According to Justin Bieber, everybody gets high sometimes. Man I love that kid.
When your life is up in the air because you are raising a child with special needs, you sometimes feel like as if you’re existing on a completely different plane than everyone else. I vaguely remember that term of geometry, yet it so wholly describes a place upon which I have dwelled: a flat surface, infinitely large, with zero thickness. And I am not sure the fact a plane offers no edge from which to leap is a good or bad thing.
There is no doubt autism can be very isolating for a parent. And even though I was aware of J.R.‘s diagnosis from a fairly young age, it pained me to observe him in the company of his peers. If they’d go left, he’d dart to the right. My head spun. My biceps grew.
Why worry? All little kids act out and most act pretty weird at times, right? I mean between all the drink spills, bickering, and refusal to wear pants (and that was just amongst the moms) who’s to know or care what defines appropriate behavior? I’m teasing. Unfortunately no matter what J.R. did, I defined it within the terms of his diagnosis. If he were playing alone quietly, I’d nudge him toward the group. God forbid the kid have space without me thinking I needed to be his social (skills) director. The poor guy couldn’t linger too long in a wave goodbye without me diving across the room with anything I had to distract from a possible flapping “faux pas.” As if he could have helped it if he were. As if it were a bad thing.
So I hovered. In a seemingly inescapable place and within this thin skin, my bird’s eye view of independent, confident, social children made me feel less of a mom. I could already see the hamsters of their teeny brain wheels developing problem solving skills, obviously close to squelching my own. Coming down, I had decided, was probably not an option.
I’ve read about helicopter parenting, or over-parenting, many times over the years. In fact, that topic is the main reason why I avoided those hateful parenting publications the doctors’ waiting rooms shoved down your throat- you know, the ones that constantly schooled us on the subject of one-size-fits-all milestones? Sure, my 3 year old with autism can help me empty the dishwasher. Pfft. As my child threw dishes, it simply confirmed the “high” life was the only way to fly. What choice did I have?
Flash forward ten plus years of piloting my lame glider, I am now the horrified parent of a pre-teen. If I were suspended over J.R. in an Apache helicopter, screaming into a loudspeaker, he wouldn’t “hear” me. If my history of constantly correcting his behavior or assisting him in daily tasks left even a dent in him, now is not the time to judge. I know this because when I asked J.R. to throw out a piece of paper the other day, his reply was “OMIGODDDD DO I HAVE TO DO SOOOOO MUCH WORK?!” I am left to wonder, though, if those times I sheltered him from “exertion,” “failure,” and “disappointment” led me to foster an autisMONSTER? I know one thing for sure: draping myself over J.R. as he attempted soccer did nothing for his sportsmanship skills. Did all of those unwarranted praises of “nice shot” and “you’re a star player!” just feed his A-S-D E-G-O? This afternoon his younger brother screamed bloody murder as he complained something was in his eye. J.R.’s response? He yelled “I’M WINNING!” and produced a celebratory gyration. Good grief.
How much of a hold autism has on my child will be my life’s greatest mystery. I do know its grip can squeeze a parent into submission, no matter what stage of life the child (or adult) exists. And as many times as I mention how close my sometimes rotten apple rests comfortably under my wooden limbs, I am no dummy. Nor is J.R. I bet we both totally get that any parent’s goal for his or her child is independence. The more I do for J.R., the worse off we’ll all be. Translation: save the hate.
Still, I chase that high. To all the DisBeliebers out there, we all get lost sometimes. Apparently, it’s how we learn. It’s how we grow. Can I “lay with [J.R.] till I’m old,” thinking he “shouldn’t be fighting on [his] own?” For now I can. I so badly want to stay grounded but for better (ok, I get it, for worse) I “won’t let go.” All I can do is hope J.R. will begin to take wing more and more as he approaches that “cold, cold” water of life. In spite of me. Until then, I’ll stick to my mantra no mother can deny: ain’t no mountain high enough.
Thanks to Major Lazer for featuring Justin Bieber in Cold Water, and for revealing my current state of mind.
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Kristi Vannatta is a mom to two boys, ages nine and twelve. Her blog, Write On!, focuses on her life with her twelve-year-old son who has autism. In her infinite spare time (ha!) she runs Puzzle Peace Now, a charity that raises money to send children with special needs to summer camp.