Last night I tried to write a blog post. I was struggling to put into words how I feel about the situation in Minneapolis. The anger that permeates all the news regarding race in our country. The helplessness to change anything.
And then I went upstairs to check on my son and was reminded of WHY you never leave him alone for any reason…
This happened because I told him I was going to cut his hair the next day.
I often wonder whether my son is actually listening to me.
Now I know.
He is listening with a vengeance.
And a plan.
Below is a link on Facebook to my reaction to his styling techniques.
If you are struggling to get through depression or the continuing of Covid-19 isolation, or you could just use a laugh, it is my gift to you.
Also, you won’t be feeling so bad about your own hairstyles now, will you?
I used to scream bloody murder when I was a child. I would shriek so loud, so long, that eventually I would go hoarse. I even developed nodes–tightened knots on my vocal chords. When I finally figured out screaming wasn’t helping me I stopped. This allowed my vocal chords to relax and I discovered I had a deeper register. (As a result, I sing somewhere between contralto and tenor with a hiccup in my falsetto.)
What I couldn’t have told you, even if you had asked, was why. Why did I devolve into a nightmare child shuddering in hysterics? I couldn’t tell you then, but I might be able to tell you now.
Recently someone asked me how I managed to potty train my autistic child. I said something like, “I went through hell and back, that’s how.” Without blinking, they asked directions for the road map to hell. I finally found the notes I used back in 2010 on a back-up drive (whew), and in reviewing what I went through, I decided this might make a better post than my review of Men In Black: International. Though, with fewer references to poop. For all the autism parents out there, this one’s for you.
As my favorite tv show—The Big Bang Theory—comes to an end, it wrestled recently with a surprisingly feminist sub-plot: whether or not a woman should want to have children and what it means if she doesn’t. The series frequently pokes fun at parenting including the ambivalence surrounding having kids. Perhaps I have laughed a little too hard at some of these jokes, or maybe I appreciate that someone had raised a question that bothers me in my own struggles with motherhood*.
In science fiction/fantasy stories, when the heroine has pissed off the gods or broken the ancient talisman of her people, she can go on a quest to redeem her honor. Sure, she may have to crop her hair and dress like a boy to defeat the Hun army…but in the end, it’s worth it.
She returns with the seal of the emperor and is held up as an example of once-in-a-lifetime courage and fortitude. At the very least, she is welcomed back home with cries of “Huzzah” or a marriage proposal.
At what point does our heroine realize that she is in an epic battle for her existence?* Maybe to her it just seemed like a lot of bad luck rolled up on her at once?
I ask this question, in truth, because I think I missed a giant clue along the way.
Or I’ve defiled a temple somewhere and the gods are angry.
“Hello, this is the VA triage line, how may I help you?” The female voice on the other end of the line is calm and reassuring.
“I think I’m having a heart attack.” Me, not at all calm or reassured.
“What symptoms are you having?” The triage nurse asks.
“It felt like someone stabbed me in the heart with an ice pick.” I say, holding a hand to my chest as if I could somehow prevent a relapse. “Can I go to the VA for this?”
“Ma’am, if you think you are having a heart attack, you should go to an emergency room.”
And so starts a most bizarre week with not one but two emergency room visits for what have to be the dumbest reasons ever.
I wish I were making this up.
Despite it being a snow day in April, Monday, which is also Tax Day in America, has been mostly uneventful. After a weekend trapped in the house due to an ice storm, you’d think the kid would be climbing the walls. But no, the boy child is thrilled being home and is keeping himself entertained. I’m firmly ensconced in sloth, enjoying Supernatural reruns on this lazy afternoon. So, I am totally unprepared for the Grim Reaper to make a house call.
I am a borderline hypochondriac. Even I have a hard time taking myself seriously. One of the surest signs that I’m not that sick? I talk about it. I kvetch. I whine. I exaggerate the nature of my near-death experiences. (Spoiler alert.)
I suspect that, somewhere deep down in my soul, I believe I can stave off something really bad happening if everything is a joke—an opera of misadventure and suspense resolved with a laugh or two. But when something rears its cackling death skull, I get quiet. Really quiet. That is, until I can laugh about it again.
When the pick ax struck, I wasn’t laughing.
Here I am, mid heart-attack, maybe, and I’m staring at my autistic teenager who I can in no way take with me to an emergency room. What can I do? I don’t call an ambulance. No, I call my mom.
“Hi, you caught me in the middle of something.”* Mom tells me.
