Monday, June 10, 2013

Searching for Grace

I arrive at Ethan's t-ball late, wondering why I don't see him on the field with his teammates. In a moment I realize it's because he's curled up in Dan's lap, crying on the sidelines.  "Another kid ran and got the ball before he did," Dan explains.

It's been a crazy couple of days that have included lots of jumping in and out of the car and rushing from place to place, and Ethan going to bed too late and getting up too early two days in a row. He's DONE. But -- this is the last few innings of the last t-ball game of the season. We beg and wheedle and cajole him. Finally he runs back out on the field...only to come back when the ball goes to someone else again.

When his team is up the coach tells him he can bat last and do the "home run" (they bat through the order and the last kid up bats everyone home). Feeling better, Ethan stands in line and does what he always does: bops other kids on their helmeted heads. Most of the kids do this...they like the sound of their slapping palms against the hard helmet. Only Ethan does it harder and doesn't know when to stop. "Stop doing that!" kids whine at him.

"Ethan, please stop," I ask him. Then he decides to roll around on the ground and goof off. "Stand up, it's almost your turn to bat." Then he starts to grab a bat and swing it around, too close to people. "Be careful with that, watch out for other people," I say this time.

This is how our interactions go, lately. I feel as if I am the constant taskmaster. I feel as if I'm constantly nitpicking and criticizing. I'm sure no child wants to hear no, don't, you can't do that, stop, all of the time. Even worse, these moments are often around other children. They hear my nagging and disciplining, and I know the messages that are getting in their heads. There's that boy again. The one that's always in trouble. I think it emboldens them: if this mom is always telling her kid what he's doing wrong, why can't we?


The point is driven home a few hours later, at a family birthday party. Since we've arrived, Ethan has dumped a pail of water on my backside, thrown mud at Anna, grabbed a baseball bat out of his cousin's hands, thrown mud on the slide, tried to drag the slip and slide where it shouldn't go, snagged a Frisbee from his uncle and practically lobbed off people's heads with it, and tantrummed about five times when someone went on what he wanted to ride on the swing set.

I feel as if my child is out of control. I feel as if I look like the bad parent who never disciplines her child. That point is driven home when I hear, "You're going to let him get away with that?" after he dumps water on me.

Meanwhile, "NO!!! ETHAN!!!" Anna has continued in her usual habit of screeching at the top of her lungs, over-the-top dramatic about everything, which of course greatly pleases Ethan.

All of the other kids there are best friends who see each other nearly every day of the week. These toddlers and preschoolers travel in a pack half the time, and even at their age they see Ethan is different, and pick up on everything going on.

"Baby Bethan, Baby Bethan," they started chanting at the last family party. Now they start up with it again. The first time, at the other party, they didn't really mean it in a taunting way. He actually thought it was funny and started to do baby-like things to make them laugh. Since they all know each other so well and Ethan has trouble relating to them, it was a way to (kind of) get along.

But today I'm not liking this. Today this feels like us against them. And then, after I've told Ethan he shouldn't have thrown mud on the slide, I hear one of the kids say to another:

"That bad Baby Bethan. Maybe next time when he's not here we can play on the slide without mud on it."

Now it's the middle of the afternoon, and I'm in the backyard crying behind my sunglasses and hating that I'm crying.

I hate that I don't know how to make my child behave.

I hate that people think I'm too easy on him; I hate that I care what people think.

I hate that whenever my child starts to actually wants to relate to people, he sometimes does it in such an inappropriate way that it has the opposite effect.

I hate that I can't handle this, that my sister-in-law with three little ones is immensely more relaxed and laid back; I hate that I'm comparing myself to anyone else.

I hate that every time I get upset or even angry, I cry.

I hate that I can't just take a moment to feel upset and that's it's okay without the voice that tells me you don't have it so bad. This is easy autism. I hate that I feel like my feelings aren't valid, and I hate that even though I feel that way I still sometimes judge other people for getting upset over seemingly minor issues.

You have to know that the day ends well. Ethan discovers croquet with the guys and has a blast bopping the ball around. The kids end up playing together nicely. There are no more "Baby Bethan" chants and no more tantrums.

At home before Ethan goes to bed, I'm cleaning up the kitchen while Dan's reading a story with Ethan. I think of the unanswered questions. I think of how this will start all over again tomorrow.

I hear the book. It's one we've had forever. Finding Nemo. One of my favorite movies. "Just keep swimming," Dan is reading. Just keep swimming.

I think of one of my favorite Bible verses: "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness."

I think I've got the weakness thing down. Now I just need to get a hold on the grace.


Marion said...

Dear Deb,
Yes, parenting is very hard work...autism or not. I think a clue to how the day became such a trial is in your first two paragraphs. Excess activity and lack of rest and sleep. I think any child will react to sensory overload and have many ways of responding to it.
Please be glad that you have the release of tears. If you bottled up all that emotion you might just shut down.
I am just amazed at your daily ability to encourage and appreciate every little bit of Ethan's progress.
I surely do admire you and Dan, much as I have always loved your mom and dad for the great care they have given you and your brothers.
I know it is your faith in God that keeps you strong. I hope you will continue to find that same strength in yourself.
Much love...Marion

Kim said...

I can imagine just how you were feeling as I have been in such similar situations with my guy. In fact, we left a little neighborhood gathering last weekend because while everyone else was up on the deck enjoying food, drink and conversation, I was down in the yard trying to act as referee. It wasn't worth it. So I took my guy on a long walk with the dog instead. And part of me felt sad that I missed out on the party and I left that feeling come and then go. It's okay to feel sad/upset/frustrated at times. You are human, and even if you might feel that you have an easier version of autism--it's all relative. And--you are human.

Martha said...

There is weakness in parenting, which is crazy, because it's a time of our lives when we think we need to be the most strong. It's a weird dichotomous life God throws us into!

Deenie said...

Honey pie, don't beat yourself up for having those conflicting emotions. Whatever you are feeling in the moment is allowed. I have had similar moments to those and likely will again. I'm a crier too. I cry sometimes just thinking about upcoming events that I think might make me cry when they get here.
You have a great attitude about keeping going. {hugs}

Deb said...

Thanks for the encouragement! I felt better just being able to write and get it all out.

Anonymous said...

Your son was unquestionably a bad boy. He wrecked the slide, tantrumed and was an all-around pain in the ass.

If the situation were reversed, how sympathetic would you be to the loud, angry, destructive and physically aggressive kid? Why on earth do you think other kids would enjoy having him around??