J and I are once more at an impasse of sorts. Our developmental stages are at odds. He is asserting his adolescent angst and rejecting my maternal fawning. I am resenting his independence and empowerment and he’s unwilling to give an inch. We haven’t physically butted heads yet, but judging by the way we seem to circle each other (sniffing the air and snarling occasionally,) it could still happen.
I have delegated the task of filling the daily snack box to Dada. That is, I have lingered in bed long enough each morning that by the time I reach the kitchen level to have my coffee the task is done. I don’t question Dada’s skill, wisdom, ability or judgment, and by now it’s clear that J knows the box is what there is for snacking and that’s that, so I don’t really censor his reaching for the box as much as when he packs the snacks himself. Yesterday, by 4 PM, the box was empty…tumbleweeds would’ve rolled around inside if that had been at all possible. There would have been an echo, that’s how empty it was. At 6 PM, in the midst of getting dinner ready, J requested a snack and was told the box was empty…
COOKIE/NO, COOKIE/NO, COOKIE/NO was punctuated with sharp, repeated raps of J’s fist on J’s forehead. This went on long enough, and insistently enough for me to relent. Cookies were counted in J’s presence, handed to him and a firm YOU ARE FINISHED was issued by me. Dada went off to grill our chicken pieces and I stayed behind, hiding the remaining cookies. As I walked through the basement-level living room , J was looking rather smug and savoring his snack with his legs folded on the couch. He grinned at me.
Ah…the unmitigated gall!
I stopped and stood in front of him. A sudden realization swept over him. Monster Mama wasn’t quite done. I AM ANGRY, J. YOU WERE RUDE. THE BOX WAS EMPTY AND YOU ASKED FOR MORE. I GAVE YOU COOKIES. NO MORE. NO HITTING. I AM ANGRY.
I walked away from an O-shaped mouth and big round eyes. Dinner made it to the table on time, and J ate with gusto. We were still working our way through our meal when J started signing and saying WASH. I told him, quite calmly, that we were still eating and to please wait. Once more…WASH. No, J, not now. We are eating. We will wash when we’re done. Again…WASH. More insistently and more firmly, he kept asking. And I stood up, looked him in the eye and said J, YOU WANT TO WASH, WASH! WE ARE EATING. J’s hand motioned to the sink so I went, rolled his sleeves up and, looking directly at him, said WASH!
How do I teach J that you don’t make up for what you’ve done to upset others by forcing the issue? How does one teach finesse to a person with Autism? That is what he was doing, you know. He was trying to make up for having thrown a tantrum over cookies; he was trying to make me happy because I’d said he’d made me angry. That he was insistent on interrupting the meal to do something good was his version of a solution, and -yes- it worked…but it did interrupt our meal.
When the chore and the meal were done, I thanked J for his help and I praised his skill at helping in the kitchen. To fend off any interruptions of anything else I needed to do, I asked him to help me fold laundry and we got that chore done quickly. I can tell that, while my good humor is important to J, he is more interested in appeasing me than in keeping me happy all the time. That is: he is a teenager. At one point or another, our kids learn that staving off mom’s anger is an important skill to learn…and that moment has come for J. His only problem is that he lacks the sophistication that most children develop hand-in-hand with the “making mom happy” strategies…so, technically, J drags me towards a better mood by any means he can think of…and this can be irritating.
A summit meeting regarding the snack box was held after dinner. Dada admitted that he had been scanty with his selection lately, and I told him that would explain why snacks were quickly consumed and moodiness ensued. We negotiated a much better breakfast, and a wider selection of foods to fill the box with in the afternoon. Apparently, J was getting only a 90-calorie brownie, a small amount of cheese crackers, a small soda and a packet of noodles. This will not do…especially since he seems to be eating less at school than usual, and is ravenous by the time he gets home in the afternoon. Dinner is always a healthful affair…grilled meats and a small amount of carbs with some veggies camouflaged in any way I can think of that particular evening. J is obviously losing weight and has gone happily back to using the Wii every evening.
Once more I asked my husband about J’s relationship with me. He seems, I said, happier with you and TGG than he does with me. Well, my husband said kindly, you are his mom and it’ll take him a while to go back to fully appreciating you. I sometimes ask my husband about his mom, but I do it gingerly because she passed away several years ago and it is painful for him to think of her illness. Did YOU feel that way about your mom when you were seventeen,? I said. Yes, I did, he told me, and he smiled his little bashful smile. Hindsight, Dada said, is 20/20, and he wishes he had been able to foresee the loss he would eventually experience when his mom passed. J doesn’t have the luxury of foresight, he told me, but he also doesn’t have the guilt that the same foresight would provoke.
Sheldon Cooper said it best: I believe the appropriate metaphor here involves a river of excrement and a Native American water vessel without any means of propulsion. For the time being, J and I will alternate: some days his autism/adolescence will be the rocks in shit’s creek and my peri-menopause will be the canoe; other days, I will be the rocks in shit’s creek and he will be the canoe…
The trick, I believe, is to keep paddling.