Saturday, October 23, 2010

Sometimes I wonder...

I wonder about myself a a parent, as though 'parent' is some kind of independently moderated constant concept.

I wonder if I would have been a different parent, if autism hadn't been thrown into the mix. I wonder if autism makes me a different parent (not better or worse, but different). And I wonder if the way I started parenting, before I knew much about autism, was the way I would have gone on...

Tomorrow, we're off to a birthday party. Our lovely, compassionate, welcoming school community have included Billy in a classmate's celebration. I feel very lucky to have found this village, and know that they are playing a huge role in Billy's development (in the unmeasurable human ways).

But I've already hit the red wine bottle trying to calm the old nerves in preparation for the event.

Will he cope? Will he understand? Will the subtleties of the house party experience evade him altogether?

While I've been thinking, it's sent me back to my own childhood. I've been struggling to remember kids parties in my own life. Perhaps I was one of those kids no-one wanted at a party.

There's no doubt I was not the rudder by which my peers navigated their way through social waters. I dreaded parties, never sure when to eat, what to do and where the toilet was (let's not even start with the issues around using toilets in places that were not my home...)

I know, as a child,  I sought the company of adults, and impressed them with my knowledge of obscure non-child-like subjects (are you sensing a pattern here...?) Perhaps my memory of kids parties is actually my memory of the space away from the children, who always seemed to be engaged in deeply pointless and unfathomably random activities.

Oh God, my kid didn't have a chance, did he?

So, here's my question. And it's not that much different to the ones I was asking in my head when I was a child.

Is everyone else worried about the things that I am worried about?

Do the parents of the perfectly NT kiddies sit at home, knocking back the red wine, (avoiding the work they should be doing... that's a whole new conversation), and thinking 'how are we going to make it through that birthday party?'

Do they wonder if their child will break something without ever knowing it shouldn't even have been touched? Do they fear their child might choose to take a leak in the potted palm? Do they dread that their child will stick out when it doesn't occur to them to greet anyone, or leave the birthday presents for the birthday boy to open?

I think I was lucky (or not) to have been gifted with a temperament that said, 'Just don't do anything spontaneous, in case it's wrong.' This meant my childhood was spent in detective like observation of everyone and everything. When I wasn't discussing foreign languages with the parents of my friends, of course.

Billy has a stunning temperament of his own. Sweet, calm, connected to his experience.  He is like a barge anchored on a choppy bay - unassailably himself, regardless of what life throws at him. He has a rawness about him that makes his days rich and deep, even in their mundanity. Even as a baby, I would swing from thinking he was sick, to knowing he was thriving, just by observing his reaction to the minutiae of his day.

And that is why I may need a little more alcohol before we go to this birthday party.

I hope the other parents have a parallel experience to this. It's tempting to think they're just thinking, 'Oh sweet, two hours off, what will I do?' But, I hope I'm not completely right... not because of their decisions, but because of mine.

Because (and here's the tail of the circle finally coming to grab onto the head), I suspect I would still be the mother who wanted to be at the party with my son, even if he wasn't on the spectrum. I think I may have always been the mother who wanted to walk alongside my kid as he broke out into his own world.

And I guess I've got autism to thank for making that kind of hovering, codependence possible.

Now, if only I could use autism to justify the red wine, the overwhelming desire to eat potato chips 24/7, the ever-present thought that if only cigarettes didn't kill you, I could smoke again...


Anonymous said...

I love your blog. If cigarettes weren't the worst thing you can possibly do for your health I would be enjoying one on the back stairs right now.

Love Nicki

Anonymous said...

I can't wait to read the comments you get. I have no idea what other parents do before birthday parties. I'm a wreck before, during and after them with both my boys (the two that are old enough to go). My oldest has severe anxiety about parties, and used to cry almost the whole time. And my middle one, well, right now we just go to parties for other kids on the spectrum. I have yet to say yes to a party for a "typical" kid in the past two years. I'm scared.
I use autism to justify the wine, the cookies, the chocolate...

Lisa said...

Woooh, how much ground did you cover in this post?
Heritability of autistic traits, to stay or not to stay at parties, parenting skills...

OK, then, I throw stuff back at you!
Parenting autistic kids makes you a 'better' parent. Because you have to be. Parents of NT kids can be lazy and get away with it. Parents of different kids can't. I am defining 'better' here as 'what the experts consider to be good parenting skills'. You know, all those PPP programs, and behaviour experts, etc. etc. I discovered this when we were sent to one of the above programs many years ago to 'fix' our parenting skills because our child was being difficult at school. And the 'experts' just told us we already *had* all the skills they had to teach. We'd learnt them the hard way, because nothing else had worked.

Heritability? Yeah. Dreamer has had me doing the Baron-Cohen AQ test on facebook. If both parents take their scores, add them together, divide by two, then add some for genetic magnification - bingo, you should get your child's score!

At least it helps when you know your child is a chip off the old block.

Now, birthday parties...
Having done much practical research in this area (ha!) I have discovered that there are NT mums who hover - and they should be shot. They are not there to protect their child, really, they're there to annoy and distract the host mother, by incessantly talking while she's trying to run a party.
There are these stages to kids parties - all mums stay, only hovering mums stay, let them out of the car and drive away quickly, and finally, use public transport kiddo, and make sure your phone is charged.
(That last bit is so that when they catch the wrong bus, they can phone you at midnight from god knows where, to say 'I'm lost, please come and get me').

