Last Monday morning.
I shuffle into the boys room to grab them something to wear for the day as always. I’m not a morning person. The cogs in my brain grind slowly in the morning, but I begin to put together the pieces of what I see. Charlie is still peacefully wrapped under his pile of blankets sound asleep.
Charlie. Time to get up, my love. You’ve gotta start getting ready for school. You must have slept in today.
Charlie is a morning person. He happily springs out of bed everyday at some horrid hour. He usually just gets his iPad and hangs out in front of the heating vent until I get up and start the Let’s Get Ready For School band wagon rolling.
This morning a combination of the time change and a lingering chest cold have erased his morning iPad time. We need to start right into getting ready if he is going to make the bus.
But, this is not what we do.
Charlie heads downstairs and slumps in front of the heating vent.
I didn’t get my iPad time. It’s not fair. He repeats over and over, not moving.
I tell him he can use it now while he eats his breakfast. We have some time for that. He sits, motionless, the iPad I try to hand him lies unclaimed on the floor between us.
It’s not really about the iPad time, of course. It’s about Routine. Predictability. It’s about the beautiful ever flowing and repeating patterns of life.
Spring. Summer. Autumn. Winter.
Red. Orange. Yellow. Green. Blue. Violet.
Ipad time. Breakfast. Brush teeth. Clothes. Shoes. Coat. Backpack. Bus.
It is creating order from chaos.
I’m sorry, my love. I know it’s disappointing. I will make sure we do better tomorrow. But, today I really need you to start getting ready.
I didn’t get my iPad time. It’s not fair.
I hear the clink of Tommy’s cereal bowl as he places it in the dishwasher and feel my anxiety rise as Charlie is clearly not moving.
Listen, Charlie. I will make you a deal. I don’t have a way to give you back time this morning, but I can give you extra screen time after school. That way everything will be equal just in a different order. Deal?
“Deals” are what we have done with Charlie as long as I can remember. We find a middle ground. We each have a stake and a responsibility in the outcome. It’s worked really well until this year when someone involved in his care seems to have made some poor decisions.
Charlie’s eyes widen at me in annoyance.
I don’t do deals anymore. Deals are what adults say to get you to do what they want. Deals are lies.
I can see I am not going to solve this right away. I stand up, take a deep calming breath, and walk away.
I can yell, scream, or threaten punishment to get him to do what I want. But, it won’t really work. I know this, not because I have some deep soul connection to my son, but because I have done it. I have parented the way I thought I was supposed to. I have laid down the law. I have bullied my son into compliance. In doing this I have managed to deliver an emotionally distraught child to school on time. I have also manged to teach my child that when I tell him it is not okay to threaten people to get his way, I do not apply that same standard to myself.
It’s not even remotely who I want to be. And more importantly it is not what he needs.
So this morning I rise from the floor, take a deep calming breath, and walk away. I remind myself of the simple yet sage advice an autism mama friend, whose children are further down the road, gave me a few years ago.
Some mornings he won’t get on the bus. It’s okay.
Whenever I write about autism acceptance, I inevitably hear from someone either telling me how sad it is that I have given up on trying to help my son or how nice it must be to live my hearts and flowers version of autism. I struggle most days to find the right words to respond to people’s comments, but I admit these ones always really throw me because both ideas feel so far removed from what I believe autism acceptance means.
One of the beautiful things about acceptance is it’s pure simplicity, really.
To me, acceptance simply means I work with my son, not against him.
It means I don’t get to decide what the standard is for what is an acceptable reason to be distressed. I don’t get to decide that because the routine being out of order wouldn’t bother me that it shouldn’t bother him. I don’t need to share his views on this event being upsetting. I don’t even need to fully understand why it is. I just need to accept that for him the change in routine is simply not something that he can get over just because the bus is coming. I need to accept that he needs to have the time and space to right what feels wrong before he can move forward.
So this morning I rise and walk away. I busy myself with getting Tommy out the door and give Charlie what I hope is the space to work through this himself. The bus comes and goes and Charlie remains curled in front of the heating vent.
I squelch every urge I have to push the issue with him. I want to tell him it’s not okay to miss school. I want to tell him we all have our responsibilities in life. Instead I plant myself in front of my laptop and read a few blog posts and out of the corner of my eye I see him dart to the refrigerator and grab a loaf of cinnamon bread and head back to the heating vent.
Quiet. Quiet. Stay the course, I tell myself. I start paging through the New York Times online, distracting myself with the news of the day, until eventually I hear the rattling of Charlie’s dresser drawers upstairs. A few minutes later he finds me at my laptop. He is fully dressed and has his iPad in hand.
I’m going to watch Mythbusters the mysterious exploding boom episode. A boom doesn’t just have to mean a sound. Then I am going to go to school.
He retreats to another room at this. I follow him. I am feeling anxious again. I need to get started with my workday. I know better but I say it anyway.
Can you watch something shorter than Mythbusters? School has already started and I really need to get to work Charlie.
He does not look at me. He continues towards his heating vent and says softly to me or maybe just to himself.
I’m going to watch Mythbusters the mysterious exploding boom episode. Then I am going to go to school.
With that, I know this is the wrong battle to wage. I retreat. I head for my laptop and log into my work network beginning my workday to the background sounds of what I assume to be the mysterious exploding boom.
Soon enough Charlie appears before me dressed in his coat and backpack.
I’m ready to go to school now, Mommy, he says with the sweetest smile. Do you need some kisses to start your day?
I think I do, Charlie, I say as we head for the car. He will squeeze me tight around the waist, planting loud smacking noised kisses all over me.
It’s ten a.m. on the dot when we arrive at school. We walk in the main doors to find his class in progress to the auditorium for an assembly. I look towards his teacher to offer an explanation for our tardiness, but she is not looking at me. She is beaming at Charlie and he at her. She pulls him into a hug and tells him she had missed him last week when he was home sick. He happily begins to tell her there are rules about being fever free for 24 hours before you can return to school that he had to follow. They head off, arm in arm, neither looking back at me.
Charlie missed an hour and a half of school when all was said and done. But, in that hour and a half he figured out on his own how to right himself when something unexpected was thrown at him.
This is what we say we want our children to learn. Problem solving.
“Great Day” was the note that came home in his communication log at the end of the day.
The next day I would wake up early to be sure Charlie was up and got all the time he needed.
But, that would be the next day. This day, this was a great day.