Saturday, April 9, 2011

The Metaphorical Rewind

Maya hamming it up for the camera tonight
Maya is growing and developing in ways that sometimes is hard for me to believe.  She is just getting more grown up in everything, both physically, emotionally and mentally.  Maya has grown so much.  She is quite gangly, especially compared to Leo and me.  She is arms and legs everywhere and even in photos, it is more difficult for me to see the baby/toddler in her as her face takes more shape, her adult teeth continue to form, even her nose is losing that button quality and starting to grow.  She also now wants the door closed when she goes to the bathroom and also chases me out of the bathroom after I have rinsed her hair to do the rest of her bath by herself.  Most remarkable is that she is understanding much more of the world around her and I am convinced that the world is much less a scary place than it was just a few short months ago.  I see less and less retreating into herself and shutting herself off from the world.  As a mom, and as a mom of a child on the autistic spectrum, you cannot imagine the joy that seeing your child move forward, when knowing how hard it is and seeing her just do certain things.  It fills you with such admiration and unabashed happiness that it makes your heart so full it can burst.  I know parents of kids not on the spectrum experience a lot of joy with their childrens' milestones and achievements too, and Maya is my only child, so I don't have the experience of parenting a child not on the spectrum so I don't have that experience.  I am quite certain the joy is the same but there is such an amazing sense of accomplishment that comes each time she is able to do something new.  Just in the past two weeks for instance, she is now clearing her own dishes and putting them in the sink and helping me to clear the table after dinner.  Six months ago conversation wasn't even fluid enough for that, or whenever you asked her to do something she didn't think was a super fabulous idea, she just ran off.  I feel that same sense of pride and love like I did when she was a baby and took her first few wobbly steps with Leo and I sitting a few feet apart arms outstretched for her to walk into, or like when she spoke her first words.  If Maya weren't on the spectrum, I am sure I would experience joy at her achievements but I am not sure if it would have that same feeling again and again, that she-took-a-step-feeling, because I know what a  long and far road she has traveled to do these things.

With every age and phase there are wonderful things and there are things which are, let's say, less wonderful.  Maya's new thing is an obsession with playing with the girl next door.  Maya is just fixated, particularly since spring is here and large parts of the days can be spent outside playing, on playing with this little girl.  The second she goes outside, she looks for her (and her older brother) and the second they are in their own backyard she asks me if either she can go over to their house to play or if the little girl can come to our house.  I never refuse the request for the little girl to come over as I want to encourage Maya to play with other kids and I want our house to be a refuge for her and whatever friends she has socially.  One of the best things my parents did in their child rearing was to open our house up to our friends.  While other parents were choosy about the times they allowed other kids over, my parents rarely were so.  There were often kids crowded around our dinner table.   I think their view was that they would rather have us there, making noise, a mess and being a nuisance than out causing trouble somewhere.  I always had way more sleepovers than the other kids as my dad always said yes when I asked him if my friends could stay over where with other parents it was hit/miss.  I think this is the one parenting thing from my parents that I want to emulate.  So, I think when I thought about having children, I dreamed of having the same kind of full house.  So, when Maya asks I always say yes, no matter what kind of mood I am in, or what I am doing.  I notice, that just the same as it was when I was a kid, other parents have different views on this.  And I can understand that, if you are busy doing stuff, the last thing you want is to watch someone else's kid.  But having a kid on the spectrum, I kind of feel like each time is an opportunity for Maya not just to play, but to develop so I always say yes.  And truth be told I do think it is fun for both of them when they play.  Yesterday afternoon before dinner they were each in their own backyards standing on their slides, throwing balls back and forth over the fence and laughing their heads off for about an hour, so I do think that while Maya still has challenges in playing with other kids, it is really getting better and they have genuine fun together.

Over the last week or so, Maya's attraction to this little girl is getting a little, how should I say it?  Obsessive.  The second she comes home from school she asks me if she can play at the little girl's house and I tell her, that she has to wait to be asked.  Then she asks me if she can ask the little girl to come over to our house, I always say yes.  Then she goes over and asks, and sometimes the answer is yes, and sometimes the answer is no.  Or sometimes the little girl is not home.  Maya just cannot yet get her head around the idea that it takes two to  tango and she just does not understand when it doesn't work out.  Today she asked, but the little girl told her she had swimming lessons.  When afternoon rolled into evening and Maya had asked me about 150 times about it and 150 times I told her that the little girl wasn't home and that it might be too late to play today Maya had a hard time getting that.  She understood that the little girl was not at home but couldn't understand why playing together might not be possible today.  I explained to her that it was getting late and it was almost dinner time and then  bedtime.  I also explained that the little girl has to want to play over here and that her mom has to say it is okay too.  Maya repeated back what I told her and said she understood, but surely, two minutes later there she was asking me again and this scene replayed over and over again, to the point where I felt like some karmic force was hitting some kind of rewind button on a tape recorder .  I find getting Maya to understand what other people want is a very difficult concept for her to grasp.  Even more difficult?  Me not getting totally exasperated with her after literally hours of the same questions.  Certainly I have put up with years of dealing with obsessive questioning from Maya, just when she was younger it was much easier to divert her attention or re-focus her on something else.  Now no amount of my offering to play with her, read with her, do puzzles with her really helps. This is usually the time I crack open a bottle of wine, that does seem to help. Cocktails, good.

On the one hand I am tickled pink that she is getting enjoyment from playing with other kids but on the other her autistic mind which does not understand degrees is as usual going for that all-or-nothing way about it.  It makes me sad to see her wanting something so badly and not being able to get it.  Circumstances or desire don't matter in this equation because Maya is not able to put things into perspective that way.  In the late afternoon Maya pulled me to look outside in the backyard.  She had assembled her chairs and put one out for the little girl and just innocently thought that that little act of arranging chairs would make her wish come true.  My emotions are a mix, on the one hand I am touched that she is so considerate and is thinking about what her friend might like, on the other I am sad because in her mind that simple act is enough to bring the results she wants, on the other (OK, I realize according to this now I have 3 hands) it makes me irritated to see her going through so much and making a play date mean so much in her head.   I was raised by parents who taught us both outwardly in and inwardly to suppress our feelings, particularly feelings of disappointment or sadness.  If that were me, I would be sticking my head in the air and pretending it doesn't bother me.  I would be proud and defiant and pretending this play date didn't matter.  But the truth is, I have been there too as a little girl and you know what?  I got the talk and walk down correctly, but inside I still felt crappy.  Maybe I am focusing too much on my own feelings and not enough on how to help her.  I really do want to help her understand this, the problem is I am not sure how.

I was thinking tonight when I was trying to tune her out that this is such a hard thing about having a child on the spectrum.  But then I was remembering back to when my brothers' kids were little and you know what?  I can remember them being obsessed with stuff too, Legos, swimming, soccer and bugging their parents repeatedly for the same thing over and over.  So, I think that while some concepts might be more difficult to grasp, all parents get driven crazy by their kids and all kids go through obsessions with things.

Not too bad, eh?  At least until tomorrow morning when she starts all over again.........

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