Otto and I are going on a real live genuine date tonight, in just a little bit. I am drinking a large cup of coffee by way of preparation, because the sad truth is that my idea of a perfect evening, lately, is sitting on the couch watching TV for a while before going to bed at about 9:30.
I’m not sick. I shouldn’t be tired. But I am exhausted, mentally, and that’s bleeding over into everything else. I’ve taken to shutting off my alarm in the morning and going back to sleep; on the rare occasions when I used to do this, before, I would just get up 15 minutes later when Otto’s alarm went off. Now I often lay there until the last possible minute, and one day this week when Otto offered to pack lunches and shuffle children I just let him and stayed in bed.
It didn’t help. So tonight I’m doing my best to slough off my now-comfortable shroud of “I am just so TIRED and OVERWHELMED” and instead I’m going out with my very patient husband, and I may even put on mascara.
I’ve always said that my children are very good at honoring the unofficial family rule that only one child can have a crisis at a time. Right after SHARING comes TAKING TURNS in the Lexicon Of Polite Interaction, and most children seem to understand this on instinct. My own kids have abided by it for years.
But not lately.
And no one’s dying. Everyone’s fine. Except nobody is fine. And this week I hit the wall and emails from Hippie School were ending with things like “You’re such a good mom!” because I am probably radiating waves of parental despair, which I’m gathering might be alarming. I have nice people rushing to reassure me that I’m so awesome, when I know the truth: I totally suck at this.
That’s the emotional truth, of course. The intellectual truth is… see above. No one is dying, everyone is fine, more or less. The intellectual truth is that autism is challenging and teenagers are maddening and children don’t come with a manual, but if they’re fed and clothed and not on drugs and somewhat redeeming members of society, thumbs up.
The emotional truth is that I wonder, sometimes, if I will ever come to terms with Monkey’s challenges, like, PERMANENTLY. Because right now it feels like being covered with a thousand paper cuts, each of which gapes open anew with every single incident. I scoff at those who don’t understand what his diagnosis means, how just because on a good day he can “pass” for “normal” (whatever that is) it sets up expectations that he can handle things which he cannot, and how unfair it is. But then I—in all my wisdom and acceptance and understanding—get the next email about “what happened today” and sit there and cry and cry because IT’S NOT FAIR that everything, EVERYTHING, is always so hard for him.
As he grows and things get worse instead of better, cognitive dissonance becomes my constant companion. If you were to ask me to describe Monkey to you in just a few words, “gentle” and/or “loving” would be at the top of my list. And yet… he’s violent. Sometimes. I cannot wrap my head around that being HIM because I don’t think it is. It’s the anxiety, the rigidity, the impulsivity. Not him. But it IS him. And that leaves me in that place where Who He Is and What He Does don’t mesh. At their jagged intersection is where fear blooms and grows unchecked.
And while I grapple with that, he wonders what’s wrong with him. We use all of the “right” language and try to frame it all in positive ways and tell him nothing is wrong, some things are just hard. But part of what’s fueling the anger, I think, is that he’s beginning to see that we’re playing semantics.
This would be enough to keep me buried under the covers, smacking at my alarm clock, but then there is also full-on teenagertude happening here. And that brings so very much drama, almost all of it completely unnecessary. Also, teenagers are impervious to logic, I’ve discovered. It’s both fascinating and utterly crazy-making.
Example 1: Teenager commits Actions A, B, and C in a single week—all of which violate clearly defined house rules. The consequence is that she’s not allowed to go somewhere she wanted to go (not school related), AND bear in mind that we didn’t even previously tell her she could go, only that we would think about it. But when the final edict is given, THERE IS GREAT SHOCK AND WOE.
It is explained, again, that Actions A, B and C all violated the rules, and we cannot in good conscience allow those actions to go without consequence. BUT I REALLY WANT TO GO. Right, and we really want you to follow the rules. BUT IT’S NOT FAIR. How is it not fair? Please explain. YOU WON’T LISTEN. But I will. If you can explain to me how it’s not fair, maybe I’ll change my mind. But this was a clearly defined set of expectations which you failed to meet. I’m curious as to how you think it’s not fair. YOU DON’T WANT TO DRIVE ME BUT MAYBE I CAN GET A RIDE. CAN I GO IF I GET A RIDE? No, you can’t go because that’s a privilege you didn’t earn this week. BUT THAT’S NOT FAIR. How is it not fair? THERE’S NO POINT IN TALKING TO YOU BECAUSE YOU’LL NEVER LISTEN. I just said I would. NO YOU WON’T. I’m listening. IT’S NOT FAIR! You keep saying that. Please explain. GOD! JUST FORGET IT!
Example 2: Teenager has decided that she’s really going to SHOW US by basically “forgetting” to take her medication or eat on a regular basis. Both of these things make her crabby (and sometimes itchy) and after several minor skirmishes I got in her face and said, “HERE IS THE DEAL. YOU ARE PLAYING FAST AND LOOSE WITH YOUR HEALTH AND I WILL NOT HAVE IT. MEDICATION IS NOT OPTIONAL. FOOD IS NOT OPTIONAL. SEE THAT YOU HAVE BOTH ON A REGULAR BASIS. EVERY DAY YOU FAIL TO DO SO YOU WILL RECEIVE NO RIDES.” As we are currently useless to her except as a glorified and free taxi service, I figured I was poking her where it mattered, and she did that rapid-blinking “Geez, Mom” thing where it’s clear that I’m completely overreacting and she will be texting all her friends in very short order about what a bitch her mother is.
This morning I asked her three times to take her medication and she argued with me all three times, then later I discovered that she’d never taken it. Then she screamed at me about it because clearly that was MY fault. So then we had our seven hundredth discussion of why she is not allowed to speak to me that way and what the consequences will continue to be for that behavior, and as per usual she was all oppositional and nasty and rude right up until she began to bawl that she just never FEELS GOOD, at which point I may have yelled THEN MAYBE YOU SHOULD TAKE YOUR MEDICINE AND REMEMBER TO EAT, DUMBASS. (I didn’t call her that. But I really wanted to.)
I love that kid to the ends of the earth, but if I thought I could sell her to pay for the new deck and get away with it, I’m just saying I would have some serious thinking to do.
So. Tonight I am going out with my husband. There will be music. Possibly even dancing (unlikely). Instead of crawling into bed and succumbing to the weight of my many mothering failures, I will put on a happy face for the man who is putting up with all of this and still acting like he likes me. I feel like all I do lately is apologize to him.
“I chose this,” I say to him. “You didn’t choose this. You shouldn’t have to do all of this.”
“But I did choose it,” he says. “I chose you. I chose them. We’ll get through it.”
And that is why I’m going to go put on mascara and go out and try to have a nice date with my husband. Because he may just be the most awesome and patient man on earth.