I live in the land of bumper stickers. Some Portlanders idea of wearing their hearts on their sleeves is by applying layer after layer of stickers on their car bumpers. It makes for good reading during rush hour or construction. Bumper stickers know no bounds – a rusty old Volvo, a sporty Lexus or a sensible Prius will often wag its owner’s political, social and/or humorous point of view. I am a conformist, too. I have a Powell’s Bookstore bumper sticker, our current Governor sticker, Chicago Blackhawks 2010 Champs sticker and an In and Out Burger sticker (if you’ve had a burger there, you completely understand.)
Some of my favorites include:
“My Karma Ran Over Your Dogma”
“My Other Car is a Broom.”
“Tea Parties are for little girls with imaginary friends.”
“Keep Portland Weird.”
I read one the other day that left a permanent mark on my brain. An Albert Einstein quote that read, “Peace cannot be kept by force; it can only be achieved by understanding.”
Like most things I read or hear I always have a tendency to apply it to my world, my life and mostly my relationship with Sean. I’m constantly searching for signs from a higher, divine being to give me some direction or meaning or hint of what this life I am living is all about and how to live it right or well or some days to just simply get through it. And this quote, in particular, spoke to me clearly – not on a global level although I certainly find it completely applicable to current affairs in the world, but more on a basic level, thinned down entirely to my relationship and struggles with Sean.
You see, it is summer. Yes, sunshine, the coo of morning doves, smell of damp rose petals, ripe berries drooping from our raspberry bushes and of course, the relentless chatter of Sean, his questions that he asks over and over:
“Who has a birthday in January?”
“Is Garfield the cat Spanish?”
“Why Aunt Maggie sneeze?”
“When is Pearl Harbor Day?”
“Where is my calendar?”
A unending interrogation, his hands pulling on my chin or turning my cheek to get my attention, his eyes wide and his lips moving as I answer his questions over and over until I say, “No more. I will not answer you any more if you talk about birthdays, cartoons in Spanish, holidays or the calendar. I will have to ignore you. Okay? Mommy can’t take any more of your questions. Mommy doesn’t want to end up in the nut hut.”
Lately, I find myself being very short with him. Rolling my eyes, big sighs, internal dialogue that goes something like this, “PLEASE shut up. I don’t give a rat’s fanny about January birthdays or Garfield and Odie!! Haven’t we talked about this a million times already?!!”
I have been grinding my teeth, my neck tightening, hands tensing, watching the digital clock on the oven – how many hours left in this day? And then, like a salty, refreshing wave that knocks me over, I see him clearly, his worried eyes, fingers bent with anxiety and his undeniable need for everything in his chaotic world to have some comforting sameness. He is the one feeling truly tortured, not me.
Some days I want to yell and scream and fight and force him to stop, with my words or an angry glare, but this isn’t the answer. It’s like the bumper sticker, it’s as simple as reminding myself to understand, to make it less about me and more about him.
I can take it too personally. The crying and fits and yelling and forget how difficult his world is for him to navigate, how he sees and feels and reacts, so different from what I know. And it doesn’t give me an excuse to shut him down, silence him, but rather lend him some heart and understanding. To use my calm, nice voice, “Okay, we are done talking about holidays, what else should we talk about?” Not dismissing him so readily.
So to obtain some sense of peace in our house I need to remember to do my best to understand Sean’s motivation, his need for repetition and the overwhelming anxiety and how it distorts the boy he is, deep down free from the chaos and fear that autism brings. I need to hold back my frustration, exhaustion and disappointment, and replace it with real understanding and of course, unconditional love.
Deep breathe, I remind him (and myself). Slow down. Relax. Meet in the middle. Keep each other from slipping away. Hold on, but do it gently. Be his soft place to rest his tired body and mind. Give him some peace.
Sam Smiles Project
1 month ago