discussions, but it is far less angst-inducing to engage with an intellectually abled world. Not having to be transformed by daily caregiving. How perfect it sounds to dispatch our son to the care of another. He watched us arrive home from an upstairs window, a barely-there vision, unless you knew where to look. Mrs Rochester watching her next of kin behave like a victim. Us behaving like it’s all so gosh darn hard on us. Courting other family scenarios like Mr Rochester courted Jane.
What helped was how much everyone who loves us wanted to hear about A. They feel it too, their inability to be part of his life. But we brought him in there with our descriptions, and they adored him by proxy because we are all connected.
Mr Rochester said to Jane:
I sometimes have a queer feeling with regard to you–especially when you are near me, as now: it is as if I had a string somewhere under my left ribs, tightly and inextricably knotted to a similar string situated in the corresponding quarter of your little frame. And if that boisterous Channel, and two hundred miles or so of land come broad between us, I am afraid that cord of communion will be snapt; and then I’ve a nervous notion I should take to bleeding inwardly.” (“Jane Eyre”)
Here, I think of A. What assurance does he have that the cord won’t snap? We had to send him a video one day, to stop a three-hour meltdown that started because the after-school center ran out of Oreos. My husband and I ran down to the hotel pool and made a little video telling him we loved him, and he looked at us and the pool, and it helped.
We used to joke that we would cook A into a pumpkin pie, and I feel that way today, seeing his dear, beaming little face. Breathing in the mix of boy and shampoo in his rainforest head. Satisfying his endless demands for tickles. This is what homecomings are for A. We mess up the landscape, but we also make his ribs relax.