It happened today. For the first time, my daughter used the word “weird” to describe herself. It happened in the midst of a less than stellar morning and once again, she and I were locking horns over the issue of self-care & responsibility. The details don’t really matter, what matters is that time was short, patience was shorter and suffice it to say that nobody will be nominating me for “Mother of the Year” anytime soon.
Conflict escalated and the tears began to flow. I yelled & she cried. So, as my daughter and I later sat, trying to regain composure and talk things through calmly, I asked her what she was feeling. And then it came, that moment I had been dreading. She told me that she was weird, because she was different from other girls and has a hard time remembering all of the things she needs to do to take care of herself. She told me that autism makes it harder to be a teenager and she hates the way that makes her feel. She feels like she is always getting this piece of her life wrong. She said it again, I’m weird, I’m different and I want to know why! The tears were streaming down her face, and as I looked into her eyes, my heart just ached.
I feel like crap. I could have handled things differently. I own that. Hindsight is 20/20 as they say. I feel like I am trying so hard to give her the tools that she needs to navigate this piece of her pubescent, young adult life. But I can’t help but feel like I am fucking things up royally some days. My daughter called herself weird this morning, and it happened in the midst of an argument that she was having with me. It wasn’t with some other kid, or some ignorant bully somewhere. It was my lack of patience again, my inability to step back and take a breath before speaking, that started this whole thing which spiraled into this scene.
What could I do? I held her face in my hands and told her, over and over again, that she is not weird. Yes, she is different. But different is not less than, it is not bad, it is just different. I promised, as I have before, to try to approach this piece of her life with a greater sense of patience and awareness. She promised to try to stay on top of her lists & schedules, the tools we have given her to organize her self-care. She told me she feels like she keeps letting me down because this is all so hard for her. “I’m trying mom. I’m really trying my hardest,” she said. “It’s just so much for me to think about & I get confused and overwhelmed.” I know that, I told her. Truth is, she is not letting me down. I am letting her down…
People think that because my daughter falls on the “high functioning” end of the spectrum, that autism doesn’t impact our lives, her life, on a daily basis. They are wrong. It is an ever-present force in our home and in our world. But sometimes even I get caught up in the moment and I allow myself to have the same expectations of her that I do of her sister, only 14 months younger. I allow myself to expect that she will eventually internalize all of the things we are trying to teach her about self-care, when there is a good chance that she will not. She may learn to follow the routine in time, and perhaps she won’t even need the lists or schedules, but that doesn’t mean it becomes inherent. Memorization and internalization are not the same thing. I get angry that I need to keep going over and over the same things. But so what damn it! My kid has autism. And if she needs to learn something by rote drill & practice, then I need to conform my way of parenting, even when I’m tired, rushed or out of patience. Or maybe I need to let some other ball drop out of the air at that moment, instead of coming down on her. Isn’t that how she has learned everything else in her life?
Sometimes I think my need to have her “get” this stuff is directly connected to all of the fears I have for my now teenage daughter, and her future life of independence. Will I still be making lists for her when she is in her twenties, thirties & so on? What kind of independence can she have if she can’t manage taking care of herself, her physical needs and her body? These are the fears that lurk in the back of my mind and in the deepest pieces of my heart. I try not to visit them too often. What’s the point? There are no answers to those questions right now. Besides, that’s my crap isn’t it?
It broke my heart to hear her call herself weird this morning. And to know that the feelings of being overwhelmed & confused were only exacerbated by my epic failure of patience & perspective. She has always proudly embraced her autism, but I knew the day would come where she would begin to recognize the ways in which it makes her life a lot more challenging on every level. I hope she will be able to hold onto that positive sense of self, even with that awareness. But more than that, I am sitting here hoping that I won’t be the one who screws that up. Because today, I feel like I did just that.
My daughter has recovered and has gone about her day. Me, well, as I said earlier, I am not expecting any nominations for “Mother of the Year.” I’m just hoping I can do better tomorrow.