Julia had an assignment to put five things into a brown paper shopping bag that would tell her classmates something about her and would allow them to guess whose bag they were looking at. Julia and I didn’t do the assignment until this morning before breakfast. Mistake number one!
We had talked about this assignment before -- last night, and on Tuesday when I opened her backpack after school -- and she said that she understood the assignment. Mistake number Two! She did not understand it at all.
If she had understood the assignment, it would have been easy to grab a dinosaur, a coloring book, a Leapster game cartridge, some crayons or markers, a container of play dough, some whicky sticks, and a package of noodles (favorite food was one of the suggestions). Instead, she put the noodles in the bag (at my suggestion and instead of a bowl of rice or glass of milk), and four small blank books. The books were her books -- a set of 6-- two of which have been used for Morning Parade this summer. She has been really wanting to use the remaining four books but they remain blank at this point.
Now, to be fair to her. The noodles and the four blank books were five items. In my utter frustration, I did not congratulate her for putting five items in the bag. And that is a big deal for her. Five. Five. My good mother quotient is way far down.
I sighed heavily and went over the purpose of the exercise. I gave her suggestions of what I would put into the bag which could be considered Mistake number three. Trying to be anything else but concrete and about her entirely just causes more confusion. She was confused.
And I was getting frustrated. And she had just taken her meds. Should I count that as Mistake number 4, or am I up to 5 by this time?
I did not know whether to do the exercise myself or tell her what to put in the bag and let her fetch those things or just let her bring what she had and let the chips fall where they may. I fervently believe that Julia needs to learn to do for herself, and maybe this was the time to do it. After all, it was an exercise, nothing hung on this work. On the other hand, it was my fault that we were doing the exercise the morning it was due, with Julia without meds in her, and clearly she had not understood anything that I, and probably her teacher, had previously explained.
And we were already having a slightly stressful morning. Rather, I was having a stressful morning, and it was only by association with me that Julia was having a stressful morning. So, I let it slide. I explained the purpose one more time, trying to use different words.
I have a problem. I am not good at rephrasing at all. Cheshire can do it. I simply get lost in my loop of explanation and if anything, I get louder. You know, the way Americans get louder when they talk to people who doesn’t understand English. Talk louder and they will understand. Yes, like that would work with an autistic kid so much better than it works with non-english speakers???
Could I be any more dense? Or frustrated? Did I say that already?
Julia sat down to eat breakfast. We still had ample time. I went back to making her lunch. When I put the brown bag into her backpack along with her lunch, I noticed that she had put in two little dinosaurs on top of the blank notebooks. They were not in the bag when I had looked when she brought it to me, so she must have gotten up and found them as I was toiling away in the kitchen.
I should have noticed and said something to her. I did not. How many mistakes can I make in one morning?
Can I do better tomorrow? Sure. And I will try. Already have a new plan in my head -- if I get up earlier, and do something to prepare me for her, like meditate, like sip a cup of tea, like . . . okay, that’s all I can think of. If I can get to a place of calm, maybe I can appreciate and deal with Julia better. Oh, I am not good in the morning unless we are talking about a wake up time after 8:30 in the morning.
But now, my ugly truth: A good deal of the problem, and the problem that I need to solve, is how much I want her to be like other kids. Kind people, my friends and Julia’s teachers, say, “She has come so far,” “She could have never done that last year,” and “You’ve done so much for her.” Sometimes, I babble on to these kind people and I tell them how much I want her to “Catch” up to her peers, and how I would consider keeping her back a year in school if it meant that she could work at grade level with a group of kids. I passionately want her to have the experiences of a normal, neuro-typical kid. I want her in ballet and softball instead of intensive therapy and OT. It is very, very hard for me to let go of that idea, those dreams. I struggle with her difference, even though I am the very person who has always believed that children should be allowed to be different. And now, I see what a fraud I was in saying that. In espousing that for a very long time. Sure, be different. Be different in some interesting, smart, quirky way. Read books beyond your age, play an instrument when other kids want to play ball, do math a couple of grades ahead and ponder the question of your own differences. Those were differences that I could handle. But be different in a way that no one understands how your brain works. Be different in a way that you cannot communicate the way other kids communicate. Be different in a way that the rest of us cannot tell how much you will be able to learn, to understand, to grow and mature. Be that different and I am scared to death and only want you to be like everyone else.
And this is my problem. Not Julia’s problem.