“I’m sorry to bother you, and I wouldn’t, except I have a problem. I might be having a heart attack.” I insert quickly.
“What are your symptoms?”
I tell her the details in brief and end with, “I spoke with the VA nurse and they suggested I go to the emergency room.”
“You know it’ll cost you a thousand dollars to go to an E.R.!” That’s my mom, ever the frugal one.
“Yeah, but I suspect ignoring a heart attack will cost me more.” I say.
She doesn’t argue with this. Like the trooper she is, mom drops everything to come watch my boy.
Fifteen minutes after that, I pull up to the nearest after-hours emergency center. I park and am through the door as fast as someone who thinks they are dying can manage.
Let me just boil down the results into one exchange:
“Were you doing anything strenuous or feeling particularly anxious when the pain occurred?”
“No…not really. I was sitting on the couch watching tv. I didn’t feel anxiety about anything.” I say, but then a thought occurs to me. “Uh…I was wearing a pair of skinny jeans though, and they are kinda tight. I might have been taking shallow breaths—maybe I was hyperventilating without knowing it? Could that cause heart problems?”
“Skinny jeans do not cause heart attacks.” The doctor reassures me. “The E.K.G. shows no signs of problems. You have no edema. No signs of a clot. We’re going to label this non-cardiac chest pain. We’re releasing you, but make sure to follow up with your physician”
On the way to the med center, I was making all sorts of promises to do better. To get more exercise. To eat right. To take care of myself and my son the way I should.
On the way home, I bought celebratory donuts and, once mom had departed, lounged in my yoga pants, taking deep, even breaths, while licking frosting.
This would be the end of my tale, taking a moment to laugh at the fleeting promises we make to be better people when we think our life is on the line, except that it’s not the only faux emergency I’m going to have this week. It’s not even the weirdest one.
No, this happens Friday.
My mom, the boy child, and I are scheduled to go to the local Art and Chocolate Walk which is an exhibit of local school children’s artwork at area businesses. It’s a favorite event of mine—not so much my son though. So partly, I blame him for what happens next and, in hindsight, it’s pretty damned ironic.**
We are in the parking lot beside the local mom and pop restaurant, mom gets out of her car, chatting on the phone with my brother. I’m trying to lure my child with the promise of chocolates and a walk.
He is having none of it and plops down on the sidewalk, sulking like a big dog who’s lost his favorite chew toy.
I run to grab his headphones, hoping that with one sensory battle tackled, he might tolerate the crowded venues. When I get back, I come up against Grandma On The Rampage.
“Have you seen his eyes?” Mom asks me.
[Note: she’s able to look into her grandson’s eyes right now only because he is sitting practically on the ground. He towers over both of us.]
“He’s autistic. Do you know how hard it is to look him in the eyes?” I say not a bit defensively.
“You need to be more careful and pay attention.” Mom adds, as if she never left me at my grandparents for days when I was a kid with a raging sore throat that ended up being a streptococcus virus my grandmother treated by swabbing my tonsils with Merthiolate on a Q-Tip.
So, plans canceled, I drag my kid at 5:00 o’clock on a Friday to the same exact emergency after-hours med center for treatment of what might be an eye infection or blocked tear duct.
I do not ask my child if he needs a doctor—he rarely tells me when he does need one—so I just skip straight to the E.R. visit. I now wonder what he might have said…or may have been trying to tell me.
We are at the front desk and I’m handing over the medical cards and explaining our purpose of our visit and my son picks through his perpetual tin of crayons and markers to extract a red stub of an oily pastel he has no doubt stolen from the school art supplies.
I snatch it and its subsequent twin from his hand and wrap them up in tissues I nab from the front desk.
“Sorry, these can make a terrible mess if I let him have them.” I apologize.***
We are shuttled to a quiet room which my son inspects with the skills of a burglar—testing all the cabinets and drawers for contraband.
The nurse who inspects my son and gets his vitals is noncommittal. She sends in an intern…or a trainee nurse practitioner of some kind. Maybe the first nurse suspects and wants to see if the newbie can figure it out.
Anyhow, it takes this young lady less than two minutes to identify the problem. She’s eyeballing his hands and I dismiss her concern that it’s any kind of blood.
“No, that’s just the pastel crayons he likes to play with.” I say…and that’s when it hits me. “Oh no. You don’t think…?”
