I typically try to write positive blogs because I know there are so many people out there who need to hear words of hope.
This one will not be like that. Maybe this one will reach the other people who need to hear another type of blog, one that they can understand and relate to.
Are you ever just bopping along on a typical day, feeling pretty good when something comes along and shatters that feeling like a rock through your bedroom window? You’re left thinking, “Hey, what just happened here? How did we go from there to here?
Today was Mother’s Day. The day we planned was going to be wonderful. My incredibly sweet boyfriend and I would cook and entertain my mom, attempting to show in some miniscule way how much we appreciate her. Caleb knew the plans and was excited about everything. He spent the morning coloring at the kitchen island rather than up in his room, where he chooses to spend much of his time.
My mom came, we had brunch and champagne and it was such fun. She brought a few movies that she wanted to share with us and that was good, too.
I’ve written that Caleb can’t handle emotional changes in others. I was told years ago that people with autism actually gather too much information in facial emotions and that it’s painful. I live by this credo. I am intentionally blank all the time when I am around him. But sometimes others, no matter how well-intentioned, forget.
That’s what happened today the movie. I don’t even remember the plot but once I felt tears sting at the corner of my eyes, I stifled them, like pouring sand on them to keep them from coming to the surface. My mom, who was loving every second of the movie, welled up, tears covering the entire surface of her eyes, threatening to spill over like a dam into a river.
Caleb, who misses nothing, looked at her. I could feel the anger surge up through him until he turned to me and said, “Shut up, bitch.”
No one has ever spoken to me like this.
I know that if I yell at Caleb, it exacerbates the situation. If I ignore it, he thinks it’s okay. I simply pointed my finger to his room upstairs.
“Sorry, Mom,” he said, with true regret.
“I understand, but you need to go upstairs and calm down.”
“Sorry, Mom,” he said, but now he was standing.
“Upstairs,” I said, pointing.
“I push your face,” he yelled, hitting my pointer finger with such force that it reverberated up my arm and shook my neck, aggravating the two plates and six screws put there four years ago.
My boyfriend told Caleb that he can never hit his mom. My mom sat in her chair in open-mouthed shock.
Rather than engage, I left the room, I went to the back of the house to my bathroom. I leaned on the counter, taking deep breaths and trying and failing to not cry.
I know he doesn’t fully comprehend what he said. But I also know that he knew it was incredibly incendiary. I know he knew it was bad.
In the novel and documentary Life Animated, Ron and Cornelia Suskind exquisitely told the story of their son, Owen Suskind, who was locked in the isolated and isolating world of autism. At age three, autism descended and Owen stopped speaking. But over time, he did begin to talk, using phrases from Disney movies. He was using them appropriately and finally able to communicate with his family. His family adapted and they were overjoyed that they could finally communicate with their son. This young man grew up to be a motivational speaker. It’s a magnificent story.
Caleb also used Disney movie quotes to talk. Years before I ever saw Life Animated, I had adapted my verbiage so that Caleb and I could communicate. Caleb has an innate ability to understand and mimic phrases that he could never string together on his own. He uses them in completely appropriate ways and it opened up a world between us.
I don’t know from where these new, dark, sickening phrases have come. Even though he is 22 years old, I have parental locks on all of his devices. His TV does not have cable. He knows older people at his day program and perhaps he’s picked up on what they say or even movies they watch there. I’m not blaming anyone. He’s 22. But I wouldn’t allow any other 22 year old to speak to me in this way so we will work on it.
Tears gathered in my eyes and I let them fall. I breathed out and breathed in, in an exaggerated pace, trying to calm myself. Those words were an assault, especially compared to the absolutely lovely card he had given me hours before.
Just yesterday, Caleb, my boyfriend and I were out running errands. Almost near home, Caleb asked, “Mother’s Day card?”
My incredible, wonderful, exceedingly kind boyfriend took Caleb to help him pick out a card. He said that Caleb zeroed in on one right away. Key phrases were: “I know you gave me all you could, and that you worked and worried.” Another was: “You had my back, no matter what, I never felt alone. Knowing you were always there made our house a home.”
Could Caleb have read and comprehended that card? I will never stop believing that he did, that he knew exactly what that card communicated.
So what happened in the hours between lauding me as a good mom and him calling me a bitch?
I’m there, leaning on the counter in my bathroom, tears slowly falling, when he showed up at my side.
Seeing the tears in my eyes, Caleb angrily said, “I will punch you in the face.”
“Get out of here,” I said quietly, slowly shutting and locking my bathroom door.
If I could kick autism in the ass and send it screaming into a black hole oh, I would do it in a heartbeat. No regret. Autism resounds like Alzheimer’s, dementia, TBI and other mental disorders. It scrambles the brain. It twists a personality until it looks like a petrified forest. It ruins families and it leaves those affected with minds riddled with disease. It’s horrifically unfair. There are few times that I have hated it more than I do today.
I try to not let this exchange ruin what has been an otherwise happy Mother’s Day. I have my mom here and it has been such fun to spoil her with a gift she loved and food that I know felt like a treat to her. She was the main focus of this day and she told me she had a wonderful one.
For me, Caleb’s actions sucked all of the air out of the day. They left me feeling like a sock puppet without a hand. They left me feeling like all I have done, all I have sacrificed for 22 years, has delineated to this crushing moment. I feel like I have failed, like I forgot an important lesson or missed a crucial teaching moment.
I haven’t, I know. I’ve poured everything I am into this child. This wonderful, vibrant, inquisitive, funny, incredibly intelligent child.
But he’s not a child anymore.
At six feet, two inches and over 240 pounds, Caleb is a man to be reckoned with. It’s so challenging to look at that visage and try to remember that he is mentally about six, though there are parts of him that are age-appropriate. That’s what the three deep breaths in the bathroom were about. I was stepping outside the situation, calming myself and trying to remember how I would have dealt with him or his sister at age five.
I don’t have the answers for this one. I spent yesterday curled under the blanket that used to lie on his little twin bed. It is tattered and worn almost through in spots because I have used it almost every day since he outgrew it. It reminds me of the precious baby I almost lost to open-heart surgery. It reminds me of the chubby baby hands that clapped and giggled while reaching for me. It reminds me of a time where I was blessed with an innocence that saw Caleb’s future in a much different way. I guess it’s my very own super hero cape because it allows me to slip into sweet memories instead of whatever is happening that day.
To all of you out there who have been through something like this, I’m so sorry. I wish I could hug you. To all of you who know and love Caleb, don’t let this change that.
One of the greatest lessons that Caleb has taught me is that each day is a fresh day. He wakes up happy and ready to meet the day, without bringing up whatever sad things happened the day before.
He inspires me to do the same.
Photo credit: Springer Nature