Susan's Blog

Monday, March 12, 2012

He’s a man, damn it.

Knowing many, loving none

Bearing sorrow, having fun

But back home he’ll always run. — Greg Allman, “Melissa”


Your child is always your child; that is true. But when your child is no longer a child, things change. We all know that. But do we?

I was riding my bike today, a glorious ride, so happy, warm, just right.  Well, that song came on: Melissa. I’ve kept it on the shuffle because it had ceased to make me cry. It’s just a pretty song, with a little bit of great Duane Allman guitar in it. But as I rounded that corner and spilled down that gentle hill, those words got in. And just like that, my ride shifted into thunderheads. I actually had to stop, and hide next to some tall shrubs, and cry.

It was the part about knowing many, loving none. My mind jumped to Nat, standing off to the side, watching everyone the way he does. He stands there, thin and big-eyed, taking it all in. Now, I’m not saying that the song is literally true: knowing many, loving none. I know that Nat loves people, me in particular. But the thought that popped into my head was that Nat doesn’t love anyone — in the physical sense. Sexual, adult love.

Is this inappropriate for me, his mother, to be thinking about? God damnit, I don’t care. I want Nat to have as full a life as he wants. If we are to presume competence, we must also presume whole humanness. How dare we assume that it’s not there, just because it is kept quietly within?

It is very likely that Nat wants some kind of love, that even without knowing the words or the why’s, he probably wants some kind of sex. And that’s when it crystallized: Nat is a man. Nat is a full grown man.

And yet we, many of us, call him “Natty Boy,” and say, “Good Boy,” to him, and many of us treat him more like a teen, with the high-five kind of stuff, the “buddy,” kind of talk. But how does he feel inside, knowing he is a man? Does he feel discouraged, day in and day out, knowing he is not seen that way? Even if it is just on a feeling, not a verbal, level, how must that feel to him, to be so trivialized?

Nat is a man, like Max is a man. Like Ned is a man. Nat stands off to the side, sucking his thumb, eyes wide and blue like a Disney elf. His language, his words are young, childlike. He refers to himself as “Nat,” and “you.” These errors are poignant, and cute. Why is it cute? Because he sounds like a little boy when he talks. And he  has a slight build. He still has those lovely, innocent features not hardened by cynicism or subtlety, so he can still look a lot younger than he is.

And he was my baby. I look at my sons and in a flash their baby selves are super-imposed on their delicate newly adult faces, a double exposure in my mind. As their mother I am especially prone to remembering their younger selves and connecting them to their current selves, and feeling all proud and moved and tender.

But I am so careful with Max, and now Ben. I can tell what I’m supposed to keep to myself, and what I can express. Sometimes I overstep with Benj because he’s only 13 and there is still so much of the dear boy in him, the moody passionate tween, the “angry babby,” as the Scottish painter called him years ago. With Max, though, I feel like I can only dole out the hugs because he projects a certain distance. His eyes hide more than they reveal, even though they are still curly and twinkly like when he was a tot.

So I knew I had to get home and do something about what I’d discovered. I tried to stop crying and got back on my bike, thinking how glad I was that Ned is back home from California. But I really wanted to talk to Landon, because he often talks about being an autistic son, and what that has meant to him. He has a keen sense of parenting, even though he doesn’t have children.

I heard back from him almost immediately. “Be gentle with yourself,” he said. He did not offer advice on how I can be different in the future, except to say that Nat indeed is a man, albeit one who needs to be protected and who sucks his thumb.

And then Landon sent me this:

And I just wanted to share it with as many people I can, because it is unfortunately easy to forget.


love this susan!! i feel the same way about my son–still only 16 but on his way….

— added by jennifer on Monday, March 12, 2012 at 9:59 pm

I agree ladies, I feel the same way about my son who just turned 15. I still see his innocent side and he don’t even try. He is growing up and this I know, he will just be a grown autistic man.

— added by brenda on Monday, March 12, 2012 at 11:09 pm

Hi Susan,
I often think of this – my 2 sons are 11, and I think often, worry a bit, wonder a lot – how my boys are being shaped by, are thinking of, interested in sex and relationships. I want them both to have happy and fulfilled lives. I know they understand relationships – they love to be cuddled, hugged – Nolan has even told me -unprompted, that he loves me (Ethan is non-verbal – but I get that hand tap or smirk) Nolan asks for those people he loves and wants to be with, Ethan lights up at his peeps names or when he sees them.
I do want my sons to experience life as fully as possible, and that includes loving relationships with others. I do not know if my sons will ever have a “typical” loving relationship – but I do know they will be and have been surrounded by people that love them, hug them, kiss them, have fun with them, and experience new things with them.
As a divorced parent – with no partner at this time, I think their relationships trump any physical ones I’ve had. But I still wonder/wish/hope – maybe someday in their future, when they are grown up, they will have close, intimate and physical relationships… and then I realize, they already have those relationships – just no sex.
Again, as a divorced mom of 3 kids, 2 with special needs – I find myself wishing I had the relationships my son have.

— added by Linda on Monday, March 12, 2012 at 11:52 pm

This hits home so perfectly. My son is 14. He is suddenly tall, lanky, his voice has changed, he has whiskers, and still needs Panda to sleep, paper bits to rip. But, I find out that at school, he’s very entertaining to the smart girls. Oh, the adventure continues. I just keep saying, he will be a man just as amazing as his father (both have Asperger’s). I feel very comforted, knowing other moms feel this. Thank you.

