As a parent, you think about coming of age as something that happens when your child reaches adulthood. However, I have begun considering..is it me or my son that is coming of age? I decided to share my thoughts and experiences here since I know others may be dealing with the same things in their lives and relationships with children.
Who’s Coming Of Age? Me or My Son?
In Remembrance of baby talk…
There is an adage which says, “You should never stop learning.” Having kids on the spectrum (and kids not on the spectrum) we are always learning new things, or maybe we’re relearning lessons we’ve long forgotten. Either way, I for one, am not the dad nor the parent, I was when my boys were first born. Who is? In retrospect, the crazy days of dirty diapers, uncooperative strollers and hazy midnights were easy peasy. I never that I would say I long for the halcyon days of baby burping and baby talk, who knew, right? But here I am, lost in nostalgia.
Boys and a speeding train called prepubescence
The Twins, as our twins are affectionately known, have started 8th grade. Yes, please pinch me. And pinch me hard for surely I must be dreaming. Ouch! Not that hard. As I’m rubbing my pinched flesh, I’m wondering. At every stage, it seems we are always asking the most asked questions in all of parenthood, “Where did all the time go?” True, it’s an inane rhetorical question, but still, it just falls out of our collective mouths mostly as an indicator of our utter and dazed disbelief. And if we thought way back when that we weren’t ready for babies, now we’re panicking. Because I am wondering, with sweaty palms, butterflies galore and damn near hyperventilating, if I am ready for, dare I day… puberty? Yes, indeed the plot has not only thickened it has congealed into quite an impregnable and formidable state. Are they coming of age already? How could it be happening so soon?
The parental stakes have been raised, and nobody told me this was poker
It is indeed a game called life. I got that part. But, somebody failed to inform moi that life is but a high-stakes poker game. And just as you cannot know the cards you’re going to get; the rest is also just a game of chance. It’s the luck or unluck of the draw. Plain and simple. How many times have we wished our kid’s autism away? Or lamented our circumstances? Yes, you could say things could be worse, and for me to count my blessings. And I would tell you right to your face that unless you have a child on the spectrum or are the parent of a kid(s) with special needs, butt out of this conversation. Some days I just don’t want to hear such optimism. At times an unpragmatic mindset IS my coping mechanism. Because as useful as being positive can be it doesn’t change reality. My boys are on the spectrum, and some days it sucks big time.
The games kids play and not getting it.
Recently, Twin 1 came home from school and as soon as he walked through the door I could tell something was wrong. I let it go initially. Maybe it’s nothing, and my dad radar is faulty, which has been known to occur, much more often that I care to admit (just ask the wife, better yet, don’t ask the wife). Later, as dinner was wrapping up, it was just he and I. The other two boys had already finished and had asked to be excused from the table. Here we sit across from one another, the two oldest men in the house. Dad and son. Using all of the dad stealth I could muster, I said, “How was your day?” Twin 1 hesitated for a bit and stared at his plate. As a parent, you learn your child, and they’ll give themselves away if you know what to look for. For each of our kids, the cues and tells are there; we just have to crack the code. He offered, “Not too bad dad, but… ” He stopped. For Twin 1, a telltale sign that something is bothering him or is serious, he’ll hesitate when he is explaining or answering a question. For him, his pauses are a red flag. Something of importance has transpired. I pressed him just a bit, “Are you okay? You know you can tell me. What’s up?” He plays with the food on his plate with an uninterested fork. And finally the “big reveal”… Twin 1 continues, “There’s this game… it’s trending at school… it’s called, “What are those?” He stops again and says, “But it’s nothing, I can handle it…” For about the past 4-6 months Twin 1 has developed the “I can handle it” response when he doesn’t want to talk about or reveal too much. This is his way of saying, “Dad, mom… I am older now, and I don’t need you guys to help me fight my battles.” Or at least I think this is what is means. Or it just may mean he really can handle his problems, and we as parents need to trust him and give him the space to handle them on his own. “So, what’s the game about?” I probed. Twin 1 gathers up his courage and starts to speak, then exhales noisily, defeated. “Hey, it’s alright. How about this? In 20 seconds…” I pull out my cell phone and set the timer, “Tell me without stopping what happened, can you do that? He nods his head. Here we go. It all comes out in a rush, and in the end, he’s crying because he’s confused and maybe even a little embarrassed. I hug him and kiss him; he’s okay but not really.
The condensed version, is this: A 6-grader at school approached him and pointed at his shoes and asked, “What are those?” Twin 1 countered with a quip, “What is that? Your hairline is wack!” The boys standing around started to laugh. A pretty successful rebuttal if you ask me, but I wasn’t there, and nobody would have asked me anyway. Here’s where things get interesting, so pay close attention now and lean in. This is also where autism can blur things and mix up signals. In Twin 1’s mind he wasn’t sure if he flubbed it and they were laughing at him, or maybe he nailed it, and the older boys were indeed laughing because he burned the other kid. And it is in this confusion, well this where his social frustration lives and breathes. The outcome was that he felt defeated and thinks he was the one that got burned.
Newsflash, “high-functioning” is not a very productive or helpful label
Our twins are on the spectrum. They are also known, or referred to as “high functioning.” Which for all intents and purposes really means, “Ya’ look normal to me kid, so what’s the problem?” This makes my wife, and I want to scream! There are moments where I want to throttle our whole inadequate education system. We know autism as a whole needs more funding, no question there. Our experience shows us high functioning kids, like our boys, are ever so benignly slipping through the cracks. Right now, the system just doesn’t get it. Because in regards to high-functioning kids, if they are testing well and not being disruptive at school they don’t see a problem, therefore no cause for alarm. But there is “a problem.” The inability to correctly read social cues, is I imagine somewhat akin to having dyslexia. Wherein instead of words getting mixed up, it is getting social cues all jumbled and jumbled. In the case of Twin 1 and the “What is that?” situation, it is the classic, “Are they laughing at me or with me?” And this causes problems because education needs to expand and address the whole child and not just teach for specific academic outcomes.
All of these observations come to the point of the adage of your child coming of age. Is it he who is coming of age, growing up, and learning how to handle the changes autism swings into his bath? Or, is it me, who has grown in this journey of parenting who is coming of age and learning how to cope, deal, and help our boys better now than before?