He is so fluent in body language that he picks up even the most regional of slangs…

Whatever you do, keep your knees and elbows relaxed.  Not to the point where you look like Goofy ambling down the road, but relaxed enough that you don’t resemble a Rock’Em Sock’Em Robot.  J does NOT need a phrase book to figure out what the stiff spine and set-in-stone jaw mean, and -like a hypersensitive smoke detector- he will react to what he senses entering or leaving the room.  By “react” I mean he will soak up the mood like a sponge and then he will mimic it in varying degrees until, by some miracle (or titanic effort on mother’s part,) it will peter out and disappear…

While it is not like walking on eggshells, it is necessary to carefully consider one’s reaction before exposing J to it.  While individuals with autism tend to have difficulty reading facial expressions and such, J seems to -over time- have become an exception to this rule.  Tightly squared shoulders send him, hand extended in offer of a handshake, towards the person who looks less than relaxed.  The round of handshakes can be interminable when more than one person is in less than a good mood…

No one meant to be upset this morning.  Things just evolved in a way that translated in J’s mind to “something is not quite right.”  I woke up early and started the coffee; I then came downstairs to do my yoga and strength exercises while Dada finished up preparing our breakfast.  When it was time for J’s med, I jumped in the shower, leaving Dada in charge.  I’ve learned to let go of things because, honestly, I am aware that I cannot control everything, but this is only effective when people heed my advice…if I say “ask if he wants THIS or THAT” it isn’t unusual for people to say “do you want THIS?” or “do you want THAT?”  Instead of putting J in a position to choose so that he has to accept what he has selected for breakfast, only one option was given and the whole Universe (yes, I know I’m being hyperbolic, but you’ve had THOSE mornings too, haven’t you?) was thrown off-kilter.

While I was showering, which is something I usually do AFTER J leaves for school, J poked his head into my bathroom and, because one plus one equals two, he assumed I was showering because we were going out.  Just like I spent countless, mentally-painful hours trying to reason out why a “variable” couldn’t be whatever I wanted it to be in Math, J doesn’t always get that a change in the routine isn’t necessarily leading up to what he suspects it’s leading up to…  So I made the mistake of showering in the morning and leaving J to field the issue of breakfast with Dada.  (Notice, please, that I implied J was in charge…not to underestimate or undervalue my beloved husband’s ability to handle this, but…well…he doesn’t really LISTEN all the time.)

By the time I was on my way back to the kitchen, J was muttering to himself and Dada was trying to negotiate a sudden change in menu.  “J you chose WAFFLES so you can’t now ask for something else.  You asked him to pick, didn’t you?,” I asked Dada.  With a slightly defensive tone creeping into his speech, Dada replied “he said WAFFLES!”  J’s eyes darted from Dada to me, and I asked -very calmly- “but you offered him the two choices, right?”  J squinted and crossed his arms, turning towards Dada.

That body screamed -in very measured tones- WELL, ‘FESS UP, DADA!  My husband, with a sigh of defeat, admitted that no, he had not offered choices.  He had simply done what I always tell him (and TGG and anyone else who will be in a similar position with J) not to do…he had said YOU WANT WAFFLES, RIGHT?  J smiled, feeling vindicated and knowing that his mother, channeling Solomon, would make a clear judgment call in mere seconds.  “He gets both, then.  Sad to say, but he was not given the choice so we now have to negotiate with him,” I said.  I sent J to work on sorting the recyclables and packing his snack for school.

Not twenty minutes later, Dada stomped down the stairs.  The excuse for the intensity of the walk and the tone of voice he used was “I want to make sure I don’t forget anything.”  The body language screamed “I can’t believe you disagreed with me. I can’t believe you called me out in front of J.”  J, sitting at the kitchen counter eating his waffles, sat up very straight when he heard the steps on the stairs…

No, it was not a threatening stance.  It was not anger or outrage, it was merely the normal reaction of an adult who feels mortified because a mistake that can be easily resolved with a neuro-typical child is not as easily resolved with an autistic individual.  A regular, run-of-the-mill kid can be told “well, you’re not getting that and that’s that.”  Heck, in fact, a regular, run-of-the-mill kid will get whatever they want for breakfast and, as long as it’s not ice cream, chocolate bars, anything with ketchup or barbecue sauce, we probably wouldn’t give it a second thought.  I remember, in adolescence, having a can of Pepsi and a frozen Snickers bar for breakfast, and my mother never really noticed or was bothered by it.  Am I appalled now?  Yes.  I’m not proud of my ridiculous eating habits then, but I’m trying to do better with my children.

