82: Tuesday Morning

82: Tuesday Morning

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Raising Kids on the Spectrum

Tuesday Morning

No man can possibly know what life means, what the world means, until he has a child and loves it.

~Lafcadio Hearn

It’s nearly three o’clock on a Tuesday morning when my autistic eight-year-old son walks into our bedroom, backlit by the bathroom nightlight. He needs help going to the bathroom. I get up and walk him in, talk him through it, help him. When he leaves the bathroom he turns toward our room. I try to steer him toward his, but he twists away and through our door, climbs into our bed. I scooch him over and climb in, pulling up the covers, drifting back to sleep.

A few minutes of stillness, then he rolls around a bit and sits up. He slides out of bed. “What are you doing?”

“I’m leaving.”

“Where are you going?”

“Away.” He walks down the hall, to the kitchen.

“Everyone is trying to sleep. Let’s go back to bed, your bed or our bed.”

“No. I wanna get up.”

“C’mon, let’s go. Our bed or your bed, but you have to go to bed.”

“No.”

In a perfect world a perfect father would negotiate, but I’m tired and I don’t want to risk more late night rambles. “Let’s go to bed,” I say in my firmest tone, trying to keep my voice level, knowing that any agitation on my part will feed his own. “Either bed, you choose, but we have to go, now.”

“No. No. No. No. No.”

I try to shepherd him toward his bedroom, saying, “We need to go to bed.” He goes limp and sits on the floor. I try to pick him up, but he stays limp and squirms. He’s not very big, but he can be awkward to handle when he chooses. I try again to force him to go. Big mistake. His agitation level rises.

“No. I wanna go watch a movie.”

Now I negotiate. “How about if we read a book?”

“No.” I offer a snack, to be followed by bed. He’s quietly considering my offer.

He says something about not wanting a snack but heads toward the kitchen; sometimes, when he is agitated, he gets confused with his language. He goes past the kitchen, into the family room, and rummages through the library box. He grabs one of his favorite comic book collections and sets it on the kitchen table, standing beside it. I turn toward the cupboard to get him a snack. He grabs the book and heads down the hall, into his bedroom, and turns on the bedroom light. “You don’t want to read,” he says, clutching the book to his chest like a talisman. “Read to me. Don’t read.”

Things have moved beyond the immediate issue, into deeper fears and feelings. Tears rise in his eyes and drip down his cheeks. I gently take the book from his hands and begin to read. He really likes this book and I hope he will get engrossed in it. “No!” he shouts, grabs the book back and tosses it on the floor.

“You want to read!”

“Then let me read.”

“No.” I sit on the bed beside him. I reach over and gently rub his shoulder, feeling the tension in those muscles. We leave the book on the floor.

He looks at me, his always-big, jet-black eyes magnified by the tears welling in them, then he looks away, into space. Eye contact is difficult for him, he feels safer staring at nothing. “I’m, not, happy,” he sobs, each word coming between gasps of air. “I’m not happy.” I slip my hand under his nightshirt, actually one of my T-shirts, really too big on his slight body. I rub his back.

“You’re not happy,” I echo.

“No.” I’m a little surprised that he lets me keep rubbing his back, even more when he leans against my hand. I look around the room, at the dark blue walls, the white blinds against the window, which is still black with night, at the large wall calendar, worn from his pressing against it when he counts out days, at the few stuffed animals that have fallen from the bed to the floor, at the colorful rug, the comic book lying on it, open, the cover splayed.

His words are true for this moment, and I feel bad for his feelings, for him. But I am secretly thrilled that he says them, that his statement matches the situation. Appropriate and timely communication is something we have long prayed for. He says again he is not happy. I ask why. He’s quiet for a moment, then slips back into his usual communication style, naming concrete things in his life, listing them, in no real order and without real meaning. I’m not surprised; he has difficulty conceptualizing emotions and feelings and finds it hard to articulate anything that can’t be counted out or physically measured.

He feels more than he can say; I can tell he knows it, and that knowledge frustrates him. I know, from experience, that the tone of my own voice is more important to him than its content, that he and I need to work through this tension; he needs to relax and return to his comfort zone. As much to fill my words as anything else, I remind him that I love him, his mother loves him, his sister loves him. I know those things are true, and I know he hears me, but I don’t know how much he really comprehends what I am saying. He sighs, though, and leans back a little harder against my rubbing hand.

I find myself thinking about just how alone this little boy can be. I picture him walking in the faint light, from his room toward ours, through a long and sometimes eerie hallway, seeking something he cannot quite name. For most of us, the darkness leads to somewhere, the night fades into morning, we see, we name, we seek, we find, we share. But for him, I think, the hallway sometimes goes on and on. He lives mostly alone, sees shadows on the edges, hears strange sounds from around corners, sometimes finds a place to rest. But, most often it is just him, in his world, at three a.m., not knowing what lies beyond, uncertain of the dawn, not knowing exactly what he wants, not knowing how to ask.

He leans back against me. I lie down and he lies against me, his head on my stomach. I see by the window that it is still night; I think about getting up to turn off the light, but I know he would object; he has had enough of darkness. So I close my eyes. He lies against me. I drift off. When I awaken, he is lying beside me, breathing heavily. I get up carefully, gently move him so his head is on the pillow, and cover him. I turn off the light, but it doesn’t get dark. Dawn has come, at least for me.

I glance back at him, watch him sleep, and gently close his door, leaving him alone in his room, and to his long gray journey. He is unhappy, but I am happy that he told me, that he could find the words to make the connection, to express himself, to bring him closer to the dawn.

~Douglas E. Baker

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