It is early Sunday morning and I am alone with only the sound of last night’s rain dripping from the trees and roof top. It’s cold, too, cold enough where I actually turned the heat on to 65 degrees! October 4th and the heat is on? Not how I was raised. My dad and one of my cousins would see who could hold out the longest as far as turning on the heat. We lived outside of Chicago and my cousin lived in an old restored farmhouse in northern Illinois, in the middle of the plains with only corn stalks to buffer the winds. Sometimes we made it to mid-November even December one year. My mother would command us to “put on another sweater.” Or we would crowd by the fireplace in the family room, going from flaming hot skin back to seeing our breath. In the end, my cousin or my father would break, and the heat would flow through the vents, however, our bodies seemed to be in a perpetual state of numbness. I swore that I would never be cold like that again. Then I married a man, who like my father and cousin, is no fan of turning on the heat.
So why today did I muster up the bravery to rise above hard-wiring reinforced by a husband who thinks similarly? Because he is in Chicago. And because he took Sean with him. So, I am alone with a giddy sense of freedom and even recklessness. Who knows what I will do next? Maybe watch Bravo and eat nothing but bowls of cereal the entire day.
My older son is home. He had football and hockey practices and school. I am determined to make this time with him fun and stress free. Most of his life he has had to be amazingly flexible. Plans that we make as a family sometimes never come to fruition. This is the reality in a household where there is a child with autism. How many movies have we had to leave at previews because something spooked Sean? How many restaurants have we hurried for the bill, asked our food to be wrapped and headed to the car with a screaming boy in tow? The truth is, this is my weekend to be with my oldest son, without contingency planning or nervously carrying the ripcord in damp palms.
I tried to talk with Sean on the phone last night when they arrived at my parents home. He was too excited and wouldn't come to the phone. He was with the two people, outside of his father, brother and me, that love him with such fierceness, free of conditions or judgments. If he wants to hop from one end of the library to other, than by God let him. This is how my father thinks. He is a man who said to me once,
“I don’t love Sean in spite of his autism, I love him more because of it.”
My father has a great big heart. He is a fan of the underdog, a champion of the one that others have walked away from and written off. He operates under the belief that “no child would choose to behave that way.” So when Sean shouts for no reason, or pinches a stranger or hops up and down at a store, my father doesn’t condemn him or yell at him. He redirects him by taking his hand and leading him to an area where Sean can be alone and move and feel comfortable. He recognizes that Sean is not trying to be mean or cruel or ill-behaved but that Sean is overwhelmed and scared. I find great comfort in this. He has always recognized that it is not a parenting issue and he is never once blamed my husband and me for the way Sean behaves. He only supports us with kindness and love and always offers to help us in anyway how.
My mother has Sean’s “back". She, herself, a strict disciplinarian came around quickly to the fact that this little boy was just more than determined or stubborn but something else was at hand. When Sean runs through their house, my mother’s china and crystal shaking, she says,
“It’s replaceable, Sean’s not.”
There is nothing Sean can break or bump into or knock over that my mother will ban him from the house. The keepsakes that she has brought from Ireland or given to by family are put up high (not only for Sean, but she has had eleven other grandchildren run through her home during her lifetime) and everything else is replaceable.
“Oh relax. I can get another.” she’ll say, as I hold up a broken Belek vase that Sean has knocked off of a table, his arms swinging and his feet jumping. As a mother, who is always in frantic mode around my child in other’s home, it is the one house outside of my home that has always given me an overwhelming sense of comfort and belonging.
The funny thing is, I do miss the little guy. His big eyes always reach me before the rest of his taut body catches up -- and I miss that today -- not seeing him coming around the corner. But at the same time, I know that he is in the best hands, that he is being loved and spoiled by his grandparents and that although their time with Sean is finite, the love they give him will last his lifetime. I know that when I pick them up on Tuesday, he will have missed me and I him. And we both might feel more relaxed. I know for certain I will. We do need breaks from each other. Our mother and son relationship can be exhausting. I am his soft place to land, an extension of him, really and he is my lovely boy who makes me (as well as my husband and older son and those who know and love him) better people with each passing day. This does not come easy, but anything worth having is never easy.
Sam Smiles Project
3 months ago