Anyway…

I got closer to Dada and said, in a soft, kind tone, “your body is saying you’re anxious and J is picking up on it,” and -forgive me for this- being a guy, he decided to say “no, I’m just trying to get out of here with everything I need.  Is TGG going to want to go for our walk this morning?  These early morning walks are a hassle.  Has he called yet?  It’s almost seven-thirty.”  Out of the corner of my eye I could see J, and I could tell he was picking up on the nerves suffusing the room.  “Hey, he’s got his interviews today…I don’t think…” and cue the front door.  TGG walks in looking (and don’t tell me God doesn’t have a sense of humor) rather stormy.  “My stupid cell phone didn’t have a signal and I tried to call and couldn’t and I didn’t know if we were going walking today and…”

“J, can you go get the snacks for your snack box?  We forgot to fill your snack box!  Can you go do that?,” I said to J who was staring at everyone in the room, shoulders tight and neck even tighter.  He walked away, snack box in hand, looking over his shoulder every two seconds.  Once I heard him reach the bottom floor I looked at the other two grown-ups in the room.  “WHAT the (insert expletive)?  Do you have any (insert expletive) idea how you’ve upset J?  I know you’re both upset for different reasons but PLEASE control the urge to spread it around IN FRONT OF J!!!!”  Cue fast paced argument flying in ten different directions, excuses and reasoning that makes no sense, and then CREAK on the bottom step and even faster arguing until I say SH! and, two seconds later, J walks in.  Eyes wide like soup tureens (a bowl just won’t do for this simile) and mouth downturned, J brings the snack box to me…and I chirp…

I chirp!  I friggin’ chirp!  I turn into Pollyanna!  I suddenly beam and bounce, and butterflies and bluebirds fly around my head.  I have, in a second, turned into Snow White and Grumpy and Grumpier are just standing there, mouths agape, staring.  “J!  It’s time for you to make your bed and get ready for school!  Go!  Go!  Go!  I’m right behind you!!!!,” I trill.  Up the stairs he goes, a hint of doubt in his step, but he seems to be buying the chirpiness that has spread like wildfire over the room.

I hear the door click and I turn towards husband and oldest son.  Well, no…Zuul possesses me like it possessed Sigourney Weaver’s character in Ghostbusters, and I bark at both of them “keep your nasty moods to yourselves!”  I wish I’d been wearing a cape because it would have made turning and swooping out of the room a lot cooler…

In the end, I managed to convey to J that everything was cool, alright, fine, dandy, and such.  We walked to the bus happily singing our “bus song.”  We practiced our colors, body parts, greetings, and so forth…and the bus came…and he hopped on as if he was taking a ride to an amusement park, waving happily as they drove away…

I sound like a lunatic, I know.  I am not bipolar, though the world (and you) might now think so.  The truth is that I know what anxiety costs J, and how it can burrow and nest deep in him, slowly taking over and tainting his being.  I don’t want to turn my family into a bunch of hypocrites, but I do need to make sure that we all take into consideration J’s well-being.  Like I told Dada and TGG this morning: they get a chance to leave and expend their mood away from home, while J and I are a little more invested in being here and grabbing all sorts of bulls by the horns.

If J comes home in a bad mood, that’s for us to deal with…there’s only ONE of him and it’s a lot more manageable.  Sending him to school in a bad or anxious mood that could have been prevented with a little bit of conscious forethought, however, is something that would be unfair.  The teachers and mentors deal with more than MY kid, and I shouldn’t shrug off being considerate of that fact.

For the record, peace has been re-established via e-mail.  The argument, anxiety, anger, mortification could have been expended in the same fashion.  Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go starch my halo and feed the butterflies and bluebirds…they  might be necessary again later.

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