Friday, September 21, 2007

Twilight Zone

Hey! With a title like that you'd figure this is an astronomy post. Only kind of. My shiny new observing chair arrived today, and I can't wait until it stops raining to see what a difference it makes. Wahoo!

Last night, Elise and I tried "camping" in the spare bedroom in anticipation of the big three-day star party next month. We learned that our gear is way too warm for inside on the 3rd floor, and that the novelty can wear off somewhere around 11pm. Now that she's used to the idea of the tent and sleeping bag, I figure that the worst-case scenario for the star party is that she'll be up to look at the sky most of the night with me. And be an exhausted, unmanageable beast the next day. Sounds like fun! I think she will be more into camping outside, though, and I'm looking forward to next month's outing.

So, I really named this post "Twilight Zone" because one of the blogs I read regularly sent me there today in a big way. Dooce is written by a woman (coincidentally named Heather) whose daughter is about the same age as Elise. Her stories regularly remind me of the things that we experience here. Our kids have a lot of the same habits, fears, shining moments. Today, Heather made two posts that felt so autobiographical I figured I'd send pointers along to those of you who might not have already read them.

The first was a post about her recent trip to San Francisco. It reminded me a lot of our experience in London. Sure, we've focused on the good parts because there were some good times, but there was also a whole lot of abject misery. Hunger strikes, screaming fits, sleep deprivation and much, much more! And it is still with us a year and a half later because the turbulence on the flight over gave birth to a real anxiety around "fast roads." The screaming has diminished over time, but every trip on an expressway sets us back in terms of what we can do in a day. It's hard, frustrating, and part of our lives that we're learning to deal with. But back to the post, which was fairly dripping with defeat by the end. One paragraph really stood out and perfectly described how I've felt for a long time:

I felt guilty that I really didn’t enjoy staying at home, guilty that sometimes I wished to be any other place than here. Everything that they tell you about the love you’ll have for your child is true, but there’s all this other stuff that is true, too, stuff that you’re afraid to talk about, stuff that you carry around and try to hide. Stuff like resentment and fear and anxiety and longing.

Yup. That says it pretty well. Not every day leaves me feeling like this, but the difficult ones do. I was not prepared for this emotional rollercoaster, and it feels like I've been on this "fast road" for four years now. I love my girl, and I'm also conflicted about my identity as a mother. Heady stuff, and it's a huge relief to see that I am not completely alone in this.

The second post of the day that got me described how she often doesn't write about the things her daughter does because she gets tired of people writing to her and considerately telling her that her daugher is autistic. She has a giant readership, so you might imagine that's a lot of busybodies. Now, from what I read on the blog, our kids have a practically identical temperament. We have the same sorts of daily battles that cause most of my friends to look at me wide eyed and say, "Really?!"

Right or not, (and in her case and ours NOT) it's a wildly unfair person who labels a kid they don't quite "get" as somehow defective. Different from the norm, yes, but what's wrong with that? It makes a mom feel crazy and isolated, but the more I do this motherhood thing the more I think that was inevitable anyway. It's just that we can't pick the parts of it that make us crazy. Or the parts that make us whole.

Camping out in the spare bedroom last night, Elise reached her little hand out of her sleeping bag and touched my arm saying, "Mommy, I love you." And she really, really meant it. The great thing about twilight is that it really is that time between sunlight and starlight. Shadows throw things into sharp relief, bringing out detail and beauty that would have otherwise been missed. Fortification for the darkness ahead, the seeds of anticipation for the next light. Reading about another mother's trials and triumphs puts me squarely in that zone and I'm grateful.

1 comment:

Peter said...

Everyone always talks about autism as a spectral disorder. I'm almost positive that I'm probably "more autistic" than your average joe. I would also guess that I'm "less autistic" than many of the engaging, brilliant, funny, mildly socially awkward people I know.

Of course this only applies if you have a recent, pop-culture sort of understanding of autism. I think under more traditional definitions, I'm probably not anywhere close.

Was I a handful when I was a kid? I gather I was. Do I despise large social gatherings with loud music where I can't have more focussed conversation with a small number of people? Boy howdy. Did I feel like a misfit in school? Oh yeah. Do I occasionally say the wrong thing at the wrong time? Who doesn't?

Diagnosis is good if it's used to mitigate things that might otherwise cause needless suffering / unhappiness / etc. Diagnosis is bad if it is simply thrown around indiscriminately as a label.

Everyone is different, and I think those differences are often amplified at young ages--especially from the perspective of older people who know nearly everything about the youngster.

The main traits I see in Elise are extensions of her parents' traits. She's wicked smart and obviously grasped language early. Her vocabulary and communication skills are sharp like her parents'.

Stubbornness? As far as I can tell, all kids are irrationally stubborn. You've got a bit of a double whammy. She's stubborn and assertive. I think 'stubborn' is normal. How can we explain 'assertive'? ;-)

These are good traits. Frustrating now, but good in the long run. Is Elise different from other kids? I should damn well hope so. I'd be worried if two extraordinary people managed to produce a run-of-the-mill offspring.