Amanda - posted on 03/10/2010 ( 6 moms have responded )
Billy was bawling his eyes out yesterday, faced pressed to the front window as his new play date and his mom pulled out of our driveway. "He's gone! He's not here! EJ, where are you?" The "you" is a long heartbroken wail. "He's not here and it's my birthday!"
It's not Billy's birthday. That line came straight from a book called Little Bear. But the emotion is real. He made a new friend and watching EJ walk away at the end of the play date was devastating.
My heart ached, and I had tears in my own throat. I also recognized that rising panic that I feel when confronted with a parenting problem I'm worried can't handle. I looked at him and it was like staring in helpless horror as an injured baby bird flailed around in the middle of a busy intersection. No amount of organization, careful study or regular therapy will ever protect my baby's heart from being broken.
Most people are more familiar with the unemotional side of autism, and we get that sometimes. It's almost easier to deal with. When I pick Billy up from school some afternoons, he's clearly waiting for me. But when he sees me, his first response might be a blank stare. And then suddenly, his face will break into the most brilliant smile and he'll run at me, arms in the air. And at the last minute, rather than throw himself into my arms, he does what we call "the drive-by:" he breaks away and runs in the other direction. It's almost like the emotion of the moment is too strong. He has to back away, size up the situation and then come at me again. It might take three or four tries before he finally accepts my embrace, but when he does, it's whole-hearted. He feels very deeply and sometimes it's too much for him.
When the anticipation of a moment is too strong -- maybe it's a tense moment in a book or TV show he knows very well -- he'll sometimes put his fingers in his ears. Anything to dull the sensory overload, it seems. Like he'll feel it less if he can't hear or see things as clearly. I think we all have moments like that in our lives, when we'd like to put a hazy filter on things, to tone it down just a bit. Billy's heartbreak over the absence of his new friend was one of those moments for me.
Then I snapped out of it. My son may be autistic, but he's no injured baby bird; he's smart and strong. He can handle this, and so can I. "Find Mama's eyes," I told him, and after a last doleful glance at the empty driveway, he turned his tear-stained face up to me.
"Find Mama's eyes," he repeated and then wailed again, "EJ is gone! He's not here!"
"Yeah, I know," I agreed, giving him a big hug. "But he'll come back. He's coming back on Sunday for Willow's birthday. And you'll see him at school, at lunch and on the playground." EJ goes to the same school, but is in a different pre-K class.
"He's not here. He's gone," he says again, but he's not crying now; he's thinking. "He's not here and it's my birthday." But the gears are working in his brain; you can almost watch them move. "Willow's birthday," he seemed to correct himself, and something clicked. "Where's Willow?"
Good point. Crap, where is Willow? In the midst of the drama, I momentarily forgot all about my one-year-old.
We find her playing happily, as usual, in her play yard. She looks up at her brother, squeals with delight, and holds up her arms. "Up!" she shouts. Instead, Billy climbs in the play yard with her. He wraps his arms around her and squeezes, maybe a little too hard, but she's a robust little thing and loves every minute of it.
I watch them play together, arranging figures and furniture in the doll house, and thank my lucky stars that there is no filter on what I feel.
Have a happy Wednesday ...
More of life with Billy and Willow at www.AmandaBroadfoot.com