Riding along with Max today it struck me how happy I was. But this is typical when I’m on my bike (and with Max). Again and again, the wide open sky is my source of ecstasy. Going fast into the rushing air, or pushing up into it working so hard that my arms tingle at the summit — this is my element.
If you’ve been reading, you know this. But I mention it today because it occurred to me that I always want to be outside. I want to do as much as possible outside. I live for the hot weather, so I can be outdoors as much as possible (coffee on the porch, lunch on the porch, dinner on the porch or at an outdoor cafe). Riding, riding, riding.
Working, too. Now I leave. I am out of my house, in the world, teaching, speaking, traveling. I’ve even been involved in politics. I write controversial stuff. I’m out there, people say.
It was not always like this. When I was a young mother, I was inside. All of my hobbies were indoors: decorating, painting, sewing. I ran in place or did the Nordic track. I did not work outside the home. Even though I wanted to. One one hand I knew I couldn’t because I had the babies, Nat and Max, and I didn’t want to get daycare — not out of some moral issue, but more because I had no idea how you hired one or more importantly what my job was going to be. I imagined people working, and it was like a sitcom version. It felt unreal, impossible, far away. And far away is out there.
I didn’t want to travel. I dreamed of old trips I’d taken — out to the Northwest as a kid, to France, to Italy to Israel. I didn’t know how to do it anymore, in my late twenties, early thirties. Our only vacation was Cape Cod, safe old place.
I was so fearful. I remember being afraid, vaguely, of crowds, or stores. Of strangers, germs, sharp things lurking. I forced myself to go out, because I had small children who needed the outdoors. But I was so scared.
I was thinking about this as I rode swiftly downhill, a little scared but in a normal, thrilling way. How different I am now. Like nothing can contain me. I go outward, and it’s not even enough. I now want to go away for my fiftieth birthday, alone.
Why am I writing about this? Because I just had to tell you that the scary alone shut-in days come to an end. You won’t always feel like this. Oh, I know you are not me, but in a way, you are. If you’re an autism parent, you probably know what I mean. (And before anyone screams and accuses me of blaming autism, just stop it. I’m not blaming our children, or autistics; but I am saying that parenting, especially with this particular disorder in the mix — is tough to handle in one way or another and there’s no getting around that. It’s hard, that’s the truth. For our children and for us. There is so much unpredictability with autism in their lives, and thus there is so much unpredictability in our lives, when they’re young especially, so much worry. What might he do? Will he be unhappy there? Angry? Overstimulated? Will others understand? Will they stare? It’s very, very hard and we love them and those two facts exist side-by-side.) How will he be when he’s older? Should I be doing more to help him? Sweat, sweat, sweat. So much effort and stress. I just wanted to go to bed. Or at least just stay in my house, eat, and watch TV.
Sometimes it’s easier just to stay indoors. So do it, if you have to. I’ll tell you what: stay inside, but when you feel stronger, go out. It doesn’t last forever, you eventually figure it out. Just like them. Because here’s the thing no one is really talking about it — our guys, especially our guys, seem to blossom as they get older. Not only is Nat’s adult life not a dead end, it is a beautiful beginning. And I am giving you this sugar (coat)-free.
One thing I’ve learned from Nat is that the world falls into place. Whether out of sheer familiarity, perhaps, or something more: development and education, or a steady diet of parental patience and love — they/we begin to understand more. With or without language, maybe never saying “I love you, Mommy,” having playdates, or getting a high school diploma. They really really learn how to live their lives. The world may still be loud and unpredictable, but even that is something they learn to expect. Just like all of us, our autistic guys develop their struggle muscles and grow.
And why not? Don’t we all?