One of the things that strikes me as a parent is the halo of innocence that surrounds my child. That innocence is like all the beautiful spring flowers on a tree. Each time something happens that causes a loss of that innocence, it is like a flower falls away from the tree. Like the tree, my child learns and grows but the innocence flower is lost forever once it falls.
Recently, I pulled an innocence flower dangling off his tree. It started simply enough. My son wanted to play Trios, building blocks, like Legos but bigger. He’s had the Trios for over a year but hasn’t played with them since last summer. That was around the time our bad nanny (BN) left.
I’ve talked about the BN before. She started when our associate’s wife, the baby whisperer, left to have a baby. The baby whisperer left on good terms. She told my son she was going and that she loved him. She prepared him for her departure. He never had a problem when she left.
Then we got the BN. BN was not always bad. In fact, she and my son did tons of fun things together including playing with the Trios. But there were weeks at a time that she would either call in sick or simply not show at all and I was left scrambling to reschedule depositions, court dates and deadlines to care for my son.
After 1.5 formative years with my son, last June, the BN quit with no notice. My son had just received his autism diagnosis but we had not started behavioral therapy. Before his diagnosis, from time to time, he would reach up slowly and sometimes slap the BN in the face. It was never a serious injury.
When she put him in a high chair to eat his lunch, he would kick at her at times under his tray. Again, she was not injured nor did she seem to think it was a big deal. He wouldn’t engage in this behavior with me, only with her. He would do it when I was not there. To discourage the behavior which I was extremely upset about if I caught him in, she used to threaten by saying, “Do not hit me. If you hit me again, I will leave and never come back.” or “I’m going to tell your mother.” She would use the same threats about the kicking.
For nearly a year now, he has not mentioned her much. During the recently, increasing times that he has mentioned her, we all have redirected him and avoided a discussion. For me, I simply did not want to hurt him with the truth. I wanted the flowers on his innocence tree to stay in full bloom.
BN hurt him very badly. He loved her with pure adoration, dependence and innocence. She spent 40 hours a week with him and played with him all day long, every day. To suddenly be cut off from that with no ending and no explanation was unfair, to say the least.
But really? What were we all doing? I cannot believe we thought that by not talking about it, the issue would resolve itself. My son has a strong memory. He knows every single toy in his inventory. He knows events that occurred months and years ago. He can recall minute details about the most benign events. Why on earth did I have the idea that by not talking about the BN’s departure, he would forget about it and move on?
He did not.
In the last few weeks, my son has been repeating these two sentences: “Do not hit me” and “Do not kick me.” Again, the standard operating procedure around the office and at home- ignore it. Finally, the other night, he reached out to me for some answers while playing Trios.
He said “(BN’s name)….” Then, he stopped. I looked up at him from the Trios. He was making eye contact. He said, “BN is at the …”This was breaking my heart. I could not ignore him.
“Where do you think she is?” I asked him. I was quite curious where he thought she’d been for nearly a year.
“She’s at the……”
“She’s at the hospital. She is at the doctor’s.” he said.
“No, no, no. BN is not at the doctor or the hospital. BN was not a nice person. She left without telling us. She was a bad person.” I handled that horribly wrong.
He responded with, “I’m sorry, mommy.”
I said, “No, you are good. She was bad!”
With increasing volume, he said, “I’m sorry, mommy!!” Again, I reassured him that he had done nothing wrong that he was good. I told him that sometimes people just go away and that she did not go away because he hit or kicked her. At that point, I was uncertain where we were going and used redirection. He accepted the change of subject and did not bring it up again.
It actually took me til the next morning to put the pieces together. My son believed that BN left because he hit and kicked her. She said she would “leave and never come back” if he hit or kicked again. He took her very literally. He put together that the hitting and kicking had resulted in a trip to the doctor or the hospital from which she never returned because he was bad.
I felt awful. For nearly a year, he’s been carrying this burden of believing that he caused BN to go away. No wonder he’s been terrified of the doctor and hospital. He thought we might never return like BN if we went there. Poor little guy.
I guess the moral of the story is that you must be very careful with an ASD child in trying to shield them. My son took things literally, grouped together concepts of injury with the doctor, hospital and never seeing someone again. It’s going to take some time to straighten out these jumbled thoughts of his that I allowed to get so out of control by failing to give him truth.
I guess honesty is the best policy. Sometimes a good trim on a little tree where the flower grows is exactly what it needs to stay healthy. I guess I will learn to appreciate the new growth where the flower used to be. If I can remove the flower of innocence, without damaging the tree, it will grow bigger and bloom in many other directions.