She says nothing, instead, she wets a tissue and washes a smear of red off of my son’s hands. She gets another square wet, asking cautiously, “You don’t think he’ll mind if I dab his eye?” With assurances, she gently taps at the inside corner of his eye—which before this moment, looked like an inflamed nightmare—and, of course the red comes off after a few brushes with the napkin.
“Do you have a medical code for crayons? Something that doesn’t cost too much?” I ask, lamely.
“I’ll pick the cheapest code I can find.” She promises me.
I suppose, I’ll have to take comfort from that. If not from the fact that my son, who has since caught a virus and is home sick, suffered only from an overexposure to art crayons if not actual art exhibits. (Though you’ll note I did manage to go see a few displays which I promptly stole for this blog post.)
As for my chest pain, you’ll be happy to know it isn’t fatal. The stabbing sensation wasn’t in my heart—or in my head—at all. With a few pointed jabs of her finger to my sternum, Dr. B at the VA diagnosed it as costochondritis—or an inflammation of the cartilage area near the breastbone. You’d think I would be grateful.
I believe I put it a little less tactfully.
“Sonofabitch! Maybe you shouldn’t poke that hard!”
There’s no pleasing some people.
Asterisk Bedazzled Footnotes:
*This is a euphemistic was of saying, she was on the potty. I hope both you and she appreciate my sensitivity in this delicate matter.
**Really, it’s like he was saying: “So, you like art, do you? How do you feel about self expressionism or the artist as the medium?”
***For those of you who have already put two-and-two together, wait for people as slow as me to do the math. Let’s not spoil the adventure, shall we?
The sight of a bread macHinE thrown to the floor is Almost funny when it bounces.
Pounding fists, biting, scReaming.
HysTeria is catching.
ScreaMing is too.
“What is your emergencY?”
The police are not the ones who can HElp…but they stAnd by, as helpless as I
HeaRTbeat crashIng, craShing, crashing.
“Take this pill. Now this. And this.”
The doctor is a distant voice: “…he needs an inpatient mental health admission”
A long time coming
Following the amBulance thRough the rain…
Or maybe they are tEArs?
Questions without answers
“He’s just too strong for me now.”
Five people hold down my son for blood tests that reveal nothing wrong.
Vecta trance descends as digital projections swirl and spool
“We have no place for your son. He doesn’t fit the requirement of need.”
Home again, drugged complacence.
What will we do tomorrow…and the next tomorrow…and the next?
Every day is an undetonated hand grenade
You never Know when It will go off
You are grateful wheN it doesn’t.
Until it does.
I scrub blood from my sleeve and watch it swirl down the drain…
Along with the happiness the rest of the day promised.
The clock reads midniGht
It is a new day.
The author is recovering. So her is son. Please be kind. I may not have the strength to answer any questions. Read between the lines above. It says it all.
For now, my son is home and doing as best as can be expected. He suffered no major physical injury. Nor did I. But I need time to recover anyway.
November is National Novel Writers Month. I typically participate and am trying to find the enthusiasm to do so. I may not have energy to respond, but that does not mean I do not appreciate encouragement and understanding.
I will bounce back from this…I am like my bread machine that way.
After sending my son’s teacher an email warning detailing his behaviors, I re-read it and realized I made my son sound like a monster. I am now taking bets to see if/when she resigns. I give her two weeks.
Here’s a snippet of what I sent—only slightly exaggerated. Enjoy
We had another…incident. That’s how it feels, reporting these moments of autism-inspired flare-ups—like filing a police report. You can almost see the mirrored sunglasses glinting as the fictional officer approaches…
IO (imaginary officer): “What seems to be the trouble here?”
ME (me): “I…I…He…and then…”
IO: “Slow down, ma’am. Is anybody hurt?”
ME: (snuffles) “No. Well, just a little.” (rubs hand) “It’s nothing. I’m just crying.”
IO: (looks around) “By the side of the road?”
ME: (wails open-mouthed) “Yessss.”
IO: “Tell me what happened, ma’am.”
ME: (wipes snot) “I tried to take my son to the restaurant.”
IO: (gestures) “This one?”
IO: “And then what happened.”
ME: “Little Man refused to go in…but I made him. And then…” (tears well up again.)
ME: “He lost it. He started screaming and biting himself and fighting me. I tried to stop him. A woman helped me get him to a table and I tried to give him his emergency medicine. While I was getting the pills, he sank his teeth in and I dropped them all over the floor. I was wrestling him, trying to get him calm and he finally started to settle down when…” (starts crying again)
IO: “Go on.”
