Tag Archives: hopeful parents

A Drop in the Bucket

Remember that post I wrote shortly before school started – the one about the three girls I had talked to one afternoon? No? That’s okay. Go ahead and read it here. We have time.

Over the past twelve years, I’ve talked to a great number of people about autism. I’ve talked to relatives, friends, neighbors, teachers, and complete strangers. I’ve talked to parents at playgrounds, ice cream store employees, grocery checkers, and kids at bus stops. I’ve even gone to a different country to talk about autism. And regardless of where or how or to whom, I always wonder if I’ve said too much, if I haven’t said enough, or if what I’ve said made any difference.

Sometimes it does when I least expect it.

About six weeks ago, my son started high school with a self-imposed vow to ride his bike to and from school every day. He had been practicing around the neighborhood for a few years, and I believed he was ready to do it, even though the idea made my heart race. The day before school started, we did a dry run with him riding his bike to school and me following in my car, about a hundred yards behind. In a previous post, I described how I saw him ride past three teenage girls, and how I saw the girls mimic him with exaggerated gestures, laughing. I quelled my anger and made a split-second decision to pull up to them, roll down the window, and politely, diplomatically let them know that my son has autism. The girls seemed receptive, albeit embarrassed. I didn’t really say much, and I wasn’t sure what good it would do. In fact, I just thought, Three people – a drop in the bucket. But I also realized that getting those three people on our side might make even a slight difference.

Weeks pass. Things are mostly okay at school and the bike-riding is going well, to my ultimate relief. I come home from work on a hectic Wednesday and rush around to get a few things done before my two boys get home from school. Minutes later, my younger son waltzes through the front door, his bus on time. He hurries to remove his confining shoes and greets me. He goes to the kitchen to get a snack. I look at the shed in the backyard to see if my firstborn is putting his bike away yet, since the boys usually get home within minutes of each other. Not yet. I sit on the couch and pretend to nonchalantly read a magazine. Fifteen minutes pass, and my anxiety continues to rise. I get up and decide to go look for him. I jump as the phone rings, pounce on it. Thank God, thank God, it is my son. He has remembered to use the new pre-paid cell phone that is in his backpack. He tells me in his flat voice that there is a problem with his bike. “Did a car hit you?” I gasp.

“No. The rear tube and tire are falling off. Could you come and pick me up?”

Oh, wonderful words. Beautiful sentence structure. Impressive problem-solving. Blessed safety!

“Yes, yes, of course. Where are you?”

“In front of the elementary school.”

“Okay, I’m getting in the car right now. I’ll be there in just a few minutes.”

A block from the elementary school, I see him, walking his bike while holding the handle bars. And then I realize that there is a girl walking beside him. I do not know her name, but I instantly recognize her. She is one of the three girls. Yes. I almost don’t believe it. Awareness in action.

I turn up the block before them and park the car. I get out, wanting to thank her for walking with my son, but as soon as she sees my car, she immediately gets on her cell phone and crosses the street. I get the awkward vibe – she wants to help, but she is still a little embarrassed by her previous behavior. I don’t want to make her feel uncomfortable, so I let it go. I thank her in my mind, send her the appreciation vibe.

I open up the back of my small SUV, and my son walks over with his bike. I praise him for remembering to call me, and together we remove one of the bike’s wheels so that we can fit it in the car. Afterward, we get in and I ask him if the girl had been walking with him long. “Not too long,” he says. “But she was nice.”

Oh, yes. When you least expect it. Even drops in the bucket make a difference.

With My Eyes Open

How many times have you heard “They grow so fast”? In my almost fifteen years of being a parent, I’ve heard it a lot. I’m sure most of us have. And all the times I heard it I would smile and nod; I wanted to seem wistful, like other parents. But inside I was thinking that it didn’t seem fast to me.

Looking back, I always wanted to get through my children’s various stages. When they were babies, I couldn’t wait for them to sit up, become mobile. I figured they would be happier when they could do those things. I figured they wouldn’t cry for hours on end. I figured I could get some sleep then. I figured things would be a little easier. Then I couldn’t wait for them to start talking. I figured they wouldn’t get so frustrated. I figured they would stop screaming. Of course, I had to wait many years for that (both the start of the talking and the end of the screaming).

Then there was all of the “extra” stuff. Two sets of IEP meetings, specialist doctor appointments, tests, and therapy sessions. I wanted to get through all of that, too. I was so busy trying to get through everything I perceived as stressful that I developed tunnel vision. And while tunnel vision is great for finishing college or being apart from loved ones for a long time, it’s not the best way to be a parent – whether you believe they grow fast or not.

And now my younger son is 13, in middle school. The older one, almost 15, just started high school. I catch myself thinking “if he can make it through this first year, he’ll be okay,” or “as soon as he’s finished with middle school, things will be easier.” But what about the time in between? Why do I still want to get through it? Some of it is still stressful, yes, but not all of it. And sometimes when I least expect it.

Take, for example, my son’s appointment with his psychiatrist today. I rushed home from work, picked him up, and rushed to the doctor’s office. On the way, I realized that I had forgotten the book I wanted to bring to read in the waiting room. Then I started thinking about what the blazes I would make for dinner, wondering whether the pharmacy would still be open after the appointment, and hoping that the DVDs that were due today were all in the cases that I had tossed on the back seat of the car. We arrived barely on time, signed in, and sat down to fill out the half-page form that must be filled out for all appointments. It requires a few checkmarks and about six written words. I have started having my son do it so that he learns these things. This is the third time I have instructed him to do it, and for the third time, he balks.  “Why do I have to do it?” he demands.  “I don’t like writing,” he growls, and then, when he is almost finished, he fumes, “Just because it says ‘signature’ doesn’t mean it has to be in cursive!” “Why are you being so argumentative?” I ask, trying not to smirk. “I’m not being argumentative!” he retorts. And then I start to laugh. I try to hide it, try to turn it into a cough, but he calls me on it. “You did that because you’re laughing,” he says in a low voice.

After assuring him that I’m not laughing at him, I try to explain the concept of stress release, that sometimes I just start laughing when something’s not really that funny. What I feel like telling him, but can’t, is that I realize I’m also laughing in relief. I look at my beautiful, argumentative son and it hits me. He’s talking now. He’s not screaming. He’s not bolting away or writhing on the floor in sensory overload. All this time that I’d been trying to get through all of that, I never realized that I did get through it. Yes, more issues have come up. Different sources of stress. Just because he started talking and stopped screaming doesn’t mean that all of my stress is gone. But that stress is gone. The stress of dealing with a bolting, screaming, nonverbal child is now gone. We didn’t get here by magic, but still, we finally got here. For years I didn’t know if we could. And I am laughing, wondering why I hadn’t stopped to realize it before.

I need to turn off the tunnel vision, open my eyes, and look around at what’s happening now. I have a few years left with my children before they become adults. And even though at least one of them will still be home with me for an indefinite amount of time, things will not be the same. Even though, to me, they don’t grow fast, they still grow. And I don’t want to miss any of it because I’m too busy trying to get through it.