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Thursday, February 16, 2012

In the Village

He ran away again.  This time he is pretty serious --running out the door with nothing but socks on his feet, daring me to follow him.  I usually just let him run.  Isn't that sad to say, "usually" in reference to your child running away from home.  Usually, he runs around the block --sometimes to the corner store to buy some sugar to soothe his nerves.  By sugar I mean, soda, candy, cookies, ice-cream ...you know teen-age comfort food.

This time he just runs.  Cell phone in pocket ...he calls his best friend's mom and asks her can he come to her house, which is a few blocks away.  He requests that she please not tell me.  She tells him that he is welcome to come, but she has to let me know where he is.  He agrees.

I'm glad that he has somewhere to go when he needs to get away from us.  I'm happy that he has friends that he can trust and feels comfortable enough with to share the not so pretty side of himself and our crazy life.

She calls me, and I explain the reason that he is so upset.  It's anxiety over his birthday.  He set up this unrealistic expectation for what he wants as a gift.  When I told him that wasn't going to happen...he was shocked  --appalled even.
"But that's the ONLY thing that I want!  There is nothing else!  You just ruined by birthday!  My birthday is going to be terrible!"
This is typical black and white thought.  It seems to be developing into a trend that we must break.  This making of lists of these exorbitant gifts that he wants for a given occasion.  We have to squash it.  How? Is the question.  Very carefully is the answer.

In past years on his birthday, I've been lost as to what to get him since it's so close behind Christmas.  There was never a  list.  He is usually grateful just to go out or have friends over for his birthday.  It  all about the celebration of him...not the gifts.  Now he gets all amped up about what he thinks he has to have!

I ask his best friend's mom to please talk to him about this unrealistic expectation.  He loves her.  He thinks that she is a walking angel.  He will listen to her much easier than he will ever listen to me.  After all...I am the oppressor!

They have a nice chat.  I give him an hour to cool down. I think about packing his suitcase so he can go ahead and move-in over there, since this is such a horrible place.  Instead, I just bring him a pair of shoes to put on.  When I walk through the door, he is very apologetic. "I'm sorry Mom.  I just had a bad reaction.  I didn't know better.  I know I'm going to have a good birthday no matter what."  He hugs me with sincerity.  

When we get back home, he is actually afraid to apologize to his dad...afraid that he may not forgive him.  He actually starts tearing up again.  When his dad enters the room, he leaves the room.  He comes to me and says, "I'm scared."  I assure him that it will be o.k.

Sometimes, dad is still shocked by their autistic behaviors.  He expects a typical reaction from them.  He has that old-school mentality.  "These kids are so un-grateful!"  He says angrily.

The kids are frustrating and often their reactions are inappropriate, blunt, and appear disrespectful.  It's our job to guide and reshape their thinking.  They may have that initially shocking behavior.  They may over-react to something that happens that they did not expect or that they do not like.  The way we have to handle it is by addressing it when they are calm and rational.  Yelling at them or even talking to them sternly when they are upset makes them react with"fight or flight." They definitely will not absorb the lesson when they are in that stage of irrational thought.

Blue especially, is always receptive of learning the lesson once he has calmed down.  He always feels so bad after the fact. "I'm such a bad person," he will say.  Sometimes,  dad tends to forget that.  He reacts like, "How dare him!  Or Are you kidding me!?"  He wants to correct them on the spot, when they are spinning up, which makes them spin up more or ...run away.  And there I am in the middle, playing referee.

It's frustrating to me that all these years later, I am still explaining Aspergers to their father.  He gets it intellectually however, caught up in the moment of their behavior, he wants to react with logic.  You can't always be logical, in an illogical situation or rational, when the child is caught up in irrational thought.

Parenting these children takes extremely creative thought and a great deal of patience.  I think that  a lot of men just want to fix it!  And fix it quickly!  And mostly in the same ways that they were "fixed" when they were children.
"My mother would have knocked me into next week, if I did or said that!"
Oh really?  Did you have autism? And how well did that work for you?"

Parenting these kids requires education, thought and effort.  It takes no effort or thought to just knock a kid into next week.  When your kids are different...you have to parent them differently.  The point is for them to actually learn the lesson, not for us to simply assert our authority.   As he tells me all the time, "I'm a man!  I'm not going to react or sound like a woman!"

I am immersed in autism.  I am constantly reading books, blogs, and articles ...looking for answers and insight, trying to figure out the puzzle.  I read other parenting stories, so I know that these behaviors are not just my kids, trying to get over.  Some behaviors are typical, things that all kids try to say or do.  However, their reactions and thought process is almost ALWAYS different.  And sometimes, solving even typical parenting issues has to be approached differently  --so that they actually understand the lesson.   And it may have to be repeated over and over until they get it.  This can be frustrating.

Then we have my mother living here who is trying to understand these kids, but she doesn't completely.  Of course, she has that old-school mentality.  I can ignore her judgement.  I know my kids and their diagnosis better than she does, so I can't let her thought process interfere with what I feel is right.  My husband will deny this, but I think he plays into her thought process because it backs his up.  My feeling is, when you are both as educated about autism as I am, when you go to all of the therapy appointments, take the daily phone calls from school, advocate for their IEP's, sit in every planning meeting for them, do the research on medications and everything else that I do...then I'll believe that you know more than I do.

That's not to say that my husband isn't a great dad.  The boys do connect with him in ways that they can never connect with me.  They believe that he is all knowing when it comes to certain things, that they feel I have no clue about.  They love him immensely and want his approval more than anything in the world.  Definitely, more than they want or need mine.  He is my loving partner and he is the only one who can teach them, by example how to be a responsible man, husband and father.  He still frustrates the hell out of me and I do the same for him.  

I think that I am one of the most patient mothers on earth ...and even I lose it sometimes.  I have my meltdowns --moments where I just want to scream or cry.   In these moments...I am thankful for the village that I have to help me raise these boys.  I appreciate all of the mothers of  Blue's friends who help guide him.  I am thankful for our friends who come and pick Red up and take him hiking or talk to him about girls and self-esteem.  For my brother and niece -who mentor Red with his video business

There is an African proverb that says, "It Takes a Village to Raise a Child."  In this case...it takes a freakin army!