Knowing when to switch from stage 1 to stage 2 is fraught - from when you're *expected* to stay, to when you're *in the way*.
I discovered that it all depends on the host mum, and their parenting/partying/understanding skills. Stand back, watch the host, if they look competent, it's safe to leave.

Oh dear, I've written an essay, and I haven't even had breakfast yet.

DQ said...

Thank you again for such a glorious post. I think that I, too, am one of the mums who stays at the birthday party. I always have with Pinky, my oldest.

I also think these kinds of things you are wondering about other parents. I wonder if other people have a knot in their stomach every single morning before school, and a slightly less tense one for the entire day, always making sure their mobile is in reach, just in case the school calls. I wonder if the knot tightens again as they wait for their child to emerge, wondering if he will be holding the hand of the teacher, meaning a bad day, or if he will be happily on his own. I wonder if other people get through the school day only thinking once or twice how their kid is doing.

I hope the birthday party, all the minefields and delights that this represents go well for you all.

Red wine gives me a headache, I prefer muscat, from Rutherglen, if I can get it :)

Anonymous said...

I wonder what's wrong with me.....Often, I'm so exhausted by the constant meltdowns, screaming and aggression that I desperately want a few hours away from him.

Yet I still struggle to leave him at parties, have anxiety every morning as I drive away from school and get overwhelmed by the fierce protective lioness that dwells within me.

Even though he's not always someone I'd choose to spend time with because it's not always love for him overrides all that.

And I'd like to use autism to justify my coffee and chocolate habit.....hmmmm

Anonymous said...

we've gotten two invites now, the first party is next week and i'm already sweating over it. our thing is always the transition from activity (bounce place, painting party, blah blah)to the food phase of the party. that is the spot where a meltdown will gladly insert itself and the fear of that happening in front of his entire class is making me eat candy corns for breakfast. and house parties? ha, forget it. last one was a tremendous fail (much of it was spent with carter muttering about the "stupid strangers" all over the place and how there was nothing for him to do). we now say no thanks and anyone who has met us completely understands. i cannot fathom ever leaving him at a party. but i kind of can't imagine leaving brooke when she is of age so maybe i'd be a hovering typpie mom as well...

Mama Deb said...

Ooh, girl, I hear that last paragraph loud and clear!! I admit to having just snarfed down some cheese puffs and a reese's peanut butter cup and am now working on my first, before-5 o'clock glass of wine. Three years post the last cigarette, and fortunately I don't crave those anymore.

Ro said...

We always stay at the birthday parties, you can hide in the guise of 'helping' in the kitchen or just come out and admit you're there to ensure no anxiety for Billy.
You'd be surprised how many other parents struggle with the same dilemma!

Yellow Robin said...

My 7yo boy (Erin), with AS, went to a friends' after school party last week. The b'day boy's mum offered to pick him up after school and take him. I left uni early so that I could be there for at least part of it.

All day I was worried and felt like I had done the wrong thing. I worried that he would forget who he was going with, that he wasn't listening properly when I explained these plans, I even worried that he would forget that the present was in his school bag and think that he didn't have one to give.

When I got there they were playing pass-the-parcel and I franticly asked the other mum's how he had gone. Thankfully I knew them all and one is a mum of an asd boy too. And then Erin got to unwrap a layer of the parcel. I heard laughing and he bolted past me, straight under the cupboard in the laundry bawling.

His prize was Babie stickers which was of course very funny to the other kids. Even though Erin actually wanted the Barbie stickers he was so embarrassed that he had been laughed at that he refused to sign 'happy birthday' eat cake, or join in for the rest of the time.

By the way ALL the other mum's were there, including the NT mums, drinking tea and fretting over allergies and so forth.

Thanks for your blog, it is one of my favs :-)

Rebekah said...

i get to be BOTH of those moms, or at least i hope to one day. i will explain...

i can drop jesse (my NT 8yo daughter) anywhere, and she is just fine. i don't worry. i go read a book and sip a latte.

i take joel anywhere, and i am constantly mapping out his potential escape routes and preventing him from breaking things. that's where the "hope to one day" part comes in. joel isn't going to be invited to any parties any time soon, which is fine. i have plenty of other opportunities to hover, but i do kind of hope to have to worry about it one day.

Anonymous said...

Hey Val :)

I think parents of NT kids have no idea what real stress is. I don't think they sit down the night before a kids party downing red wine and stressing out about how their child would cope.
I doubt they would even think about the party other than what gift they should buy (lol)
And just between you and I from time to time I DO have that nasty, very bad for me smoke (lol) hey what ever helps, right?

I think we all would be different people not just parents if Autism was not in our life. But I think we are actually better people and parents because of Autism.
You are a wonderful mum and I look up to you as a mother and a person.

Thank you for sharing your life :)

Dearna said...

I dread parties.I go because the ones we get invited to are 'our' friends kids parties.And one day when the kids get to choose who comes I worry that C wont be on that list.And I want him to have this experience because he loves it.He is blissfully unaware of other peoples reactions to his quirkiness.After the last one I spent almost two hours crying.Most of that into a teatowel on the kitchen floor.But we will go to the next one.Because he wants to.Just thinking about it makes a cigarette sound mighty good right now.