I got back from the BlogHer 2012 conference late Saturday night, loaded down with two huge bags of swag given out by the wonderful BlogHer sponsors. Each bag weighed more than my children, who, coincidentally got most of the stuff.
Anna got press on fingernails and all kinds of lotions and body wash products. David's bag was a bit different since (a) he's a boy and (b) he's David. You'd be amazed how exciting personal fans and shower caps can be to a kid, especially one with autism. The fan was especially cool, since it had a flashlight on it. He didn't care that it said "Poise" on the side and was used to advertise incontinence pads. It was a space age gun that he flew into battle with as a superhero, a special tool that opened locked doors, a healing ray that would cure you if the bad guys got you. I watched him play and play and play with it for a good long while.
Then I went in the living room and sat with Anna for a bit, helping her out when she was having difficulty putting her pretty press-on nails on. Just a few minutes later, David entered the room with the magic flashlight of incontinence, singing to himself as he waltzed in. He stood very carefully in the middle of the living room, pulled back his arm and threw the flashlight as hard as he could into a beautiful picture I have on my wall.
The flashlight broke into several pieces, the picture was damaged, the wall was dinged, and I shouted at the top of my lungs "David! Why did you do that???"
He immediately fell to his knees, covering his eyes with his hands and saying over and over "I'm sorry! I'm sorry! I'm sorry!" He was really upset that I yelled, of course, and he knew what he did was wrong. That much was obvious. I just had no idea why he'd do that. He loved that flashlight! Why? Why?
I did my best to calm him, and I felt Anna's censuring eyes on me the whole time. I knew what she was thinking, and is always thinking: If she'd done that, I wouldn't be holding her and rocking her. I'd have yelled at her and sent her to her room in a heartbeat. It doesn't work that way for David, I thought. Before I can address his bad behavior (and it is most assuredly bad and unacceptable behavior), I have to calm him down enough to know that he can focus on what I'm saying to him. Right now, he's so overwrought, nothing can be accomplished.
So I comforted and rocked and held my child, this child who just seriously misbehaved. And I felt like saying to my beautiful daughter, "I know it isn't fair to you. It isn't fair to me either."
Finally, he calmed down and I pulled him into my lap to talk. I rubbed his back gently and asked him why he threw his flashlight. Why he hit my pretty picture and broke part of it. Why he made a big mark on the wall.
He answered first "I didn't."
When I told him I watched him, he changed to, "I did it."
"But why, David? Why did you do it?" I asked, gently.
"I did it." His face screwed up tight, and he buried his head in his hands again, rocking back and forth and endlessly repeating; "I did it. I did it. I did it." No amount of rephrasing the question, or asking leading questions, or even trying to get him to laugh so he'd tell me seemed to work. The answer remained; "I did it."
He went to bed early for that, and of course, I made it clear that his fan was broken, broken and never going to be fixed. It was broken and I had to throw it away, all because he threw it at the wall. I stressed again that his behavior was "bad manners" - our code for "this is completely unacceptable behavior". He understands "bad manners", even if he doesn't understand himself why he did what he did. Was he mad at me for sitting with Anna? Trying to pretend he was using his superpowers? Was it just poor impulse control?
I don't know, and he can't tell me. Not today, anyway.
Finally, I tried a trick that works for us sometimes. I tried using a line from one of his favorite movies, "Puss in Boots". I held his tear-stained face between my hands and said gently, but firmly: "You are better than this."
He nodded solemnly, and with a watery sniff, he rolled on his side and I rubbed his back as he quieted. I love my boy. I love him, and I am tired.
I am tired of having to fish and pull and postulate and theorize why he does what he does. I'm tired of playing twenty questions about his behavior, tired of using every trick in my why-yes-I-speak-autism book to get through to him so that my child doesn't grow up to be a complete jerk to everyone around him at times. I'm just tired.
I watched his eyes close drowsily, and I knew the truth.
I knew he was tired sometimes, too.
I kissed him softly, pulled him close, and we drifted, slumbering and renewing ourselves, waiting for a new day to come.
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