Inspiration for my posts often comes from the blogs I follow. A poignant piece will strike an all-too familiar chord in me and as I read I will be saying aloud to writer, as if they are sitting beside me and can hear, “I know this too.”
Earlier this week I read a piece written by Fiona at Wonderfully Wired called, Onwards and Upwards My Friends… It’s a beautiful piece about how far her family has come in its journey with autism.
Now there’s a subject near and dear to me.
How far we have come.
As a veteran mom I can confirm all that Fiona says and as I read, I joined her chorus with an “Amen!”
And an ”Absolutely”!
And a “This does happen!”
And my thoughts took me back to a piece written almost nine years. It’s about a day in the park with my son, and how very, very far we had come.
Flashback to February 2004
I am sitting in the park on a beautiful February afternoon. Meg has been anxious to come for several weeks but the weather hasn’t been nice enough to be out. That is not the case today. I am so glad that it is warm and sunny. The kids are playing, happy to be outside and I am sitting on a bench, soaking in not only the sunshine but what it feels like to actually sit at the park and relax.
Not far from me, a little girl is throwing a tantrum. She is screaming that she doesn’t want to leave. Through her hysterical sobs I can hear her saying ”I want to stay here.” I understand being upset by not feeling in control. I can understand crying and being upset by something ending that I don’t want to end. It must be difficult to be three or four and not feel in control of most things in your life. It looks like the little girl is with her grandmother, who is staying very calm through out this ordeal. She has not engaged in the tantrum, rather she has let her work through it on her own.
The little girl is rubbing her eyes, obviously tired, and her little body just shakes occasionally from her upset. Her cries are losing their enthusiasm. Grandma is packing up and calling for her to come. I think grandma is tired too and ready to go. She isn’t quite so patient anymore. She asks older brother to carry some of her stuff to free up her arms so that she can carry the girl. They walk off. Two dogs, two kids, one whose cries I can still hear, although I can no longer see them, and an armload of picnic paraphernalia. What a good grandmother. Her patience will pay off, as I am sure the little girl, once secured in her car seat, will soon be fast asleep.
I remember those days well. My child was the one screaming at the park. I used to wonder why he was the only one upset when everyone else seemed so happy and content. I felt so loud, so obvious. I have never really felt very comfortable standing out. I can still remember playing softball in high school and being nervous each time it was my turn to bat because I didn’t like thinking everybody was looking at me. I prefer being anonymous. Funny how things are. I have spent most of my life trying to quietly blend in and now I have this child who loudly stands out.
The universe have a sense of humor though and a plan for us and I believe that you are given what you need to grow. Teddy has challenged me and I have grown a tremendous amount due to him. It’s the gritty sand that irritates the oyster that makes the pearl. It is hard for me to think of myself as a pearl, but I do think of Teddy and Meg as pearls.
I just spotted Ted and Meg. They are off in the distance playing. Just as quickly as I spot them they disappear. They are having a good time. At 12, I can let Ted play now without constantly supervising him. There was a day when I couldn’t do that. Of course, no parent can leave a little one unattended at a playground, but I had to be what our pediatrician called a “helicopter parent.” That meant, as the name implies, I had to hover over him constantly. My little stick of dynamite could explode at any minute, and he almost always did when we were out and it was my responsibility to remain by his side to protect him and the other kids.
When Teddy gets mad his instinct is to lash out. He doesn’t naturally have the self-control to properly express his frustration through words. I have always said that I want to install a pause button in him. I think most people come equipped with that feature, he didn’t. He lacks the ability to stop, just for a split second, before he acts. That split second can make a big difference in what happens next. Often it is the difference between doing the right thing and the wrong thing. When Teddy was younger he almost always acted impulsively and did the wrong thing, such as hitting. Now, with age and endless reminders, he can usually pause and do the right thing. Most of the time I think that our after-market pause button may have a good chance of success.
It was tiring being a helicopter parent. It was isolating too. When the other moms stood around and chatted, I was sitting on the rails of the sandbox, right by Ted. And when Teddy did get upset, I had to instantly remove him so his behaviors did not escalate. It was all so very public. We lived in family housing at the university during this time and we played at the community playgrounds. When Teddy had his meltdowns, it was in front of all our neighbors and rather than receiving support from most, we were offered condemnation.
Teddy had quite a reputation those days. By simply showing up, he could clear a playground. Looking back on that, with the distance that only time can provide, it is rather amazing to think a little boy could be that powerful. I couldn’t blame the parents though, they moved to another playground because they had to protect their child. Teddy was unpredictable and would hit when he got upset and just about everything upset him. Parents couldn’t subject their child to even the possibility of that. I knew it, but that doesn’t mean it didn’t hurt. Even all these years later, as I hear a small boy cry, I look up to make sure Teddy is nowhere near. Old habits die hard.
It is so incredible to be sitting here on this bench writing on the laptop. It is this kind of freedom that I have discovered I really cherish. I can be outside enjoying a glorious Sunday, doing something I like to do, while Teddy and Meg are playing so well together. So often in the eight years since Teddy was diagnosed, it seems as if so much of my energy has focused on him. Of course all parents should feel that way about their child. But sometimes I have felt overwhelmed by the sense of responsibility. I so strongly believe that it is absolutely imperative that I am always doing everything in my power to help him achieve the skills to be able to live independently. It is wonderfully encouraging to see the improvement that he has made doing something that most take for granted, playing at the park. Today I am relaxed, free and full of optimism.
Well the kids are ready to leave so I am going to pack up now. It has been a wonderful afternoon. I sat here for over an hour, enjoying the sunshine and writing. Ted and Meg had a terrific time playing. I have more of an appreciation for a peaceful afternoon at the park than I ever could have imagined. Things just seem a little sweeter when you have worked hard for them. I just don’t know how an afternoon could be any better.