— added by Tania on Tuesday, March 13, 2012 at 1:09 am

Hi I am undiagnosed with a son who is full blown aspie. He’s 18 and I’m 56. I’m afraid that he will have even less friendships and probably no real romance or love in his life than I struggled with.So this slogan is a challenge to me and almost hard to believe. A desire for love may arise but without connected feeling, words and appropriate actions, an austistic man may not even get conversations, let alone romance. I got married without a clue about emotions being involved with sex.Romantic words were not even in my vocabulary. Marriage was a struggle, income was a struggle, self worth was doubtful.Coach your sons, maybe they won’t be so clueless.

— added by Bill Lee on Tuesday, March 13, 2012 at 1:10 am

An excellent piece. My daughter is 22. My head is filled with like thoughts as she ages. An autistic woman is also a real and complete woman. Thanks for sharing.

— added by Barbara McQueen on Tuesday, March 13, 2012 at 1:11 am

This is so incredibly powerful. I’ve been thinking so much about Nik’s future though he is only eight now. I know how quickly the years will fly…have flown…and I need to prepare myself. I’m glad you are leaving a trail of bread crumbs for me to follow. Thank you.

— added by Niksmom on Tuesday, March 13, 2012 at 8:27 am

I like to think, Beth, that I’m leaving you a trail of cake crumbs… 🙂

— added by Susan Senator on Tuesday, March 13, 2012 at 9:36 am

My eldest is just about to turn nine (!), but I find I’m already constantly reminding myself he’s no longer a little boy, is in fact halfway through a “typical” childhood. I still need work in this area, will be saving this post for the future!

— added by kim mccafferty on Tuesday, March 13, 2012 at 9:46 am

My son just turned 27 2 wks ago. For the most of his life, I raised him by myself. He was only 8 when his Dad and I divorced. He is my youngest of three … he has 2 older sisters … 9 and 7 yrs older. He still lives with me. He gets really upset when family pressures him to get a job and a place of his own. He helps me take care of one of his sisters 5 kids while their parents work … with pay. He has an assortment of difficulties but he is very smart. He is very much a young man but he is 4 yrs behind his age. He would LOVE to be able to have a girlfriend. But, he is very introverted. Yet, he wants no help. We are close friends. I cried when I read Susans post.

— added by Linda Ann Neeman on Tuesday, March 13, 2012 at 11:16 am

Hi — That really spoke to me. My son is turning 18 this month yet he is much more like a child.

I find it hard to see his cousins launched at university — thriving academically and socially and having romantic relationships. I’m angry that he won’t have every opportunity.

I like the way you write about Nat so honestly and descriptively. Sometimes I feel myself censoring what I write about my son, because I know it’s not ‘age-appropriate.’ And yet it is part of a wonderful life!. For example, my son loves Jessie from Toy Story. He spends hours watching variations of the song: ‘When somebody loved me’ on the net and vowing his love of Jessie. But I feel like people can’t appreciate or see the value of his way of life.

I am so glad you shared the words from Landon and link to his site!

I love that you are writing about our unconventional parenting experiences!

— added by Louise Kinross on Tuesday, March 13, 2012 at 6:23 pm

My son is 31 and wasn’t “officially” diagnosed with Asperger’s till he was 24. When he heard the diagnosis, his response was, “Well, I’m screwed.” Broke my heart to hear him say those words and realize the defeat he felt inside. And yet, he’s accomplished so much with no outside help. With a little prodding from me, he received his high school diploma at age 26 and has held down full-time jobs dealing with the public for over 4 years now. I know his work gives him a definite sense of purpose.

One of the ways his Asperger’s affects him is he thinks almost exclusively in the “here and now,” and never thinks ahead to the future beyond the next week or so. He’s had several long-term girlfriends, but after about the 3 years mark, the girls usually break away when they realize he’s not thinking about marriage and doesn’t care or plan to move away from home.

I am immensely proud of him and the man he has grown up to be And yet, an almost constant worry for me is what his future holds, both financially and in quality of life. Like many others, we live paycheck to paycheck and aren’t able to set up trust funds or annuities to provide for him. Just about all the research and information available to parents of those on the Autism Spectrum is about children. What about those of us with ADULT children on the Spectrum? I know I’m not alone in my situation, but I often feel very alone. I think about what will happen to him when I’m gone? Will he live alone? Will he be in situations where he is taken advantage of? Will he be lonely? Will he find someone and have love and meaningful friendship in his life?

I’m sorry for going somewhat off-topic of the blog. All I want for my adult son (and everyone other adult on the Autism Spectrum), is for him to have fulfillment, purpose, happiness, and love in his life… live a life with meaning and completeness. Thank you for opening up this topic and sharing your thoughts with us, Susan.

— added by Gail B on Tuesday, March 13, 2012 at 10:32 pm

Gail, I am right there with you and you have expressed the whole painful issue perfectly in your comment. Thank you for writing!

— added by Susan Senator on Tuesday, March 13, 2012 at 10:34 pm

Your post inpsired me:

Thanks so much, Louise

— added by Louise Kinross on Wednesday, March 14, 2012 at 4:58 pm