I read, recently, that I’m not alone in putting my makeup, hair, clothes and general appearance on the back burner. Many of us mamas are busy tying shoelaces, wiping noses, making lunches, driving to appointments, folding laundry and working so hard that our appearance becomes a distant memory. Since my son has been sick for the last week, I’ve missed a few deadlines, missed some loads of laundry, and an appointment to get my hair done.
A few days ago, I returned to my outside job and then snuck out, while my son was in therapy, to a hair appointment. I afford myself this luxury every couple of months or so, if I’m lucky. Only problem is that in the past, I’ve dreaded going a little bit.
Don’t get me wrong. I have the most lovely, down to Earth hairstylist. She’s the fairy godmother of hair. The hair fairy. She gets it. She understands that sometimes there are meltdowns and I have to reschedule with negative five minutes until appointment time. She is always understanding, fits me in, takes me late, and I leave feeling younger.
The problem is me. My hairstylist’s daughter was born about 30 days after my son, and is neurotypical. When I see her, I am awakened to the vast difference in communication between my son and her daughter. The stark chasm between their forms of communication is difficult for me. Sometimes, I don’t want to be reminded of the differences.
Now, I’m not out there actively comparing my son to anyone. I don’t want to do that at all. But, the inevitable reality is that it happens. And, I do need to know the differences, arising from his disability, so I can do my best to bridge the gaps, protect and help him. Those differences sometimes makes me sad because it is so hard for my son to express what he is thinking or feeling.
When I arrived at the hair fairy, I was regaled with a story of how her little girl interacts with her. I’m told how she bosses other children around at preschool and is the queen bee of her ballet class. Harmless and charming, of course. And to some degree, I almost have to laugh, trying to picture my son bossing the other kids around on the preschool playground. That, very simply, would not happen.
In any event, the hair fairy then goes on to tell me how she went out late one night for groceries. Hair fairy Dad was asleep and thought the kids were too. The hair fairy comes home, at 10 p.m, groceries in hand, and catches daughter standing on the kitchen counter reaching on top of the fridge. Mom asks what she is doing. Daughter says, “Daddy put my Chia pet seeds up here and I want to re-seed my Chia.”
A simple(yet odd) story. And I try to express amusement with the cuteness of the scene. But this story hit me in the gut at first. Why? Because again, I know, it is a story I will never tell with my son. I could come home to this same scenario and ask my son what he was doing. In all likelihood, he would neither answer nor look at me. More likely than not, he will be engaged in self-talk, just under his breath. If I ask 2-3 more times, he may say “Yes,” or he might even say, “Want Chia seeds” but it would take me some time to figure out my husband put Chia pet seeds on the fridge. (We have no Chias in our house, but you know what I mean).
On further reflection, this story illustrated a couple things to me. One is that neuro-typical children are different from my son. They can clearly and concisely answer their parents without a detective agency’s intervention. The second is that I’m not so sure I would like it that way.
My son is a joy for a lot of reasons but sometimes it is precisely because of his different way of communicating. My son’s eventual responses are sometimes unexpectedly funny or comically capitulating. One day, he had a potty accident and I asked, “Did you go poopy in your pants?” Only half-listening, on the third or so repeat of the question, he softly responded “No”. Then I asked, “Are you lying?” and he responded “Yes”. It was very funny in the moment. It was innocent and sweet and easy.
I don’t want him to lose the innocent quality that arises from within his disability. Sometimes, I know it would be nice to have a quick precise answer on the first try to a question. And, in a odd moment, he may give me exactly that. But the vast majority of the time, I don’t get a response at all, or, sometimes, a minimum response that makes no sense, so I’m forced to figure it out a different way. It is the figuring out part that gives me insights that neurotypical parents may never have.
Maybe my hairstylist’s daughter was really looking for some cookies on top of the fridge. Maybe she made up the story about the seeds as a cover. Maybe there was something else going on up there. But that mama, tired at 10 p.m. with groceries to put away, had her daughter’s verbal answer and no reason to look further. (She never confirmed to me one way or another if the seeds were up there).
As a lawyer, I often do not get a straight response to my questions. Sometimes, I have to draw the information out in different ways. A confrontation with a display of the evidence, an examination of the scene, the reading of the witness’ face. As a lawyer, I have a little difficulty with the hair fairy’s daughter’s story. It’s fishy to me.
A 4 year old girl caught on top of the kitchen counter, messing with the top of the fridge at 10 p.m. when everyone else is asleep? For Chia pet seeds? Why would they be up there? Maybe they were up there and this is what she wanted. Or maybe not.
Sometimes, as an ASD mom, when I can’t get the answer verbally, I’ll look around further to find out what’s up. I’ve found that this looking around stuff can give you a better truth. That is one of the odd beauties of autism. Without a word in reply, you can sometimes find more truth in ways that have nothing to do with words. A trail of cookie crumbs. A barbie stuffed behind the fridge. Who knows?
What I do know is that living with a disability causes me to improvise. This can have its up sides. To recognize that made me happy.