Susan's Blog

Friday, April 7, 2006

Back Home

I went to give a talk at the Barber Institute in Erie, Pennsylvania. There were about 180 enthusiastic parents, board members, education professionals and other staff people there to hear me give my “What’s Disability Got to Do With it?” talk. I really enjoyed the event, as I almost always do these kind of things.

But the best thing about the two days I was gone was Benji. Apparently when Ned went to pick him up from school he said, “I miss Mommy.” Probably most of you reading this are thinking, “That’s nice, but so what? He’s a little kid!” Well then you don’t know Benji. Benji never expresses vulnerable emotions. He has always been “sugar and spike,” cute as a button but as cuddly as a porcupine. You go to hug him and he turns around so he has his back to you. You say, “I love you, Little B,” and he says, “Yeah, I know,” sounding bored with the whole thing. I had long ago resigned myself to having yet another boy in my life for whom I have to guess his emotional state; moreover, for whom I had to take his love for me on faith. Obviously Nat is similar, in that he has autism and cannot express these kinds of feelings for me or to me. And Max is a fourteen-year-old boy, and the last thing on his mind is making his mom feel good and needed.

I have a lot of good friends as well as very intensely affectionate and expressive parents, and I have my writing as an escape. I wrap myself in all of them when I need to feel a rush.

But when Ned told me on the phone how Ben lit up when he saw my car in the driveway, and mistakenly thought I was home, (“Mommy’s home!”) I almost got on a plane to come home there and then. It was only then that I realized just how much I crave my kids’ open affection, and how rarely I get it.

So on the little propeller plane ride from Erie to Cleveland, Ben was on my mind. He was especially on my mind as the plane dipped, bumped, dropped, and creaked in the thick white clouds. I looked around, fearfully, and thought for a split second, “This is what heaven would look like if we crashed.” And then I thought, “Oh, God, we better not crash! Not with Benji now having had his heart opened up a tiny bit!” In my mind, I begged God to get me home to Ben, and I kept his little finely drawn face right in front of me the whole way.

And here I am. I rushed to the school to pick him up, grabbed him and kissed him, and he said, “Mom! PUT ME DOWN!”
I said, “Benj! I’m here! I missed you so much!”
He said, “I know,” and turned his back to me, collecting his school papers.

Back home again.


But Nat has these feelings, I am sure.

What a wonderful moment with you and Benji

— added by Bronwyn G on Friday, April 7, 2006 at 5:18 pm

I got to hear you speak in Erie. I really enjoyed your presentation. You spoke from the heart, and I loved it. You gave me hope, knowing that our children never stop making gains no matter what age! I also got you to sign my book! Thank you. I can’t wait to start reading…..

— added by Kim on Friday, April 7, 2006 at 8:02 pm

I am so happy for you that Benj missed his mommy. Even if he didn’t show it once you were home.

— added by Mamaroo on Friday, April 7, 2006 at 11:52 pm

Your story made me think of my own son, who is 7 1/2. He’s a very emotional kid, and (lucky for me) usually very affectionate, but has many moments where he downplays his feelings in order to “save face”. I think there is something in boys that makes them fiercely unwilling to appear vulnerable (probably an especially helpful quality in the days when they’d be out hunting a sabertooth with the guys…). Your experience also brought to mind the words of an alien cartoon character that I saw on T.V. a good number of years ago, who said something like, “I do not express my feelings the way you do; that does not mean I feel any less.” Hard to remember when you’re someone (like me) who would, on some level, like her kids to hug her all day long, but food for thought, anyway 🙂 .

No matter how Benji may have responded when you got home, YOU know his secret – that he loves you very much, too 🙂 !

— added by Patricia on Saturday, April 8, 2006 at 11:10 am

I was going to post the exact same thing as Patricia – you know that he missed you, even if he pretends like he didn’t. That alone must make you smile.

— added by Wendy on Saturday, April 8, 2006 at 7:07 pm

“Obviously Nat is similar, in that he has autism and cannot express these kinds of feelings for me or to me.”

I don’t think that’s right. I think perhaps he cannot express these kinds of feelings for you or to you *in normative ways*.

Just *knowing you are there and taking comfort in that knowledge* is a profound expression of love, even if it is not expressed in ways you expect love to be expressed (whether through your own intuition as a non-autistic, or through the social conditioning you have been receptive to and acquired throughout your development, as a non-autistic).

— Phil, who all too often runs afoul of the expectations of the non-autistics in his own life, about expressions of love and other emotional intangibles

— added by Phil Schwarz on Saturday, April 8, 2006 at 11:52 pm

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