It’s 5 a.m. on a Friday and the lights in the hallway have been turned on and off several times already. Our eyes are still closed, but through the thin skin of our eyelids we can sense the change in lighting. Note to self, I think in the blinking darkness of our bedroom, J might have a future career in theater…as the guy who dims the lights to let people know the play is about to start.
Dada and I are nudging each other. We both know the other is awake and pretending to be asleep, and short of a Rock, Paper, Scissors, Lizard, Spock match, the way to decide who gets up is by saying “well, YOU have to shower for work, don’t you?” Grumbling, Dada makes his way to the bathroom. J, hearing the water run, comes to the door and tries to switch on the ceiling light. His mother, however, was not born yesterday nor the day before (more like 17,645 days before,) has finally learned the lesson of turning off the light switch ON THE FAN so that she is not jarred out of sleep by the suddenly bright light flooding the room. Eyes closed, I curl up once more and pretend to be fast asleep.
CLICK!!!! He turns on my bedside lamp instead, and I yelp as I sit up, startled by his deviousness. From the bathroom I hear a giggle.
Hey, J! Good morning. What’s up?
GOOD MORNING! GOOD MORNING! GOOD MORNING! COFFEE???
Why don’t you go get your snack?
GOOD MORNING! GOOD MORNING! COFFEE??? COFFEE???
You have to wait, J. Dada’s taking his shower and he’ll be down in a minute.
The bed shifts as J rises and walks to the bathroom door, opening it to make sure I am telling the truth.
GOOD MORNING!!! GOOD MORNING!!! COFFEE???
Close that door, please! Dada is not so much annoyed as trying to get rid of the draft of cooler air that is seeping in from the box fan we’ve set to circulate air around the top floor.
J closes the door and marches back to my side, sitting on the bed heavily.
COFFEE??? GOOD MORNING!!! GOOD MORNING!!!
Hey, yes. I know. Good morning, Boo. I’ll be right up, I promise. Why are you up so early???
GOOD MORNING!!! COFFEE???
TODAY IS FRIDAY!!! GOOD MORNING!!!
Why don’t you go get your snack?
SNACK! GOOD MORNING! COFFEE???
I hear the shower shut off and Dada laughing at the exchange taking place between J and I. As I get up, J laughs merrily and bounces down the steps to the kitchen. I am grumbling as I look for my glasses, and Dada says “GOOD MORNING!!! COFFEE???” as he heads out the door. J has disappeared down the stairs and Dada follows him. I try to find my bearings. I look at the clock. It’s only 5:20. I am up at 5:20. Oh, Lord, what am I doing up at 5:20???
Dada shuffles up the stairs. He looks more alert, but I’m sure he is just as blurry-eyed as I am. COFFEE??? No, we tell J; you have to sort and pack your snacks first while we make you breakfast. J sets to his task, adding sorting the dishes left in the rack the night before to his occupation. In no time the kitchen is pristine, and J is sitting down to eat.
We have asked him to slow down, and we’ve insisted that he stretch out his activities so that it’s precisely 6 a.m. when we get upstairs to get him ready for school. The way it works around here is Dada is up first, takes a shower and quietly goes downstairs to “get in the zone” for the day. He sits there, watching the news with the volume turned down, trying to organize his thoughts and aligning his mind before rousing J. At 5:40 J crawls out of bed…arguing and complaining and grumbling. This, at least, is the general rule. I get up when J is having his breakfast, and get things lined up to get him ready for school. They leave the house at 6:20, after J grinds coffee, gets the French press ready, sets the table for our breakfast and starts the water. I walk them to the door, kiss J and wish him a happy day.
Somehow, in spite of the fact that J was up at around 4:30 and we staved off the invasion until 5, we managed to fall into our routine successfully. This is a good thing. Finding the groove and falling in it so that the rest of the day sort of follows is great. A household in which Autism dwells dreads the skipping needle of an old record player playing through the routine that brings calm to everyone.
When Dada got back from dropping J off, we sat to our coffee. It was six thirty-five by then, and we looked at each with the expressions of seasoned pros who have witnessed enthusiastic anxiety about going to school on a Friday as the school year is quickly winding down. We smile at each other knowing that membership in this club of ours is not exclusive; out there, in either the early dawn hours or the dead of night, there are other parents whose membership cards are newer, and who are getting tested by circumstances unforeseen brought on by their own autistic child, teenager, adult.
Free with membership? Coffee, disruption of sleep and meals, tantrums, repetition, routine, echolalia, gray hair, quirky behavior, nervousness, stress. There are those who will tell you that these free things don’t make membership appealing at all, and we agree. Given the choice, who would WANT this??? But the membership, though, is that kid. The kid who will jar you out of sleep, repeat all you say until he/she figures out how to bring out the words needed for their own thoughts; the kid that will make you think you’re the worst, unluckiest parent in the world during a really, really bad moment until you realize that we all feel this way, and we are all wrong…it’s not us, and it’s not the kid…it’s whatever doesn’t work in the typical way and that makes communication so overwhelming.
As we take the first bite of our English muffins, Super Nanny starts. Within five minutes of watching, we realize our situation is not really that bad. We don’t need the outside intervention of someone to teach us how to parent a neuro-typical brood; we are simply dealing with forces of nature that are cloaked in camouflage.
We’re doing OK. We just need some more rest.
That, however, costs extra…