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Saturday, June 9, 2018

The mother I mean to be vs. the mother I am

A few weeks ago, I attended a panel at Janey's school made up of five adult women with autism.  It was tremendously moving and informative.  I left that day determined to work harder to help Janey reach her potential, as the women on the panel had, to strive to ignore labels about functioning, to enrich Janey's life in any way I could, but also to respect her as a person, to follow her lead.

I'm not doing a good job.

The bane of my existance
Let's talk about last night, or, rather, early this morning.  Janey went to sleep about eight last night, late for her.  She woke at 1 am.  Tony tried to get her back to sleep, but she was having none of it.  At two, she came to me in bed and woke me up.  I told Tony to sleep and I would take over.  At first Janey watched YouTube videos on the TV, which can be used as a computer monitor.  She does this with complete ease, but after a while, she wanted to watch things on Netflix or Hulu or Amazon, which is done through an Amazon device.  Although the device is in my eyes no more complicated than a mouse, probably less so, all my attempts to teach Janey to use it have failed.  She wants us to put on the shows for her.  That's fine, except she constantly wants to change shows.  After we spend long moments figuring out what show she wants, she watches it for about 30 seconds and then wants us to switch to something else.  That gets old fast at the best of times, and in the middle of the night, it gets unbearably old unbearably fast.  We hobbled through the night, with both of us speaking harshly to the other at times, both of us not doing what the other wanted done.

So what do I do?  How do I handle this?  I KNOW she could learn to use the remote that controls the device.  But when I try, she screams.  She lashes out.  She gets hysterical.  If I simply refuse to change shows any more, she will persist with asking and screaming and so on for hours and hours.  She doesn't quit.  She doesn't give up.  Believe me, I have tried this for YEARS.

I've told myself at times to just accept this, to see it as a time to interact.  Fine.  But it's not an enriching interaction.  It's the same, every time---finding a show she wants and picking the episode she wants, through a combination of single words and backwards and forwards pointing, putting on the show, then repeating in less than a minute.  Over and over and over and over and over, until finally somehow she finds a show she actually wants to watch---for maybe 5 or 10 minutes.  Then it starts again.

This interaction is mirrored in so many others.  Janey asks for a car ride.  She wants to get chips at the store.  She wants a shower.  Nothing else will do.  No variations work.  No amount of refusing, or explaining, or substitution, or distraction, or anything else, works.  When I try something new, she refuses it.  When I give in and do what she wants, but I don't do it fast enough, or exactly the same as the time before, or with a happy enough demeanor, she is furious, a fury that doesn't stop until it gets done right.

In my dream of the mother I want to be, I am endlessly patient. I am creative enough to figure out ways to either break her out of her routines or subtly enrich them.  I am never tired, never sleep deprived, never bored, never just fed up.  In my dreams, Janey is different too.  She responds to my patience by trying new activities.  She surprises me with glimpses of the thoughts I know she has stored in her mind.  She is quirkily fascinating.  She is a full partner in our joined quest to give her the most wonderful life a girl with autism ever had.

The problem here is, of course, that Janey and I am both human.  We are not stereotypes.  We are not perfect.  I get tired too easily, thanks to a thyroid that has given up and a liver damaged by the medication that was supposed to help me have a safe pregnancy with Janey and the lovely "unspecified autoimmune disease" which is slowly getting specified as several types that cause, among other health issues, extreme fatigue. In addition, I am often too easily discouraged. My desire for difficult interactions to end quickly can cause me to take the easy way out of them often.  Janey is stubborn, unyielding.  She is who she is, not because of autism or despite autism but simply because we all have a collection of traits that make us who we are.  She is strong, determined, enthusiastic, yes, but also stubborn and unyielding.  Together, we make up a mother/daughter pair with many strengths, but also many weaknesses.

The mother I mean to be finds a way around the challenges.  The mother I am---sometimes not.  Janey and I am both who we are.  Perhaps that is the message here.  We all do the best we can, every mother and daughter, with the limitations and weaknesses we have, but also with our strengths and our determination and our love.

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