ME: “…the manager asked us to leave.”
IO: “I see.” (clicks pen, scribbles a few notes) “Was anyone else hurt?”
ME: “No…just my hand. I’m gonna be fine. Just need a Bandaid.”
IO: “Are you going to be okay to drive?”
ME: “In a minute. I’m just waiting until I’m sure Little Man is okay.”
IO: “Sounds like a plan. Take all the time you need.”
ME: (sniffs) “Thanks.”
IO: “Don’t mention it, ma’am. Just get home safe…and take care of that bite.”
With the click of a pen, the imaginary officer walks back to the car and calls it in, then fades away and is gone. I’m left, wondering why days like these are happening more and more often? After forty minutes, we move back onto the highway and get stuck in molasses for what seems like hours in the Memorial Day weekend traffic. My hand stings the whole drive home.
I was tempted to post a video to Facebook. You know the kind. Angry, outraged mother, slams establishment that doesn’t understand her child.* Everyone shares and declares the company the Spawn of Satan. But really, I didn’t blame the management of the restaurant, which I won’t name, but will say, what hurt the most today was not the bite. It was being asked to leave.
In the softest voice imaginable, a young man approached our table where I was standing holding my son in a head lock/hug, and said, “I don’t want to have to ask…you know that.”
He didn’t say the words. He didn’t have to. My son was being more than disruptive, he was having a stellar autism meltdown of galactic proportions. I was just trying to get him calm enough to take him out without an incident and, in a whisper, I told him that.
“How can I help?” He said.
Getting my son to the car was a small trial, but after a Vesuvius explosion of vented rage and frustration, we sat in the car. He fumed. I wept.
People came. People went.
As the meds I’d managed to stuff into my child finally worked, I contrasted this afternoon with the successful-ish visit to school earlier in the day. It was field day and all four of the students in my son’s class participated, or not, as they could. No game went as it was intended—though, the rolling tires up an incline only to chase them back down causing everyone to scatter like ten pins came pretty close. It was a physical metaphor of the emotional rollercoaster of autism parenting. What goes up will definitely come down. Probably with teeth marks embedded in it.
This is the refrain of my life. For every good moment where I manage a picnic lunch in the grass with my son and pictures are captured as proof, there is a corresponding, undocumented, black-hearted despair waiting in the wings to walk to center stage and take a giant, steamy dump.** Guess which memories last the longest?
I have reserved a small, smug nugget in my heart for the moms who struggle with their broad spectrum children. My son has had his moments, but I’ve been able to take him places and do things other families just didn’t. This makes you cocky. You want to think that you have the secret! You know something those other families don’t!
“Just push your child. Find his boundaries and respect them, but keep trying to push them.” I would think to myself.
The boundaries are now pushing back. And, at thirteen, they have the weight of an almost adult behind them. A proto-man who has his own mind and directions and preferences that I am now required to respect. Either that, or be prepared to count my fingers and come up with an odd number.***
I didn’t videotape the experience. I didn’t post it to Facebook. But for a bitter, self-indulgent, desperately tired moment I wanted to. I wanted the pity of nations and the poor-me sympathy of automatic outrage served up on a platter for autism families everywhere. It would feel so good, so soothing to be told I was right. That they were wrong. That people should be more understanding.
!!!VINDICATION IS MINE!!!
But knowing I was the one who pushed my child through the doors when he’d already said, “No!” I knew who to blame.
Being told to leave hurts. Every time. It hurts so very deep, in a place you can’t see and don’t want anyone to know is there. And every injury scars deeper than the last. Keloid patches leather your soul, making the effort to try again that much harder. It’s the smallest cuts that hurt the most; and a life with autism is death by a thousand cuts. With lemon juice squirted in for good measure. And a dash of salt.
So, while the rest of the world expands its horizons this weekend, I am weathering the storm at home, licking my wounds and trying not to be pitiful. Much.
Hopefully by next Friday, I’ll be ready to meet my childhood alter ego on the silver screen. I’ll have my silver arm bands ready and my lasso of truth set for introspection and self-revelation. And forgiveness. And I’ll be Wonder Woman once more.
*Internet Rage Fest–It’s the modern-day equivalent of Andy Warhol’s 15 minutes of fame except that it lasts forever and is shared until it reaches obscure corners of Outer Mongolia and beyond.
**Go ahead, try and scrapbook that image!
***Which my son would no doubt find oddly pleasing. He prefers odd numbers to even. He thinks numbers divisible by two are the devil.