Perhaps it’s me. That’s sometimes my conclusion about my increasingly antagonistic relationship with my younger son’s Asperger’s Syndrome. After years of suspecting he fell on the autistic spectrum, his diagnosis three months back was no surprise. Rather it was a relief. A name, beyond oppositional, difficult, anxious, and socially inept, that explained the obvious struggles of my younger opened avenues to treatment. So why am I becoming despondent lately? I’m sure the longest month of the year, February, is part of the agony I’ve lately felt, but often I wonder if I’m really screwing up.
Because nothing about him being officially diagnosed made him easier to parent. I knew this would be true, but there was a brief honeymoon phase after the diagnosis when I was calling psychiatrists and psychologists, arranging appointments for my son. Taking action distracted me from the deep despair I’d felt parenting him over the previous four or five months. Doors opened, and light came in. Summer must be right around the corner.
Fast forward three months. I’ve made some parenting changes to prioritize what is worth a tantrum (and little is), and this has helped somewhat. He sees a psychologist weekly, a woman with a child on the spectrum, too. She really “gets” him and understands the challenges parenting these kids. She’s my lifeline now, but I can hardly afford to have her move in and coach me through the next 10 or so years with my son. I can afford the low-dose SSRI he takes which definitely knocks his anxiety down, decreasing tantrum occurrences and duration to a more survivable level. (No judgements about this choice, please, or I’ll send him to you to parent 24/7 for a month. Without the meds.) So, sure, it’s better.
But I’m falling again. Not as far as in autumn, when the tantrums were at their height, when my older and I walked on eggshells from dawn to dusk. But I’m falling. The tension in my jaw and neck increase when I have to remind him (again) to get shoes on, leave the computer, come to the table, brush his teeth, clean up a few toys: all these basic requests may be met with pleasant cooperation, impenetrable silence, or rage. And I never know which. The eggshells are still there, worsening as the winter drags on, and, on my darkest days, I’m wondering if perhaps it’s me.
Not that I think I caused the Asperger’s. That’s biology, and I’ve not tortured myself having caused that. I don’t go down that road. But perhaps I’m still doing this wrong, this parenting a kid with different operating system than what most of us have. Why I think I should have it “right” is beyond my rational thought. Heck, I’m under no illusion that I’m parenting the older in the optimal way, although he’s far easier to relate to. And, in my not-so-dark moments, that there isn’t an objective right or wrong to find and follow. All of us parents, if we’re honest with ourselves, are groping our way through, feeling for footholds and clinging to ropes, never knowing if the ground will crumble beneath our feet at the next step or if the rope is secured at the end. All of us parents, if we are awake and open to change, are continually working to do this most important job just a bit better, with just a bit more love and compassion while staying sane and in charge of the ship.
Some mix of frustration, anxiety, and fatigue enter many of my days. As a homeschooling, divorced mom, the days are long, and I can fly through a spectrum of emotion during his 14 waking hours. Make no mistake: his father walks this path with effort and pain as well, but when I’m on duty, there is no relief, no second adult to take the helm when I reach my breaking point. I’m restored (briefly) by the times he’s with dad, but lately I can’t seem to store up the energy from these times to carry me through the far-too-recurring rough patches that return with my dear younger son. Lately, the transfer from one home to the next seems to bring stress that launches a tantrum just minutes after he arrives home. Transitions are hard for him, and, after the fact, I can recognize these incidents as his reach for control during an episode of change. But during it, I’m angry. I’m jarred as he explodes into the house, loudly pleasant until about five minutes into his arrival home, when too often something just doesn’t go his way. I’m frustrated when he balks violently at a seemingly benign request. Again.
Amidst the struggles, I find points of hope. After over a month of no interest in playing with friends, he’s returned to bounding down the street most days, seeking out the companionship of others. I am trying to remember the small successes, times he tells me what is wrong rather than screaming his rage blindly. Okay, so he generally screams what is bothering him, but the words are a step toward better communication. I’m hearing more successful negotiations with his friends, discussions that (at least to some degree) recognize the other person might have a different perspective than he. It takes a microscope often, but glimmers are there.
Not to fatigue the metaphor of the seasons, I see the glimpses of spring that those of us in Michigan feel at the end of February. Snow cover aside, I’m hearing more birds on the sunny days. Heck, we’re actually having sunny days without a temperature far below freezing. Snow fall, which has been way too frequent this month, is followed more quickly by melting. I’ve lived in Michigan for most of my life. I know more snow and cold lie ahead, but I’ll take the signs I see and hear and let them warm my heart and soothe my mind. And when I remember, I do the same with the small steps my son makes toward understanding this world and those pesky people in it. I see the spring and go a bit easier on myself, knowing neither February will last forever.