Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Of Autism and Earrings

What's the point of blogging if you can't expose your weaknesses on the days when your victories are buried beneath them? May as well let it all hang out...

I'm a confident mother, but if there's one thing that shakes my faith in my parenting skills, it's my eldest daughter's Autism. It brings out the things I have yet to learn; it showcases my impatience and my frustrations. Recently, a couple of friends were over at the house and the discussion turned to rites of passage and ear piercing. Zoey said that she wanted her ears pierced; she just wasn't keen to "all that pain". This did not sit well with me. My guests and I went out of our way to explain how temporary and slight the pain would be - that if she wanted her ears pierced, she should do it and accept that the pain would pass quickly. Our friends even went so far as to promise to go with her and to support her through it. She lit up and her decision was made.

Within a week, we found ourselves at the mall with my mother. I walked into Icing (which is like Claire's) looking for a hair accessory and Zoe saw the "Free Ear Piercing" sign. I told her that we could do it now if she wanted. She agreed. I asked her if she was certain; she was.

Or, at least, she was until we had everything set up and it was too late to turn back without forfeiting both the $50 for the sapphire earrings she'd selected and, much worse, sacrificing the tiny bit of bravery she's worked so hard to find within herself.

I had to beg, plead, and generally make a devil of myself in order to work our way through it, but we survived. I know that poor sales girl had thoughts of calling mall security to report me. I must have sounded like a mad woman. By the end, I was cradling Zoe's head in my hand with my face pressed hard against hers, whispering in a near yell, "Don't you let it make your decisions for you. You're so close. Don't let it take this from you." while she cried back at me, "I'm not brave. I'm not brave at all."

It broke my heart.

If she weren't an exceptional child and an exceptionally brave one, to boot, I doubt I would mind. But she is. She is so many wonderful things and the bravery she has shown when facing adversity? Oh forget about it! If I ever manage to grow up, I want to be just like my Zoey. We lose pieces of her life to Autism. It's unavoidable. There are things we must grieve. There are days when I'm reminded that she might never move away from home. I love having her near, but I mourn the life that she will miss by hanging on to us. In that moment at the mall, I experienced my own fears. I could not let her fail. It wasn't my battle to win or lose, but I could not accept the loss. I broke. I started making threats. They were empty and we both knew it. "I'll just have to hold you down and force it. You know I can.", "You don't want to have to tell people that you chickened out.", "You'll have to work off the money we wasted on those earrings by scrubbing the bathrooms clean with a toothbrush." I became an ugly person. As much as I wasn't myself, I have to admit that the ugly person I became is a part of who I am. Sometimes it's all too much and I can't just let it be. I struggle to identify with the girl my daughter is when she struggles.

9 days have passed and the pain has subsided. She loves having her ears pierced and looks forward to wearing matching earring and necklace sets. She's forgiven me. I have yet to forgive myself. I will find a way to work through it and accept my own apology, but it will take time. In the meantime, I will go out of my way at every opportunity to let her know how proud I am of her. 9 days ago I told her that bravery is not the absence of fear, but rather the decision to succeed in the face of fear. It's my task now to remind her of that and to remind her that she did show bravery; that she is brave.

There are so many things that Autism can take from us, but it can't take the bravery she has already shown. It's a small, dirty victory, but it's a victory. I'll take it.


I'm willing to accept whatever judgements people may have for me. I've been facing them for 12 years. I know that I'm doing my best and that as much as people may think they know what this struggle is like, unless they've raised a child on the spectrum themselves, they don't know. They can't. And that's good. I wouldn't wish it on anyone.

All I ask is this: Before you post a hateful or angry comment, please go to THIS LINK and try to understand that Autism has many faces and almost none of them are what you may think. Thank you.

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