“I see wit’ my hands!”
Owen was on his tippy toes, shouting, trying to upend a fragile art creation of Leonora’s from where it rested just out of his reach upon a shelf.
We’ve all heard the expression, “Look with your eyes and not your hands.” Idioms, expressions, euphemisms. They’re a reminder of how confusing the world can be for those that are neurodivergent. Sometimes the misinterpretation can be simply awkward and results in hilarity but unfortunately the miscommunication can venture towards dangerous as well.
Case in point, we woke at 5 a.m. this morning and Owen requested his latest obsession, the Lego movie. I explained that we all needed a break from watching it but we could do a “marathon” of Bob’s Burgers episodes instead. His eyebrows furrowed in a confused knit and Leonora hesitated before shouting “ok” as they peeled away from my body trapped under the covers.
I stumbled through assembling a quick breakfast and marveled yet again at the ritualistic habits of my offspring. I’m a creature of habit in regards to a few things but I certainly don’t hold that title compared to them. They waited patiently, under their velour blankets on the couch, huddled together like survivors from a natural disaster. In reality, it was simply their morning tradition as they waited for breakfast.
“Ok, who’s going to help me?”
They scurried out and raced behind me on my heels towards the kitchen to line up like goats at the half door. A sight, no matter how I feel or how tired I am, that brings a smile to my face. Even if I’m too tired to show that smile.
“Ok, we ready for our marathon?”
They looked apprehensive and Leonora nervously asked, “What’s a “marathon”?”
I groaned, apologized, and explained. They both looked relieved and she giggled, “I thought you meant we were going to go running.”
She looked over my shoulder outside into the dark. She wasn’t joking. They both were visibly frightened then thankful to hear otherwise. Moments like these remind me how carefully I have to monitor my language choices. A simple error in diction can result in hours of miscommunication. There are no safe assumptions. Clear, written instructions with a time table is how we make it through the day. It’s antithetical to every fiber of my being.
I like being organized and knowing my options for the day but having to schedule everything down to the minute is a little too reminiscent of working in corporate America for my taste.
So later that same morning we go to a park as agreed at the appointed time. One that’s a short drive from our house that’s in the shade, rarely crowded, with plenty of safe yet challenging equipment to climb, and is liked by all of us. Great, right? Except we happen to show up on a day that a family has decided to celebrate their child’s birthday ON the playground WITH a pinata…yeah.
It took a lot of patience and many speedy exits over the years to find a handful of parks, restaurants, and venues that work for our family to attempt a social outing. Even now, those tried and true spots are still rife with peril. Like that day. A moth to a flame, there was no deterring Owen from that pinata and that baseball bat. The collection of adults and kids made no move to include us and outright glared as Owen melted down under their stares.
Jamie gathered him up and carried him away to the car so he could melt down in privacy as I steered Leonora away to the swings. She silently climbed onto the swing and made no comment about what just transpired. I pushed her in the swing until she asked me to stop. I stepped around to gauge her expression but it was blank as she continued watching the birthday party from a distance. Her face brightened as I seemingly read her mind.
“It’s not fair of those people to take over the playground like that, huh?”
She smiled and looked down.
“It’s a public park. I don’t blame Owen for being confused about why he couldn’t join in. I understand.”
She shifted her body and leaped onto the swing so she was soaring on her stomach. I watched her and tried to remember when I felt that free and protected. Not for the first time, I thought about how all the parenting approaches and self help books can’t replace the simple act of being there for your child and showing them that you see them. That you try to get them and know them where they’re at. They don’t care if you’re using the correct vernacular or fulfilling a checklist of actions. They just want you.
Owen returned and looked a bit happier and we all were relieved to see that the birthday party had given way, pinata demolished and shared without a trace left, and the playground open once again for its proper use. Our friends weren’t able to make it and I exchanged a look with my husband that he didn’t understand and I was met with, “What?”
We gathered flowers in the field and waited a little longer then gave up to go eat. The disappointments were mounting in Owen’s mind and I was fearful of where the day was going. It was well intentioned if not misguided that we then decided to go out to eat for lunch. All started well and Owen was trying so very hard to stay in the booth, food came quickly, everyone was eating happily but it’s always the least likely action or event that can tip his sensory balance.
Leonora finished coloring the back of her kid’s menu and presented it to Owen, “Look Owen, I drew you!”
It was an amazingly accurate and flattering drawing that most adults would find difficult to accomplish much less to do so on a scrap of paper with crayons in less than five minutes. Yet Owen is very sensitive to how he’s viewed because of being bullied and it’s taken a lot of effort to get him to like seeing his reflection in the mirror or in photos. It was the feather light straw that broke his back because, to him, she was saying this was how he actually looked. There is no ambiguity in his world and he mistook this offering as an insult since other kids draw pictures of him to be cruel.
He grabbed the picture, crumpled it into a wad, slid under the table and commenced pounding and screaming, “NO!”
We paid up and went outside to let him run in circles where his mood immediately changed. I reassured Leonora that he liked the drawing, that it was impressive, and that his meltdown had nothing to do with her. In fact, by the time we got home, the picture was proudly displayed on the wall and Owen had no reaction to it whatsoever. That’s a typical day in our house. The mercurial emotions run up and down the barometer without warning. Much like the weather on an island, if you don’t like it just wait ten minutes and it’ll change.
Here’s to all of the caretakers, careworkers, parents, neighbors, friends and family of our little emotional pressure pots. May the weather be fair today for you on Mother’s Day and if not that it changes quickly. To all of you who care for others, young and old, thank you.