We were with my parents, which doesn’t happen nearly as often as in the past. Everyone is so busy now. We’re all off at different churches and living in different towns. But on this day, we hung out, and decided to go to a really good nearby Thai restaurant.
The meal wasn’t the most relaxing we’ve ever had (Ethan has been in a hyper phase as of late) but we made it through. Providence was seeing that the person sitting closest to us was a para-professional from Ethan’s school and her significant other. I felt the relief bubble over. No snide looks would be coming our way if Ethan didn’t feel like sitting calmly.
Which he didn’t. We made it through with lots of drinks and a lollipop reward, but there was much crawling under the table and trying to lie down in the booth and almost spilling his drink about 10 times, and the two or three trips to the bathroom. Sometimes of late when he pulls these annoying behaviors or more forceful tantrums than he used to I have no way of knowing how much is just Ethan being a kid, or him living out his 2's as a three-year-old, or if autism is exacerbating any of it. And often Dan and I aren't quite sure how to discipline. Nothing really seems to work, or maybe we're just not consistent? Lately, I've just wanted to throw my arms up in the air.
"What would you do?" I asked my mom. I'm always asking, searching, questioning myself and if I could be doing it better. Don't we all, as moms?
"You're doing a fine job," she reassured me. "Don't be so hard on yourself."
After we decided to go out for ice cream at this little seasonal place attached to a farm. As we sat outside on benches eating our cones, Ethan decided he didn't want to sit still. He preferred to inch himself away from us ever-so-slowly once he'd finished his shake, and run around the parking lot, or try to sneak in the back door of the ice cream "shack."
"You see what I mean?" I asked my mom. "I never know when to let it go, or make him sit, or whether I'm overreacting or not reacting enough." I was kind of rambling on, but I could tell my mom wasn't completely listening. She was watching Ethan, and then turned back to me, her eyes welling up.
"Don't you see?" she said. "Don't you see, he's going to be okay?"
Rain was coming. You could smell the showers in the spring air. Other families were out in their Sunday best that afternoon, crunching across the gravel, laughing, breathing in the afternoon and time with family.
"He's going to be all right," she said. "I don't mean fine like a typical kid. But he'll be okay."
It's interesting, having a mom who like me has a son with autism, albeit a much more severe form of autism. I knew my mother was not promising me a life free of heartache. I knew she was not guaranteeing Ethan would overcome every aspect of his autism. But her own experiences with Andy have helped her see Ethan with a different set of eyes.
When I see my son who is frazzled and hyper of late, bursting with tantrums and more inflexible than I've ever witnessed, she sees the grandson who decided he wanted to be potty trained and who goes to bed peacefully, without destroying his room.
When I see my boy who keeps repeating things and cannot yet answer "Why" questions, she remembers her own boy who did not utter more than a word or two until he was 9 years old.
When I see my child who has trouble playing with toys could easily become addicted to playing computer games, she sees her son who still cannot use a computer...or write his name on his own...or recognize letters: and he is 29 years old.
Sometimes I see the problems, the worries, the stresses. My mom looks at Ethan and sees potential. I think in that moment she was not trying to invalidate all of my concerns. She was just quietly asking me to take a little step back, and see.