When C was 18 months old and still not walking, I remember people actually saying to me, “Be thankful! You don’t have to chase him around.” That irritated me to no end, but in such a weird way they were right. A new kind of tired came along to replace the “tired with baby” phase. Then came the “must follow the child around” phase. That was replaced by another, and another and another.
I am happy to be beyond some phases. I remember the one where C was too easily overstimulated to go into a store of any kind. We were living in a weird little town that happened to have a huge and wonderful grocery store. C was just shy of 3, and I decided the time had come to figure out how to get this child in a public place. “He just needs exposure,” my Mom, the power-shopper, said. “He can’t handle malls because he doesn’t go to them!” Ah, so clueless were we before the word “autism” entered our lives.
Off I went, not to the mall, because we didn’t have one, but to Fred Meyer, the equivalent of Target with groceries. The store was only a few moments away by car, which turned out to be rather fortunate. We made it to the outside line of carts. Complete and utter freak-out. We went home. An hour later, we went back. We made it to the carts. I lifted C up to put him in the cart. His feet touched the cart. Complete and utter freak-out. We went home. This went on and on, getting a bit further each time. I finally gave up for the day when we had the success of C’s actually being in the cart, just inside the front door. The whoosh of the automatic doors opening behind us triggered yet another melt-down, so home we went for the final time.
The next day, I was at it again. We made it inside the doors, muzak playing on the speakers, random announcements being made, lots of things to look at and overwhelm. Eventually, after many trips back and forth between home and store over many days, C grew to tolerate it because of the numbered aisles and the lit exit signs everywhere. The problem then became that we had to go down each and every aisle, in order, every time. We could never just run in for just one thing.
Yet I was determined. Determined to teach C he could handle something he didn’t like, with gentle prodding and support from me. I simply refused to allow him to completely close himself off to something so basic for the way we live. There are still some things we don’t push; we know restaurants will never be a happy place for him, so we just don’t go. There are some “normal” things that will never be normal for him, and we accept that.
I am so glad to be beyond that particular challenge. There certainly are new challenges that come along to replace the old ones, but as I look back I’m glad the old ones are gone. It represents not only progress, but the reality that I’ll never allow myself to admit that I’m not up for this challenge while it’s happening, whatever it may be. No doubt it will be difficult as we go through it (contrariness is the latest), and there will be moments of utter despair, but it will be clearer in hindsight because only then will I allow myself to admit, ”Whew, I wasn’t sure we were going to get through that one.”
Never during. Only after.