The past few weeks have been a whirlwind. My husband and oldest went to China together for a trip of a lifetime. They travelled to Shanghai and took a train to Beijing and made visits to many of the ancient wonders -- The Great Wall, The Temple of Heaven and the Forbidden City. They went to a tea ceremony and visited the World Expo back in Shanghai (my oldest desperate to visit the Canada Pavilion to see some hockey. He was equally impressed with the Czech Republic which built part of their pavillion out of of hockey pucks -- travelling all the way to China to see hockey? Go figure.)
After nine days they returned home for a day, each of them heading out the next day for different trips. My husband was travelling to Las Vegas for a trade show and my oldest was going to Outdoor School at a camp in the Columbia Gorge near the Sandy River. Another week without the anchors at home. Another week feeling adrift.
Meanwhile, Sean seemed to struggle more in their absence. He liked having me to himself but I was becoming worn down and less patient than usual and that made him frustrated and unsorted.
There was one day that was particularly difficult. I went to get Sean from the bus and he seemed to be in good spirits. We took the puppy for a walk and stopped at the park, the weather was unusually sunny and crisp. He seemed happy.
When we left to go back home he started to unravel. I don't know what it was but he became anxious, his body going limp in places and his mouth twisting. He started to pull at his pants and lose his arms in his sweatshirts, caving at his knees and hitting the ground followed by whining, then yelling and screaming. I went to him, the puppy pulling in the opposite direction, but Sean rolled away in the middle of the park driveway, coming up to his feet and running into the street. I panicked. The puppy wanting to go the other way, my left hand engaged with a leash and only my right hand free to reach Sean.
"Fine," I said, "you have your fit. I'm going back."
I thought he'd follow me, shrug off his sticky thoughts or whatever was making him so upset, and turn to catch up with me but he started running after a car. I could feel people starting to watch us, his bare bottom peeking out of the top of his pants, his arms lost in his shirt, and his sleeves wagging like wind socks. I rushed back to him, dragging the puppy with the leash, and righted his pants and tried to grab him with my arm, pulling him into me. He was thrashing and scratching, his eyes not his own, but wild and flecked with yellow, watery with tears. I pulled him as far as I could toward the parking lot where I had parked the car. He continued to scream, scratching my shoulder and I could feel the burn and the sharpness of his nails (I meant to trim his nails the day before) and dragged him to the car.
Any body walking by might have thought I was abducting this child. He was hitting me and snarling and I was strong-arming him into the car, pushing him down into his car seat, my shoulder and arms chalky white from scratches, dotted with blood. I couldn't talk because I was holding back my tears and anger and disappointment.
I buckled him in and got into the car. I was certain people were writing down my license plate numbers reporting me to the authorities -- kidnapping of some sort. I couldn't drive right away. I was trying to take deep breaths, blocking his arms and legs that were forcing there way past the head rest of my seat.
"Stop it!" I yelled. "I can't do this, Sean. I can't do this anymore," and I felt the tears come, my voice hyperventilating and my body shaking with fear.
I drove a bit down the street and called my husband.
"What's going on?" he said hearing the shrilling yells.
"He's out of control. I don't know why. What am I supposed to do? Do I take him to the hospital? Should I take him to a police station? What am I going to do!?"
My husband was in Las Vegas, unable to do much and only imagining the chaos.
"I'm sorry. Can you make it home with him? Just make it home and try to calm him down when you get there?"
"I'm tired. My arm is bleeding. I am so tired of this. We have to come up with something else. This isn't working."
In the back Sean screamed, "I hurt my Mommy! I hurt my Mommy!"
"I know, I know. Just call me when you get home, okay?"
I drove further and Sean came up between the front seats and plowed his small fist into the side of my nose. The pain so sudden and unexpected that I stopped the car and pulled over to cover my face. More noise and rocking from the car. Surely somebody is calling the police. I took another minute to get him back into his carseat and drove the rest of the way home, my nose and arm flaring with pain.
When we pulled into the driveway, he softened. He was muttering over and over, "I am sorry I hurt my Mommy. I am sorry."
I brought him into the house and hurried over to my neighbor's. She has a lot of experience in social work and knows our situation well with Sean.
"What do I do? He was out of control and loud and screaming. I think someone called the police. I don't want them to come and take him away. I don't want any problems."
She assured me that that would not be the outcome. She told me to call his teacher to see if he had a rough day. Follow up with his doctor to see if I needed to take him in. I did both -- leaving messages with the school and the doctor's office while he lay in a heap on the floor.
When he settled down I ran him a bath and fed him. He seemed hungry and tired. He thought he left his backpack at school but he didn't. "That is why I was so sad, Mommy. I thought I left my backpack on the bus or at school."
When I tucked him in I sat down on his bed and said, "Sean, you can't be like that, do you understand? You could have hurt yourself or somebody else. You hurt me, Sean. You scratched my arm and you hit me hard."
"I scratched you?" he said, surprised. How lost he had gotten in his rage.
"Yes, and it hurts." I showed him my arm, dotted with scratches and cuts, swollen at the top.
"No more, Sean. You can't be like that. You have to control yourself better."
"Yes," he said sleepily.
The next day after school he was stimming, going through his routine questions,
"How do you spell Brad? Is there a P in Brad? How old is Duncan?"
I went about putting dishes away, robotically answering the questions. Then he became silent and I looked over at him, his eyes big and doughy staring past my shoulder,
"I am so sorry I hurt you."
I tried to get his eye contact and moved my head into his field of vision,
"Are you talking about yesterday? Is that what you are sorry about?"
His eyes locked with mine, and I saw real pain and compassion in his eyes,
"Yes, Mommy. I am so sorry I hurt you." Then he turned away sharply and began hopping and continued with his questions.
For a brief moment, I saw what keeps me connected so tightly with this child. I clearly saw the boy that is locked inside under layers of tangled brain wire, impulses and neurological storms. I heard that boy calling out from underneath it all, telling me that he didn't want to be the way he was and for that, he was sorry.
"You know I love you, Sean. And I am always going to love you. That's why it made me so sad. If I didn't love you so much I wouldn't care. Do you understand?"
He looked up, his eyes unfocused and said, "Duncan's a baby?"
I stayed with him, "You understand, Sean that I love you, right?"
He was looking at the ground, his fingers moving and he said, "Yes. Yes. I love you, Mommy."
That night when I tucked him in he ran his hands over my arm.
"What is that?" he said, over the edges of the scrapes.
"It's from the scratches when you were upset the other day."
He was quiet, I could hear his breathing and he said firmly, "I will never do that again. I won't."
I pulled his covers up, and brushed his mop of hair from his eyes.
"I know you don't want to be like that Sean. You just have to keep working hard, okay?"
With that I kissed him and turned off the light.
A friend, who has a child with autism, said to me once,
"If I was married to somebody who treated me like my son does I would leave him. I wouldn't stay. But he's my son. And he's autistic. What choice do I really have?"
Thinking back to that I realize we do have a choice. We can run and carry our hearts over our heads, protected and safe from being smashed into a thousand tiny shards, or we can make peace with what it is and stay. Like so many parents in similar situations, we grip our hearts with hands of armor and we hold our children with our achy, scratched arms and we love them the best we can, the best we know how. We learn to let go of the darkness, to release grudges and to not take it too personally. We have to search for love and forgiveness and bathe their tired souls in what we can tap into on those particular days. And in the end, we amaze ourselves at our ability to stay steadfast with our love. We don't run, we stay. Everyday we make that choice. To stay and fight for our kids.
11 months ago