Susan's Blog

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Kid Picks

You can pick your friends
And you can pick your nose
But you can’t pick your friend’s nose
— Popular Third Grade Saying

You can pick your friends but you can’t pick your children. This may seem obvious but you don’t really grasp it until you actually have children, and not until they are beyond babies. There is an assumption out there that you will automatically grok your own children. I was thinking this morning about how scrupulously I pick my friends, how I will only choose to spend time with those that 1) make me laugh and laugh at my jokes; 2) think deeply about a lot of things/be intense; 3) don’t agree with everything I say but kind of get me.

We forget that children, even day-old infants, are just people. Do you like/get every person you come across? No. So, just because someone is a composite of your (and your partner’s) DNA, it doesn’t automatically mean immediate understanding and connection.

I am not saying that I don’t like my kids (no F***ing way). I am saying that understanding and enjoying them was not automatic. I have written a great deal about my long process with getting to know, connect with, and find joy in my oldest boy, Nat. Most people probably find it easy to understand that, because he is autistic and the stereotype there is that he is an enigma. (I’ve probably lent to that assumption, as well.)

It is true that Nat is difficult to figure out. But I realized this morning that so are my other two boys. Max is so quiet, so often out or by himself. He was not always like this, but now, I have to get used to a whole different way of experiencing Max. When Max was born, my first reaction was to laugh at this little stranger and say to myself, “Who is this?” He felt both unknown and familiar. When he first opened his eyes, our connection was immediate, lightning. I wouldn’t let friends hold him. I could not get enough of holding him against me. He was so fat and so strong, he held his head up much earlier than babies are supposed to. I could put him in the stroller or backpack almost immediately, which was simpler than using the Snugli (the more complicated precursor to the Baby Bjorn snap-on front carrier) Always making it easy for me, whether he intended to or not. That first summer that we took tiny Max and two-year-old Nat to Cape Cod — that miserable first family vacation spent in a pine-paneled cottage with rain and no television, where Nat cried most of the time because he did not understand what the heck was good about a beach — Max obliged us by lying on his back and kicking sand, smiling. As he grew up, he remained easygoing and sweet. He would always give in to his friends’ demands, rather than fight. I worried so much about him, and my only consolation was his size. Because he was always big, I figured he would not be taken advantage of too much. Because he smiled so easily, I figured he would probably be okay.

I was always careful not to take advantage of his good nature myself. It would have been very easy to spend a lot of time worrying about Nat and leting Max just be. I’m sure I did do that. But I also spent a lot of time wondering about Max’s self-esteem and hobbies. Should I let him be friends with that demanding kid? Should I force him to play piano, soccer? How much should I let him be?

Now, as a high-schooler, he is surrounded by friends (and admirers). He rarely hangs out with me. That boy who used to know exactly how to play with my hair, who loved to play that he was a little ghost sneaking up on me, he turned into a young man overnight, who on his own does his homework, gets A’s, hacks on his computer just like his Dad, and has the same serenity of his Dad. With a sharp sense of humor (like his Mom!). Max just lets me know in his own quiet way how much I should let him be — even though I really, really want to hang out with him so much more! He has become just what he was: a competent, self-contained, strong and tolerant young man. I guess I’m saying that Max was relatively easy to get to know and to love.

Benji, now in third grade, has been much more difficult. One of my earliest memories of Benji was struggling to get him to latch on to my breast for nursing and he was howling angrily and hearing the housepainters on the other side of the wall say, “Angry Baby” in a thick Irish brogue. He always let us know, immediately, his displeasure with anything. The struggle has been in finding what makes Benji happy, getting to his sweet side.

His nickname is “Beast.” This came from when I called him “Little B,” which he did not like. I got annoyed at him for not liking that clever nickname. (Alright, maybe it wasn’t so clever, but I thought that the “B” could also be “Bee” indicating Ben’s sting.) So I spitefully said one day, “Okay, how about Little Beast?” He was very happy with that.

That is the key to Ben, which I only recently discovered (he is now eight). Ben likes things to be harsh, spicy, not sentimental. Soft feelings make him uncomfortable. This took me years to understand, although I did say he was, “Sugar and Spike,” when he was little. I understood him on one level, but not on the level I’m on now. Now I really enjoy his nastiness. He frees up my nasty side, too. He is delighted when I tease him by saying stuff like, “The milk you’re drinking is actually eel’s milk,” or something like that. [Just now, he just asked me, “Have you noticed that when you turn the shape of South America upside down, it looks like a poop?” Good old Brookline Public Schools curriculum! He is actually familiar enough with the shape of South America that he can liken it to the shape of a poop.) And I, with my far more limited knowledge of geography — just answered, “Um hmm!” I don’t know — maybe it is shaped like a poop!

That is Ben. It took me years to understand that I could just roll in the dirt along with him, that not every child had to be easy and obviously happy like Max. Life is probably not going to go smoothly for Ben, but it will always be interesting. Ben is not easy for me but he knows how to get under my skin and latch right onto my heart.

All of our children find their way into our hearts. But connecting with our minds: that is far more of a challenge. We don’t pick our children but if we work really hard at it we can eventually dig them. Hopefully sooner than later.


My daughter, Melody, sounds like your Max. She’ll be 11 in December, and already she’s shooing me out of her room. Yet she still plays with dolls and likes to scrapbook with me. The end of those things are near, I know, and the teenage years are going to hit me hard. I just hope she doesn’t decide to hate me! Already I’m an occasional source of deep embarrassment, but aren’t all parents??

— added by Carolyn Murray on Saturday, October 28, 2006 at 11:47 am

Oh, and Melody took piano for six months and after we moved she asked to stop. I debated whether or not to force the issue, and then decided to let her be. She likes singing and acting more, so I enrolled her in a summer theatre camp that she loved and wants to repeat.

— added by Carolyn Murray on Saturday, October 28, 2006 at 11:49 am

Well I am glad that you chose to write about this topic. I feel guilty at times that I often do not enjoy sam’s company. He is unpredictable, impulsive , dangerous to himself and others and more often than not just being with him is exhausting and alot of work to help him process all that is around him. To use ABA, DRO< ab Verbal and three step complinace just to follow a simple direction every time. I am aware through what you say and through the examples around me that all children are work and are unenjoyable a times. But what do you do when you are afraid to be with your kid because the anxiety of what they will do next is too much? I will answer my own question....That is my problem..I have to deal with those feelings. I think what is most threatening about my interaction with sam is the lack of bond, the lack of display of love (even though I am sure that is is there. I believe that children with spectrum disorder do feel everything we feel but the ways in which they are able to communicate those feelings are limited. I like you pointing out that even typically developing children have thier issues because it convinces me of the parts of this whole process that are typical- however leaving me with the painful reminder of the ones that are not so typical..It is as if children on the spectrum turn normal devlopement up a couple hundred notches. On a good day it might be hard for the untrained eye to see the amount of day to day commitment it takes to raise a child on the spectrum (committment of a typical parent turned up a couple hundred notches)...But I also loved what you said about when people tell you how luckey nat is to have you. I too feel like , I am sam's mother , where else would I be but right on top of him?"...AS uncomfortable as I am with Sam at times- I am the one that is luckey to have him. He teaches me everyday something new about the the world as he see it. He teaches me patcience and that there is no control. I have read the blog for a while and seen many things that I wanted to comment on but I never have the time- hence why my blog is emptier than usual...

— added by Kristen on Saturday, October 28, 2006 at 10:01 pm