I was in Target the other day and I ran into a mom who has a son the same age as my son, Jack. I think they were in third grade together, and again in fifth.
We stood chatting in the aisle, about the price of baseball cleats and some other things, and just as I turned to leave, she asked me a question.
How is Jack?
I answered her in this stupid, fake, bright-as-a-penny voice.
Jack? Oh, he’s great! He’s doing just great. Thank you for asking!
As I stood in line with my cart and the loaded the bags into the car, I thought about all the things I could have told her. I could have told her the truth, but the thing is, my truths sometimes feel like secrets that I need to hold close to me, and safeguard. My truths are ugly.
Everyone else’s truths look so pretty, so fresh and fun and easy. I know, I know, Facebook posts and conversations in the aisle of a store are not always accurate–not always searingly honest–but I can’t help it. I wonder things.
Does anyone else have great big loud arguments with their husband?
Do you ever look over at your children in the middle of dinner or whatever and think, I have no idea what I am doing with these people but how many times do I have to remind them to use a napkin?
Or listen to your child with autism–the very child from whom you coaxed words like a rare, sparkling gem and celebrated each new sentence–obsess over a something like what time the movie starts or if the wind chill factor is going to drop, and murmur under your breath shut up, please just shut up I can’t listen to this for one more second.
Is it just me?
The truth is, every once in a while, I see her son in the gym when I drop my daughter Rose off for practice. He stands there in a semi-circle with a bunch of other boys, dribbling a basketball.
I don’t think Jack can dribble a basketball.
I don’t feel sad much anymore about Jack’s Autism Spectrum all-in-capital-letters Diagnosis, but it’s hard to watch the normalness of his peers, while he is stuck in the space of Disney moves and hot fudge sundaes. It makes my heart squeeze a little.
Jack doesn’t do a whole lot of normalness.
The truth is, I don’t tell him I love him enough. I don’t tell my son that I love him to the moon and back and I would do anything for him and I think he’s just the bees knees as often as I should.
See, I’m too busy putting a fork in his hand when he’s using his fingers to pick up a meatball and telling him to use his words when he’s screaming in my face and reminding him that we do not swear in the grocery store.
The other day he called me a b&^%#. It was like a slap, or the cold water that splashes in my face when I’m on a waterslide. I was stunned.
But wait! There’s more! I have more secrets to share!
Sometimes, when I am sitting on my couch with my husband, trying to have a conversation after I shuttled everyone to basketball and Girl Scouts and drum lessons and home again, then made dinner and cleaned up and shouted at all five of them to take a bath and go to bed already, and Jack comes down the stairs fifty-million times to ask where I am and lately he only talks in a high-pitched voice and he says Mommeeee where are you as if I’ve run away on some exotic vacation instead of just loading the dishwasher, sometimes, I have bad thoughts.
I can’t do this forever.
I cannot do this for the rest of my life.
Children are meant to grow up, and move out, and live on their own. But this may not happen for me or for him and this was not how I pictured my life and it makes me feel scared and frustrated.
I love him.
He screams all the time now. Not like three-year-old-tantrum kind of scream, but loud, frustrated shrieks whenever we ask him to do anything. He is angry, and hostile.
Jack, can you put away your back–
What is your PROBLEM.
Hey, buddy, you can’t talk to me–
YOU DON’T GET ME AT ALL.
And then we take things away and we tell him his behavior needs to stop and his cycle of rage begins to spiral and before we know it, he is slamming things and screeching swear words and generally out of control.
The other day, he pushed me down a couple of stairs. It was not really hard and no one was hurt, it was eye-opening. This isn’t getting any easier.
I know that if I have a boy who pushes—a gentle giant of a son who bakes cakes and listens to music and curls up to sleep with six pillows every night —then maybe someone else has a son or a daughter who pushes.
If that is you, well, you are not alone. I am right here in the trenches with you. My 12-year old pushed me while all four of my other kids watched and they were nervous and I didn’t know what to do but I was angry, and sad.
Every single day I am scared he is slipping away from me, even when he’s closer than ever.
Mommmeeeeee. Where are you where are you are you here where are you.
What if we lived in a world without subtext—a culture without mystery—and we could just tell the truth?
If someone asked me, “How is Jack?” I could just answer honestly, and simply.
This is harder than I expected.
The truth is, like love, progress moves softly. It doesn’t announce itself in broad daylight or ride in like a white knight on a fast horse. It is a whisper rather than a shout.
It is a small glimmer of light at the end of my endless tunnel.
I love him.
The green pen is his favorite.