Hello! I am not dead. I was just doing non-computer-related things with our visitors all weekend, and it was lovely. Otto’s mom was like a kid in a candy store, just beaming at the kids and so excited to be here with us. Otto’s aunt quickly became Monkey’s new favorite person, and the rest of us sat back and chuckled as he brought various toys and items for her inspection and approval, and discussed many important issues of the day (“Do you believe in an afterlife?” he’d asked both our visitors at one point, out of the blue. “I don’t want to be dead forever, so I think there must be.”), and she, in turn, paid him unceasing attention and praised his every move.
Chickadee enjoyed the visit as well, I think, though she is sliding into teenagerhood in such a way that renders her conversations shorter, wedging them inbetween homework assignments and activities and times when she’d simply rather curl up on the couch and read a book.
We did a little sightseeing and a lot of eating and tons and tons of talking.
On the last night, Otto’s aunt turned to me and said, “I would never have guessed there’s anything wrong with Monkey. He’s delightful and he hasn’t had any problems at all!”
She meant it as a compliment. And she is truly one of the loveliest women I’ve ever met, so while it’s true that the same statement from someone else might have solicited a defensive “There ISN’T anything WRONG with him!” response from me, with her I found that my response was just… a little bit of sadness, I guess.
What I ended up saying was that yes, he’d had a really good weekend. And when he’s doing well, that’s right—if you didn’t know he has Asperger’s, you might not see it. He was happy and social and “normal” (oh how I have come to hate that word) and I wasn’t surprised that a few days of having his aunt and grandmother dote on him hadn’t included any issues. It’s easy to pass when life is good.
“But he handled the restaurant thing okay,” she persisted. Otto’s mom agreed. We’d headed out to dinner at Monkey’s favorite restaurant, which—it turned out—had moved to a different location. Upon discovering this, Otto and I opted to head to another restaurant just around the corner, because we realized that 1) the new location was far away, and Monkey was already really hungry and 2) the new location might not be open yet. Monkey was disappointed, sure, but we talked him through the switch, assured him he could order the same thing he’d been planning to eat at the other restaurant, and I’d quietly talked him through a couple of stress-reduction exercises. And I also let him order a Sprite and I generally don’t let him have soda, so that was a big treat.
In spite of all of my efforts, he was a bit more anxious during dinner than I would’ve liked. He wanted me to play games with him on the kids’ menu sheet (you know that endless game where there’s a grid of dots and each person draws connecting lines to make boxes?) and I agreed, because I sensed that it was not a day when he’d be able to deal with a “no” and keep his cool. So we played for a while and he held himself together.
So when Otto’s aunt commented that he’d “dealt with the restaurant thing okay” I had to chuckle a little, because yes, he didn’t have a meltdown; but it also involved a lot of effort and attention on my part to make sure that he didn’t, and I’d spent the entire meal on edge because I really wasn’t sure he was going to make it. (And then I read this post of Shannon’s and thought, “Yeah, exactly.” Sometimes what you see as an outsider really doesn’t tell you how much effort went into that behavior. Heh.)
Both Otto and I explained the constant heartbreak involved in keeping him okay. The judgment from others, because 90% of the time he looks like every other kid, and when the 10% of situations where he simply cannot keep himself together hit, it’s obvious that onlookers wonder what egregious failure of parenting has resulted in such unacceptable behavior. It’s better, I assured them, than when he struggled more often. Of course it is. But the less he struggles, the harder the remaining struggles are, simply because others believe he “should” be able to handle it. After all, he’s fine most of the time, right?
The visit was—to my mind—far too short. I blinked and then it was Sunday morning, and time to head back to the airport. We all hugged and thanked one another for such a wonderful time, and I whispered to Otto’s aunt that she simply must talk Otto’s uncle into coming down with her, next time, and then as quickly as they’d come, they were gone again.
Chickadee spent most of yesterday finishing up a school project that was due today. Monkey spent most of the day cocooning—my word for when he clearly needs some downtime. He curled up in his room and read. He watched a little bit of TV. He played a few games on the computer. By evening he was complaining of a stomach ache, but couldn’t say whether he was hungry or sick, so I scrambled him some eggs and made him some toast and he ate and went to bed.
This morning Monkey was downright pitiful. He was tired. It was too bright. It was too early. He wasn’t hungry. Why did he have to go to school? He wanted a nap. He wanted it to be dark.
Everyone gets up on the wrong side of the bed, sometimes. For my beautiful son, though, the gregarious, delightful boy who had both his aunt and his grandmother protesting that he “seems perfectly normal,” this morning was not a surprise to me at all. Three days off his regular schedule, three days of constant, unusual social interaction… it taxes him. Maybe you don’t see it, but he’s working so hard to stay “okay” while his slightly miswired brain is trying to tell him that this is HARD and WEIRD and DIFFERENT. It’s not that he doesn’t love it, on many levels. It’s not that he didn’t have a blast, because he totally did. It’s just that it’s hard work for him. It saps him of energy. And then he wakes up with a bit of a… hangover, if you will.
Going to school today will be good for him. It will get him back to the schedule he needs and craves, and help return him to equilibrium. I warned his teachers that he may need a little extra help today. If the day goes well, he’ll be back to normal tomorrow. If it doesn’t, he may need another day.
Either way, he’s a perfectly normal Monkey. Whatever that means.