Susan's Blog

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Back off, Mommy(?)

I can’t seem to get to Nat lately.  It feels kind of blurred and rough around the edges whenever I focus on him.  He is like a big anxious bird, hopping along ahead of me, his new haircut all rumpled like golden fluttery feathers because he never brushes his hair.  Easily startled, like when my dear friend Jody recognized us downtown.  “Hi Nat!  I haven’t seen you in a long time,” she said, so happy to have run into us.  I said, “Nat, say hi to Jody!”

He wrenched his neck up, like a great ostrich lifting his head from the sand, and, eyes stretched wide open, said, “Hi Jo-ey.” The effort to go public — for him, not me — is painfully obvious during phases like this.  Why?

This kind of weekend prompts a great deal of sadness in me when he goes back to the House on these Sunday afternoons.  When I can’t quite connect to Nat, I can’t help but feel like I’ve failed one of the most important goals in my life. People tell me, when they sense I am too overprotective, that I am not him.  But when you have a child who exists in the world in an apparently very different kind of consciousness, or at least a very private space, from others, it is hard to know where his edges are.  It is hard to know when he ends and you begin.

I hate it when people tell me I’ve got to let go.  Even the kind ones say it to me.  F off, all of you, you just don’t know what I know.  All of Nat’s life I have been so afraid of not standing next to him, or these days, behind him, as he walks through the crowded streets.  When they first told me I had to send him off to a preschool, I rebelled inside.  I couldn’t believe that was the thing to do!  Rip a little boy from the comfort of his mommy, a boy who did not like being in new places, around new people?  Why wasn’t the answer something like, “You have to hold him even more!  More hugs!  You’re doing it just right, now you have to do it even more.”

Well, there was no boy who was hugged more than Nat.  This was one Refrigerator who was constantly overheated.  You could have said I was a Furnace Mother, for sure.  But all my hugs weren’t doing any good.  He was still so anxious, overly alert one moment and clouded in cotton another.

I learned, after his success in school, that my instincts are not always right.  That’s the problem with instinct.  It feels right, it comes right from the center of your being:  your gut.  But we are not just gut.  We have minds that inform us.  And outside of our minds, are other people’s minds who might know even more than us. The problem is, that the best course of action is sometimes a bit of both, or 20% one, 80% the other, or 32% one, 68% the other — and so it is nearly impossible to get it right.  We only know by looking backwards, after it’s over.

If I could only get Nat to look backwards, sometimes, and check in with me, rather than blundering ahead.  Checking in is key to connection.  Of course, he is checking in with me, in his own way.  He hears my voice calling him even when I’m almost whispering.  The night that he got lost, I wonder what he was listening for.  My voice was nowhere to be found, and yet he made his way back to the hockey arena from the parking lot, on his own.

One of these days I’m going to have to admit to myself that I am not Nat’s sole bond to the world.  As bouncy and floaty as he is, he seems to be holding on pretty well on his own.


“Furnace Mother” is perfect! I love that 🙂

And, of course, you’re right…no one knows what you know. Ef ’em!

— added by Timmy's mom on Sunday, February 27, 2011 at 3:42 pm

“As bouncy and floaty as he is, he seems to be holding on pretty well on his own.” — I love that!

— added by Donna on Sunday, February 27, 2011 at 5:17 pm

“But when you have a child who exists in the world in an apparently very different kind of consciousness, or at least a very private space, from others, it is hard to know where his edges are. It is hard to know when he ends and you begin.”

Susan, This above is beautiful, pitch perfect and true. And it becomes so much more confusing as children with autism grow up. Since my son Dan, 23, move into a group home more than a year ago I wrestle with the conundrum of both knowing him so well – and not knowing him daily, as I used to.

— added by Barbara Fischkin on Sunday, February 27, 2011 at 5:18 pm

I can relate to everything you just said–that’s all I can say. Only another mother who lives it can understand it. Can I make one comment about the “refrigerator” thing. I laughed out loud when I first read of that theory. My personal story is this: when my twins, Matthew and Hannah were eight weeks old, I went back to work full time. The daycare where they resided during the day participated in the foster grandparent’s program. Every day, women who were retired and really had nothing else to do volunteered in the infant room and every morning picked up “their” baby. My two were held, fed and rocked CONSTANTLY, I mean, Matthew’s “grandmother” NEVER put him down, he got instant service with everything. I don’t think he ever slept in his crib, he was held all day long. And, he loved every minute and it and expected the same from me when I took him home at the end of the day. To say my son is autistic because he was withheld affection and love as an infant? HA!

— added by Sharon Jones on Monday, February 28, 2011 at 1:36 pm

Yes, our kids “seem” to need so much support from us. So we think that is always going to be the way…but, they are human beings that need their space too. They also need to grow up with as much independence as they can handle, without us doing every little thing for them. I think Jeremy likes exploring things “on his own” sometimes. Whether we see it, feel it…whatever…they can learn, and always will be…forget that “window thing”, the brain is always building new pathways. As hard as it is, and we may never be really good at it, setting them free from our grasp (but, not completely) is going to be growth for all.

— added by Candy on Tuesday, March 1, 2011 at 10:27 am