Finally, we had some semi-cool weather here, inland, in Northern California. I noticed for the first time, that leaves are actually starting to change. As a result, I decided it was time to look through my closet, half attempting to clean it out and half looking for winter wear that might still fit the growing bean that is my son. “Half” being the operative word here. I never get through much before something else takes my attention away and the first project is left unfinished.
Before switching gears, I managed to throw away some dusty old parts of things I never used on the top shelf in a closet. I found two garbage bags filled with my son’s clothes. (I pack them away for the season in this “finery” – garbage bags are readily available and cheap). The first bag was from the summer of 2011. I could have used this stuff over this summer but naturally, it was in the back of my closet, mixed in with toddler clothes and I forgot all about it. Instead, the little guy rotated about five different Target tanks all summer long, missing out on some really cute stuff I got on clearance at the end of last year. Oops. Don’t tell my hubs.
The other bag was filled with baby clothes and a couple toddler outfits. And then I found this:
That stuff took me back. I thought I’d already transferred all that out to the garage. Should I have felt that it was cute and cuddly? Reminisced fondly? Because I didn’t.
I laughed, at that onesie, though the laugh was not all lighthearted. It was bitter. It was the laugh of a parent who’d been weathered and beaten. One who understood way more than the mere two words conveyed by the shirt. In selecting that onesie for my child, I was saying something back then. Before the possibility of a my child being different was even a thought I’d formed, I was spelling it out. I “labeled” him myself. He was wearing those onesies when he was about six months old.
The feelings I felt were… well, they were a mixed bag too. A bit of feeling was embarrassment at the realization of the naivety I had when my son was in the first two years of his life. A bit was gut-wrenching punches to myself, thinking back on all the crying, sleepless nights, the words “colic” and “night terrors” and the multiple times my husband and I debated whether we should wrap that little baby up and take him to the emergency room because, despite not having a fever or signs of trauma, the crying simply would not cease and we had no idea why.
I held it up to my son and asked if he remembered wearing clothes like these that snapped around his bottom side. He ignored me brushing the onesie aside to get full access to the car he was playing with at that moment.
I felt sentimental, maudlin, if you will though I’d had nothing to drink. This tiny piece of fabric evoked strong memories to me. The first two years of nonstop screaming, attempts at comforting, stark fear of what might be happening with my child. My inability to soothe him. The wear down of trying to ease that unknown horror and just when I would think I was making progress, the wailing that would begin again, shocking every fiber of my being. The cute, the cuddly was when he would sleep but even that was a pins and needles kind of peace. The kind of peace that can end in a flash, replaced by nonstop inconsolable screaming and flailing about.
Those days are gone.
The sleepless nights have all but disappeared.
Yet, the meltdowns still happen. Lately, they’ve been peaking again. But now, they are accompanied by words that I know signal the path toward destruction. And hearing those words sometimes help me steer him back from that path, away from the edge. Sometimes, he melts anyway. He lets me soothe him now. Rock with him. Wipe away the tears. Squeeze him tightly.
The meltdowns now are paradise compared to what they were then, in onesies. And now? What seems to accompany or take over after the melt is over is nearly always some sort of growth.
Take Friday night for example. Instead of playing and staying up late, his meltdown resulted in going to bed early. The end. He fell asleep after I wiped away the last of the tears. The next day, in the middle of the day, he got on the computer, Googled himself to a site with toy cars, found one he owns and pointed it out to me.
As he did so, he said, “I’ve got that green one. I’m gonna go get it and come right back!”
Such simple words blew me away. He used the right pronouns. He planned to go find something in another room and return. He’s never before said he would “come right back”. It was jaw dropping stuff.
I wondered, when he ran out of the room, if he would return.
True to his word, he came right back, car in hand.
Yes. Our life with autism is a mixed bag, just like the clothes I found this weekend. Some of it’s bitter and some is sweet. Or maybe it’s just all part of a continuum that starts at one end and keeps climbing toward the other. So, when you see, feel, hear or experience a meltdown, look for the growth. I’m betting you will find something good in short order, too.