It’s what I like to call “Disney time” in my household, what with Justin happily ensconced in warm, soapy bathwater, and my second son wrapped in his cocoon of a Thomas towel perusing reading material in his bedroom. I slosh sudsless liquid once again over Justin’s head and back, and watch rivulets of water stream down his body as he responds with sounds I know from long experience mean he’s happy.
I reach once more for the bucket and aim it toward my eldest’s frothy locks, and practically jump out of my skin as Zach rushes in and shouts “I’M HAPPY TO BE ME!”, then departs as quickly as he entered. When my heart has settled once more in my chest cavity I turn to the sound of Justin’s laughter, because as usual he’s found Zach’s antics hilarious, and I smile.
Looks like me and my husband are doing something right after all.
It takes me a minute to calm Justin down enough to complete our bath ritual, and after I do I rotely complete our combined tasks, and contemplate what just occurred. Zach often pronounces things of great import out of the blue, claiming he will indeed one day have his own babies (one of which will be named Hellspoor, or at least that’s the closest interpretation I have), that transformers have feelings too (which was news to me), and that Justin told him it was okay for him to take his toy (ah, the lying begins…).
I’m certainly not stunned by his admission, for he generally sports a happy demeanor, and is even learning to self-diffuse in situations that don’t culminate in his getting his own way. He’s made great progress, my boy, although there remain mountains left to conquer, not just because he has autism, but simply because he’s five.
Clearly, he’s not fully cooked just yet.
I realize as I encourage Justin to stand so I can envelop him in his favorite ridiculously fluffy Elmo towel that my parenting approach to these two children has been so different in the past few years, so much so that with Zach I often feel I’m a first-time mom. I worry daily that the only fruit or vegetable he’ll ever consume will be bananas.
I keep fingers crossed that with the right ratio of reward and demand he’ll temper his impulsivity at school, and one day be awarded the mantle of “good listener” before he can drive.
I hold my breath that he’ll continue to regard his older brother as a fascinating gift, not a bane to his existence. I wish, and this is a big one, that my social butterfly will always find his conversations forays rewarded with dialogue, that he will remember his mommy told him to take breaks in his litanies, and ask some questions too.
It occurs to me that in the past two years, the pivotal focus of my parenting Zach has barely touched on his happiness, because he simply is.
These concerns diverge so much from my raising of Justin that at times I’m hardpressed to find any commonality in their childhoods, to discern the common ground from which I forged my approach to facilitating their growth. With my eldest, there have of course been many varied concerns as well.
Said concerns have ranged from potty training and partaking from a food group other than carbs, to hoping he’d stop pinching my arms before I needed a skin graft.
But throughout these ancillary concerns ran the constant thread of worry that plagued most of my waking (and some of my sleeping) thoughts; could the village I’d convened to help my son unearth what I knew was his true self ever prove successful? Most days in his pre-school years I wasn’t tortured by thoughts of him not attending college, having a career, or attracting the right person to complete his soul.
Most days, I only had the energy to wonder if he’d ever be predominantly, effortlessly, happy.
It only took about half of his childhood, but he’s finally there.
The truth of it is, that’s what I’ve always resented the most about my sons’ autisms. It wasn’t the burden placed on me and my husband (although, truth be told, that figured in prominently).
My predicted diverse arc of my childrens’ collective paths didn’t constantly leave me steaming with rage when I realized their lives might bear almost no resemblance to those of their parents, although at times I have mourned, and continue to mourn this for Justin.
No, my desire to rid them of their disorder, or difference, or disability, however it’s perceived, always stemmed from these facts: in the throes of it, they were miserable, and often inconsolable. Nothing, and I mean nothing, would please either one of them.
My babies suffered. Now, for the most part, they don’t.
Justin abruptly rips me from my reverie by standing and sending his cotton cocoon to the floor, grabbing my hand and hauling me upwards so I can supervise the “brushing of the teeth”. I know I’ll need all my wits about me for about the next twenty minutes, so I shelve my thoughts, make a mental note to revisit them if my short-term memory allows, and I’m able to remember.
He hugs me again, looks deep into my eyes to make me comprehend I should get a move on because he’s tired, and I willingly comply. I hear Zach’s deep belly laugh from his bedroom which signifies the nightly tickle fest has commenced, and I gently secure Justin’s red friend once more so he won’t catch a chill. A SpongeBob toothbrush awaits me, and if I’m lucky later, so will one last thought.
How fortunate I am that at least for now, my children’s happiness is my priority.