My son is obsessed with liquids. I don’t know what it is about them that he likes. But he just can’t stop. Like that time he poured the oil everywhere and turned the stove on. Or that time I decided to treat myself to a more expensive body wash only to find half the bottle on the floor of the shower when I was ready to use it. The time he spilled the laundry soap on the floor. And then a few days later, all over the front of the dryer. What a mess that was to clean up!
The thing with liquids is that he loves the sound they make as they spill. He loves watching the different consistencies of liquids pouring all over different places in my house. And do you want to know what else makes a great splashing noise when not disposed of in its regular environment? Urine.
So that is how my day started. I don’t know about you, but the words “I’ve had an accident” cause me to pause. What kind of accident – and was it intentional or not? Then I hurry up the stairs to strip the bed or empty the toybox, or mop the floors or all of the above. The boy gets a bath and Mom gets to clean up. Again. I’ve learned to be gracious when it comes to urine all over the place – even though every time it happens it’s like fingernails grating against the chalkboard of my mind.
The rest of the morning I was wrapped up in a task I expected to take an hour. I ended up missing breakfast and rushing through lunch, which isn’t all that uncommon for autism parents. In the short hour or two before the kids got home from school I quickly fired off some e-mails, tidied the kitchen, and ran a few loads of laundry through the wash. And then it dawned on me. Aiden has a school project due tomorrow.
And then worse…he hasn’t even started it yet. I don’t know about you, but when I was his age and a project was assigned at school I organized my thoughts and then started into it right away. Usually it was finished a few days before it was due. I was in no way prepared to have a son who is, let’s face it, a procrastinator. So when he walked through the door, sat down on the couch and picked up the TV remote, I came undone a little bit.
Okay. I came undone a lot. My day had not gone as I had planned and now I had to help someone with an assignment that could have been done by now. I was stressed and empty. And hungry.
So I started ranting and raving about how laziness was unacceptable and how he needed to learn how to time manage. I went on and on about how he needed to be more responsible and that I didn’t want him to procrastinate ever again. I even made up a new rule about how when he was given an assignment he would now have to work on it every night until it was complete. And all that ranting and raving? It didn’t do either of us a bit of good, we both got upset, and I am pretty sure the whole point got lost on deaf ears before it even left my lips.
Oh, that God would give me a mouth that knows how to stop before it begins. While nothing I said was hurtful, it wasn’t very constructive. My little boy couldn’t figure out why I was so upset, and I just couldn’t stop yammering long enough to let him get a word in edgewise.
In the end, he got the project complete. Granted, not without me holding his hand and directing him on what was expected. Except, here’s the thing – what I didn’t see before I started my tirade was that he had already been thinking about his project. He had already collected his thoughts, and had some pretty interesting and unique ideas to bring forward. He just was unsure of how to get them out and how to compile them into a report expected by his teacher. He had done the ground work long before I had ever opened my mouth.
Have you ever felt like you may have blown it in a mothering minute? If the goal is to teach, equip, strengthen and encourage – I definitely failed today. We live in a world where sometimes the cookie cutter children are expected. I of all people should know that my children just aren’t capable of being that kind of kid. And here, in this crazy frustrating moment I forgot it all. All that I knew about expectations. All that I knew about autism. I had forgotten, and had unrealistically put expectations on my son to time manage, to organize and to get his project done. Autism aside, these are all learned skills. I mean, he is only in grade six after all.
Reality set in and I found myself totally wrong and in need of forgiveness. So I had to seek him out and apologize for my irrational thinking. We had a great conversation about how to move forward. Since communication is not his thing, I will need to be more diligent myself. I don’t want to hold his hand for a lifetime – at some point he is going to need to run on his own. But maybe not yet.
So as I sit here reflecting on my behaviour, I can see his report peeking out of his school book. I pull it out and look at the assignment – I look through his eyes for a moment and see an assignment he would not be thrilled to have to complete. A science project asking him to create a new animal that has to have adapted to life on a certain, uninvented planet. His eyes tell me he is fustrated because it is not real science – it is entirely fictional. His eyes tell me he is frustrated because there is a creative element to it, having to design a new animal and all of its features and its home. His eyes tell me this project will be hard for him.
And then I take a sip of my latte and think of all the praise I could have given him. Praise for struggling through something difficult to come up with an animal. Praise for being a flexible thinker and not dwelling on the fact that its habitat was not true or factual. Praise for knuckling under and getting the project done. And in this moment, I wish I could have a do over.
Sometimes do overs are possible, and other times they aren’t. But at the end of the day, I know we love each other. I know he doesn’t hold a grudge and neither do I. I know we can work together to help him get to where he needs to be. I know that we really and truly are flying by the seat of our pants.
And like I tell him when he has made a bad choice – tomorrow is a new day and a great opportunity to start fresh.