Doin’ some character building…

Which means, of course, emotional chaos of some sort has ensued!

Welcome to the wonderful world of parenthood where dangers, mistakes, humbling moments abound.  Who needs to go on safari when they are parenting?  Really!

Once in a while I will sit down and watch those TV shows where people are seeking a “vacation home” in some exotic locale.  They say things like “we want the kids to experience a different culture, a foreign land.”  Our family gets that without having to travel far.  Well, our family gets that without traveling anywhere.  When we least expect it, it’s almost like the aliens have landed and taken over.  Yeah, it’s been THAT kind of morning.

Take for instance J: our little self-contained human being is happy being who he is and it is our job to teach him that being a little more like the rest of us is to his advantage.  Under the armor of boxing gloves, rugby helmet, Rasta hat, and such there is a very distinctive guy.  He has his quirks and idiosyncratic behaviors that would make him interesting even if he didn’t pile things on himself.  The Autism is just the icing on that particular “kid cake.”  We face the same perils and booby traps as other parents: will he become sexually active (with anyone other than himself?;) will he be tempted to drink alcohol?; will he try drugs?  Yeah, we think about those things.

Take the oldest one.  (Please?  Today I feel like raffling him off.)  He’s an intelligent and handsome guy; he’s funny and hard-working.  He is caring, considerate, well-mannered, loving.  He is responsible and an excellent driver.  He is an IDIOT!  Any takers?  He kinda looks like Johnny Depp and Colin Farrell had a baby together.  He’s not too tall, not too short.  He speaks English and has fairly good spelling.  He knows ASL and is very capable in his work at the hospital.  Any takers?  No?

Last night he went to a party.  We are realistic enough to know that, this being a college town and his friends all being college-age, there will be alcohol at this party.  The rules are simple: have a cut-off time, don’t drink hard liquor, don’t drink on an empty stomach, call us once in a while and let us know how you are.  The host was going to have everyone crash at his apartment, and we were ok with this because we were young once and fairly idiotic.  My husband dropped the kid off at 7 PM and by 7:43 we got a call from his friend asking to pick our son up.

Of course, I imagined blood, sutures, bruising.  I got skunk-drunkenness.  The hard-liquor thing?  Totally forgot that we had mentioned that (this condition is called Supposed-Maturity Induced Selective Amnesia and Hearing Concatenated With Poor Judgment and the Chronic Desire to Look Cool.)  The symptoms and signs of this condition are: nausea, vomiting, impaired judgment, melodramatic statement of how much one loves one’s parents, the vocalization of how much of a loser we are and how no one likes us for who we are.  It also brings on the confession that our favorite movie (in spite of protestations to the contrary and assiduous viewing of Scorsese films) is still Mortal Kombat.

After a bout of vomiting, saying “I love you, guys!” at least 135 times, some crying that was only controlled by mother saying “deep breath…and exhale” over and over, sitting in the shower under alternately cold and hot water for half an hour and J coming in and looking at his brother with an expression that neatly encapsulated the expression “what the f*ck is wrong with you, dude?” (eye-rolling included) the affected party fell asleep while his parents paced up and down the hallway checking on him.

I was very disappointed that, after drinking rum to excess, the young man woke up with nary a headache or stomach ache.  I then proceeded to give him one…with gusto.  Yes, he is almost 21, but he lives in our house.  Last night we unplugged his computer to prevent him from drunken messaging or e-mailing, or posting on You Tube.  His cell phone is safely hidden in my room…no use giving him the tool to text rambling, ridiculous apologies to a girl who liked him enough to call his parents but who will never forgive him for last night’s drunkenness.

So…the depths of despair a the rule of the day, and we all feel the worse for wear.  In the middle of all this horror (I know I’m probably exaggerating) we are just glad that we got a call and we could take care of the kid who thinks he’s a grown-up.  In all truth, he’s like a cake that looks done when one opens the oven, but has a little spot of not-quite-doneness in the middle.  He’s repentant and sad, and we are understanding and forgiving, but he’s still grounded.  Yeah, he’s 20…he lives in our house.  Yeah, he’s an adult and old enough to “go to war, buy cigarettes, get married,” but last night he did something tremendously stupid that we have to subtract from the equation of his age…I’d rather trample on his rights as an adult than run to the ER to be told “there was nothing else we could do to save him.”

Kids will drink.  I did it when I was younger, but never to the degree that he did it last night.  My husband did it when he was younger, but never to the point that the kid did it last night.  While sitting in the tub, naked and crying as the day he was born (but a lot bigger and hairier) our son saw J walking in to give him “that look” and said “don’t YOU ever get drunk!”  And that’s when everyone in the bathroom rolled their eyes.

Having children is not for sissies…and when I started writing this I was up to here with motherhood, but now I know I am getting exactly what I signed on for: turning bawling babies into adults…by hook or crook and wherever we may be.

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4 thoughts on “Doin’ some character building…

  1. I found your blog via the autism tag. We have a 23 year son with Asperger’s as well as three other kids, so have undergone a lot of character building over the years. I really enjoy your writing style and your sense of humour. I only write about autism on occasion because I often get distracted by something else…

    • The distractions that come from somewhere other than autism are very welcome, aren’t they? I love those days when it’s not front and center, but we have to drag it out to center stage and work around it. You’re ahead of us by a few years and any advice you can offer is most appreciated and welcome.

      Good to see you here! Welcome!

  2. Thanks for posting this. Our oldest is 14, and we’re bracing ourselves for this kind of thing in the next few years. It doesn’t help that he’s on the high end of the spectrum (high functioning autism, much more able than your guy but… yeah, let’s not go there), and has zero friends. The ‘doing stupid stuff so I can please, please just fit in’ factor worries me. But I’ve taken some lessons from how you handled this. I think you did a great job.

    • Nadia,

      I think how highly-functioning an autistic individual is can be both a blessing and not-so-much-of-a-blessing; I’ve known parents with high-functioning Asperger’s who tell me they are more overwhelmed than they imagined they’d ever be.

      What does your son like to do? Perhaps through his interests you can either find or start a mentoring program. If you find a young adult who is studying to be a Special Education teacher or clinician or a peer who is interested in similar things (and more advanced or a little behind in mastering them) this could be a good opportunity for you and your son. Is there a local college that you could contact to find someone to spend a couple of hours a week with your son? My logic is this: “I want to be a Special Education teacher” is far removed from “now that I’ve interacted with an autistic person I STILL want to be a Special Education teacher.” If your son has a hobby or interest that he’s really involved in, perhaps finding someone who is interested in the same thing and can further him along (or who can be further along the road through contact with your son) would be a good fit.

      Let me know what you find out. Sometimes it’s all about brainstorming!

      Oh, and J once asked (with hand signals) for a Mohawk…I gave him the ‘do and sent him to school the following day bracing myself for the potential backlash in mood. A week later I showed up to pick him up and there were twenty more Mohawks walking around campus…the principal said “gee, thanks! Just don’t let him get a tattoo on his forehead because that doesn’t look as good on ten year-olds!” Comfort in one’s own skin leads to greater social interaction…

      Now if I could just get the almost-21 year-old to understand that as well as J does. 😀

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