Every Morning

Saying goodbye doesn’t mean anything. It’s the time we spent together that matters, not how we left it.          -Trey Parker and Matt Stone, South Park, Tweek Vs. Craig, 1999

I have pulled up in front of the high school and am dropping Nigel off in the morning as I have done since he started wrestling two months ago.

“Bye, honey – I love you; hope you have a good day!”

He picks up his backpack and bag of wrestling gear, opens the door and climbs out, shuts the door, and walks into the school without a word, without a glance. This happens every day. And this morning it struck me that even though my son has changed so much in the past ten years, this one thing is still the same. When it’s time to go to school, he doesn’t say goodbye.

When he was five (and for two years before and after), every morning I would walk outside with him when the SPED bus pulled up to the house. I would follow him up the steps of the little bus, greet the driver, and buckle Nigel in his seat. I would kiss his head, tell him I’d see him when he got home, bid the bus driver a good day, and step off the bus. Then I would stand in the front yard, smile, and wave goodbye to my son as the bus pulled away. And every day, Nigel would stare straight ahead. He would not smile; he would not wave. This went on for five years.

As time passed, he learned to say goodbye in certain situations. For the past two years, I have been able to leave him home alone for short periods of time, and he will respond, “Bye, Mom” when I say goodbye to him. When someone has been visiting our home, he will say “Bye” upon their departure, with prompting. It is never initiated.

As a parent, I’ve learned to just accept it. I’m sure that they continue to work on it in his social skills class. But the fact is that his hard-won ability to talk does not guarantee the ability or the desire to say what society expects. This is one of the many facets of autism. In his mind, perhaps, it is unnecessary to say a parting word upon leaving someone’s presence, especially when it happens the same way every single morning. Or, perhaps, as he gathers his things, steps out of the car, and readies himself to enter a loud, bustling building and function in an unpredictable environment, he doesn’t have the reserves to say anything, to acknowledge me, to be polite. He is too focused on preparing to begin his day at a place that he would rather not be. Even when he is not being bullied, his sensory filters are in overdrive, and his stress level is high. He has to regulate his behavior with both peers and teachers for almost nine hours. And that ain’t easy. I don’t have the heart to tell him yet again that it would be “polite” to say goodbye to the person who drops him off.

And so, tomorrow morning, I will pull up to the front curb of the high school and tell my son that I’ll see him when I pick him up after wrestling practice. I’ll say goodbye and tell him that I love him. And he will pick up his things, get out of the car, shut the door, and continue on into the school without responding. And I will drive off to work and be thankful that, at this point, he does as well as he does. As much as I would love to hear him say goodbye, I don’t need to. I’ll just look forward to the smile he gives me when I pick him up from wrestling practice. That’s worth a million forced goodbyes.

16 thoughts on “Every Morning

  1. Casdok

    C also doesnt do goodbyes. I just get the feeling from him that i shouldnt be there. Picking him up has got better and he now does acknowledge me with a look and the smile comes when we get home 🙂 But it is worth waiting for!

  2. Carrie N

    I love reading where you are.

    Grayson does say good-bye. Primarily when she’s up to something and trying to get rid of us.

    Like you, I’m the only one calling good-byes and waving on school mornings.

    S’okay. 🙂 The quote you picked is just perfect and TRUE.

  3. Cheryl

    I loved the quote at the top of your post when I first read it. (I hadn’t heard it before.) And I love it even more after reading your post!

  4. Macrina

    I just watched that episode last night, and that line caught my attention, too 🙂 If you figure it out, let me know. I can’t get Cody to remember to say good night if he goes to bed before me, which, for some reason, is a big deal to me. But there’s usually alcohol involved, so I’ll blame it on that!

  5. Paulene Angela

    My son frequently had delayed reaction when people said hello to him, he’d answer when it was just too late for the other person to realise.

  6. M

    it’s one thing you can always count on with nigel: a lot is going on in that mind of his even when he’s not responding. it takes an enormous amount of personal strength to navigate all of those situations knowing how difficult they’ll be. the way that in an average day he takes on more than most people ever have to deal with…and the fact that chooses the difficult path…it’s kind of great.

  7. Meg

    He’s working so hard, and you do so well at realizing that. And hellos (in any form) are so much better than goodbyes anyway!

  8. Carrie

    Okay, so the day after I announced to the Universe (on your blog) that Rojo doesn’t say goodbye, he said, “Later!” when he left for school!

  9. Nicki

    I have that same problem myself sometimes… I think part of it is being inside your head so much that you sort of forget that the other people can actually see and hear you. Like, if someone says “bye” to me, and I might notice it and think something like, “Oh, bummer, so-and-so is going,” but I just don’t remember to say something!

  10. corrie

    It is the smiles that keep us going. He has his own way of letting you know that he loves you. And you know that special way he acknowledges you.

    I have a hard time myself I get so task oriented that I forget the social niceties. I have an extroverted son who reminds me, “Good morning, son. How did you sleep last night? Would be nice before, ‘I need you to get up and take out the trash.'”

    Yeah, well if you’d gotten up four hours ago, I might have remembered the greeting, now I’ve spent four hours thinking about the trash needing to go out. 😉

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