Monday, April 11, 2011

I Witnessed Autism and I Want to Be a Better Mother

On Sunday, April 10th, more than a month late, we finally got around to Jaykob's birthday party.  Circumstance led us to not being able to do it any sooner.  In our new neighborhood, our next door neighbors seemed very nice and on Saturday, we invited them over for cake and ice cream as they had a little boy and girl about my older son's ages.  We told them gifts weren't necessary, it was informal and it was last minute for them.

For the full story, click on the headline.

I was cranky.  I spent Saturday running to 5 stores for gifts and party gear, I was just finally getting over pneumonia.  On Friday, our A/C decided to start freezing over to where it just stopped cooling anything.  Saturday night, I'm trying to make the cake by decorating for 10 minutes, the icing start melting, freezer for 20 minutes.  It took hours in the end to get it all done.  I got to bed about 4am.  I ended up waking up around 9:30 Sunday.  90 minutes later than I had wanted to get started.  I stayed cranky.  As I sweated in the 83 degree house, I made Jaykob's requested birthday dinner of grilled hamburgers and hot dogs, egg salad and macaroni and cheese.  I was behind schedule and the kids were getting antsy for our very first dip in the pool at our home.

Staying out of the water to cook, the boys went in while the twins slept in swings on the patio.  I got even more cranky and short with my kids.  I'd been short for a couple of weeks as some family drama had put me in a foul mood, being so sick (with what started as the flu turn to thrush, strep, ear and sinus infections and eventually pneumonia), and the kids being extra whiny lately.  I watched them dipping in the cool-ish pool, while I sweated over peeling eggs, getting annoyed.  I know, I know - my son deserves his party and all, but with the A/C out, cooking and running in and out to the grill (the husband isn't allowed to cook if I'm able), I was annoyed I couldn't just run and hop in.

After lunch, I did get a 30 minute dip and it was heavenly, but in my haste over the last few weeks and a strong penchant for not bathing in funky tubs, my legs look like Yellowstone.  So I got out in enough time to change into longer pants.  Dyllyn gets our neighbors.  The mother came over with her two children, her husband was unfortunately working.  I had not met any of them yet and my husband had only met her husband "officially".  She introduced me to her little girl.  A wonderfully well-spoken 4 year old, with an imagination to envy.  Then she introduced me to her son.  As a mother, I sensed the son was "off", having a bipolar son myself, I had no idea what it was just that something was there.  I don't know if all mothers with special needs children can "feel" it or if I had spoken with my online friends so much about their own trials that I somehow recalled it without realizing it.

The mother mentioned after a few minutes, that he had autism.  I can imagine, after 7 years, she could tell my voice probably changed to one of sugary pity.  Not that I intended to sound that way, but from the chats and conversations I'd had, I knew that her road must have been incredibly difficult.  Given how long she's dealt with it, I'm sure she can detect it in other's voices when she explains.  Through their time here, we discussed that he was high-functioning but his verbal and social skills were affected.  Only recently has he been able to start communicating his needs.  Think about having a young toddler for years, hearing the cries and screams for wants and needs, not hearing words.  Now imagine, your first meeting with the neighbor and her children, see this little boy in front of you start to grunt or whimper for communication at 7 years old.  She patiently explained to him each time "We use our words please" and he responded, shortly, but frankly.

She did this while also keeping her little girl entertained and attended to.  When we went bonkers trying to find what happened to Jaykob's candle, she helped with our kids.  Jaykob, in his special goofy way blew over the candles, under the candles, around the candles and spit on the cake.  But he got there!  After we got through all this, watching her play with our kids, work with her son, Jaykob decided to have another moment of "I want it, but I know I shouldn't have it".  He reached for the ice cream scooper that was on the table.

All I could see was a dripping mess, drawing ants on the ground if he got a hold of it.  Well, that or a complete breaking of it.  I tried to tell Jaykob nicely, please put it down.  I tried to get his attention with his name a couple of times.  Nothing.  My husband then tries a couple times.  Nothing.  She walks over (we were also dealing with cranky twins at the time) and whispered to Jaykob she had a secret mission for him.  His secret mission, was to go inside and put the scooper in the sink.  But the condition was he had to keep it a secret!  He turned, walked right into the house, put it in the sink, touched nothing else and came outside smiling and told her "I did it!".  In that moment, I felt bad.

With her autistic son and sweet little girl, in about 24 hours turnaround, she still brought a gift for Jaykob.  A Woody pull-string talking big plushie doll.  I can't get out of the house without planning a couple of days ahead of time because I'm always so tired.

It wasn't her intention at all and I'm not even sure she realizes it, but I felt like a grumpy, unhappy mommy.  I'd been short with my kids for a couple of weeks from all the stress of what was going on.  I made the excuses at the end of the day that they were just being rude.  Turns out, even though they do share the blame (I mean really, it wasn't *me* who messes with the A/C panel, it wasn't me who lost their DS, *I* didn't drag the wii-mote accessories across the floor), but I wasn't helping the situation.  I've always held that kids could sense the tension.  I just didn't realize how much tension there was until a loving, patient mother was put in front of me.  Now, that's not to say I'm a bad mom, but I could be better.  I love my kids and would do anything for them and occasionally have gone beyond the normal mom things.  I sacrifice my time, willingly and don't get out much.  I sacrifice new clothes, a special snack for me, or a pedicure to save more money to put towards their birthdays, we have family dinners and decorations for all the holidays.  (Though I admit, I enjoy cooking and decorating so it's a little for me, but I love to see their faces!)

I'm not always a patient mom.  Knowing what I saw yesterday, and seeing a tiny fraction that she deals with day it and day out, for years while most likely, my children will grow out of their maladies quickly in comparison, made me want to be patient.  In just a couple of hours, I learned a lifetime of lessons.  A good friend recently wrote a book and had a wonderful chapter on asking God for patience.  I'll admit I asked him a time or two myself.  And just like her, when I've asked for it, instead of having gifted it to me, I'll get a lesson or two.  I'm not a devoutly religious person, but I thanked God before I went to bed last night.  I thanked him, with tears in my eyes, for leading this woman's path across mine.  With more patience, my son will do more homework, my 2nd son will behave better and my twins will not sense my tension.  You see, it won't be that the kids did the homework, or that my 2nd son's behavior will change.  It will be in how I perceive and parent them that changes.

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