Tag Archives: letting go

Surrender

It would be almost impossible to enumerate the many things we learn from our children, particularly those who have special needs. Infinite patience, for one. Hope. Perspective. Appreciation. Acceptance. Love. And maybe a thing or two about dinosaurs or natural disasters.

But with each of our children, special needs or not, if we really stop to think about it, we might find that one thing stands out above all else. The one thing that we really needed to learn from them, and from them alone. I wrote recently that what I have learned from Nigel is the power of belief.  More than anything else, every day of his life, Nigel has taught me to believe. But what I have learned from Aidan is just as valuable.

In a word – surrender.

We’re not conditioned to view surrender as a good thing. To most of us, it means giving up. But to me, surrender means letting go. It means letting go of that which I cannot control. It means letting go of expectations placed upon a near-typical child. It means accepting What Is. And it’s something that Aidan, even more than Nigel, has taught me every day.

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Unfortunately, I don’t write as much about Aidan. This website is called Teen Autism, and Aidan was never officially diagnosed on the spectrum. He did, however, experience a significant delay in language development, necessitating speech therapy until almost age ten. But what really affected him – and still does – is his sensory processing disorder. He must have been miserable as an infant, toddler, and even a preschooler. It wasn’t until age five that he seemed to be somewhat at home in his body; he was finally talking and smiling more often than crying and yelling.

But his eating issues continued to get worse. Whereas I would call Nigel a picky eater, Aidan is a limited eater. A year ago, as he was nearing 13, I started to realize that it seemed to be a control issue with him – not to control me, but to have some control in his life. He couldn’t control that his dad, whom he idolized, lived 700 miles away. He couldn’t control that he had an autistic brother. But he could control the food that he decided to eat. So what started off as a sensory issue developed into something even more involved.

And it bothered me greatly, not just because I worried about his health and his growth. It bothered me that I couldn’t just cook dinner for my child and he would eat it. Even at age 13! It bothered me that he was a teenager and, like his brother, should have been eating me out of house and home (even though Nigel is picky, he still manages to eat a variety of foods, and in mass quantities). And it bothered me that Aidan would eat more food when he was with his father. I took him to see a counselor, and he fought me, saying, “You’re making me do something against my will!” I compromised, telling him that if he increased his dinner choices to seven things, one to rotate each day of the week, that we would stop going to the counselor. He reached that point within three weekly sessions, and although I followed through, he has since lapsed to five or six items on the rotating dinner menu.

So I surrendered.

I let go of my expectations about Aidan’s eating habits. I let go of my expectations about how he responds to having an autistic brother (hint: it’s not always noble or gracious). I had to surrender. I had to. And I thought that if he could spend more time year-round with his dad that he might start eating better when he’s with me, too.

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He has been with his dad for over three weeks now. I’ve talked to him several times, and the last time I did he told me, with excitement and pride in his voice, “I’ve been trying lots of new foods, Mom! I’ve been eating a lot.” And I told him, choking back tears, that I was so glad to hear it.

And someday soon I will tell him that there is nothing I wouldn’t have done to help him to be as happy and healthy as possible. I will tell him that it’s okay that he’s not always glad to have an autistic brother, that I honor his feelings. I will tell him that I accept the fact that he eats differently. And I will tell him that I have become a more balanced person because of it, because of learning to surrender.

Aidan, age 9, being a tiki at Pu’uhonua National Historical Park, Hawaii, 2006

Wing Check

I remember the public library near my home where I grew up – in a suburb twenty miles east of Los Angeles. I felt comfortable there, surrounded by books and like-minded people. I loved to go there, whether it was to find a cozy novel or to do research for a report or essay (definitely pre-Internet). When I was fourteen, my parents would drop me off with instructions to be standing out front for pick-up in an hour, which always went by too fast.

I still love libraries, especially small ones like the one I grew up with and the one in the small southern Oregon town in which I currently reside. Once every two weeks, Nigel and I walk the third-of-a-mile distance from our home to the library. I read magazines while he peruses the juvenile shelves for his favorite book series, Eyewitness, covering topics as varied as the Civil War, Ancient Greece, pirates, knights, and everything in between. After a half an hour, he has made his selections, and we check them out via the self-checkout (which he loves), and then we walk home. Often, since it is a small library, we need to request certain books through the inter-library loan service, and that is what Nigel did last week for the book The Neverending Story. And they called today to let us know that it had arrived.

I was busy working, trying to meet a deadline, and of course Nigel had to get his book right then. I thought for a second. He is fourteen, he can communicate, and he wants to be independent. He can do this, I thought. I took a deep breath and the words came out as I exhaled: “Would you like to walk to the library to get it yourself?”

“I can go,” he said, some excitement in his voice. “I know how to get there. I can get the book myself.” He quickly went to put on his shoes and jacket, as if worried that I would change my mind. “I’ll watch for cars,” he added.

I opened the front door for him as he left. “Be careful,” I said. “And come right back after you get the book.” I checked the clock and allotted enough time for him to walk there and back, added a few extra minutes for distraction, and noted what time I should start to worry if he wasn’t back yet. Ha! Start to worry. Like I wasn’t going to worry the entire time he was gone.

A minute after he left, some idiot on a scooter sped down our 25-mile-per-hour residential street, and I worried about Nigel reacting to the sound, or worse, not getting out of the way fast enough. I worried about him crossing the busier street that the library is on, I worried about someone luring him into their house. I worried about him darting away from bees and other flying insects, I worried about him leaving his library card at the library and having to go back for it (which has happened before, even when I was with him).

But these are the baby steps we must take. I would love for my son to at least have a semi-independent life, and I must start fostering that. I must let go a little. I have to trust. I’ve laid the groundwork, and now it’s time for him to test his wings a little. And it’s time for me to let him. I just hope that the idiot on the scooter is long gone when Nigel makes his way back to the nest.

It was silly of me to think that I could focus on my work while Nigel was gone. He has gone out on his own before, for bike rides around the neighborhood or to go to a friend’s house, and I worried those times, too. I don’t suppose it will get any easier, especially as he gets older and wants to do even more things independently. And I know that this is something all parents go through to a degree, especially since I have a younger, non-autistic child and go through it with him. But it is different – they are different.  They have coping tools and social skills to see them through many situations that Nigel does not, making him far more vulnerable. But I can’t deprive him of the satisfaction of walking to the library himself to check out a book if he is able to. And I believe that he is.

Right on time, actually early, he walks through the door, book in hand and library card in pocket. “Everything go okay?” I ask. “Fine,” he says, and shows me the book. It’s probably the same exchange that took place with my parents when they picked me up at the library all those years ago. And it feels just as good, all these years later.