I have a confession to make. And it’s a biggie.
Yesterday I let my 18-year-old autistic son play video games for 4 hours straight.
Yes, you read that correctly, FOUR hours. According to the recommended screen-time rules of my helicopter-parenting generation, I am officially a “bad mom”.
Now before you call child protective services, let me explain why. And I do have a good reason.
Three weeks ago, my son, Ben, decided he was not going back to his new school. When I say “decided” I mean that I yielded to his protest and allowed him to stay home for a few days. Ben is limited in his conversational abilities so I gave him the benefit of the doubt that perhaps he wasn’t feeling well. Then on day 8, I pushed the envelope, so to speak. I informed him that he was going back to school, like it or not.
He was cooperative for the getting dressed, getting out the door and dropping off of his sister at her hight school portion of the adventure. However, when we pulled up to his school, (“College,” as we fondly refer to it, in the hopes that a change in vernacular would affect his desire to attend. Sadly, it did not.) he started to panic. And then out of sheer frustration and an inability to be heard, he struck my windshield with the side of his fist.
A big, sprawling, spider-like leg crack spread across the passenger side windshield of my Nissan Versa.
It was at that moment that I decided we would go home. I am five feet, two inches short, and he towers over me by about four to five more inches. It was at that moment, as most autism parents know all too well, that I also decided to abandon the concern of possibly reinforcing an unwanted behavior in favor of safety.
I didn’t want to risk the next fist blow to land on my face, that’s for sure.
I still somehow managed to stay calm, while explaining why he needed to go to school, how I really wanted to understand how he felt and that I knew how difficult it was for him to express his wants and needs.
After encouraging an apology out of him, I offered mine as well. I was sorry that I hadn’t listened to him, that I pushed it when he was trying to tell me he couldn’t do it. And I promised him we would spend the next few days working out how he felt and coming to a joint decision about where he would go to school next.
He gently stroked my cheek with a hint of understanding and appreciation.
He seemed happy.
I, on the other hand, gave in to the cascade of tears that started when we turned off of Cuna street and ended up home. The tears didn’t stop until it got dark that evening, and I could finally get a hug from my husband and be reminded that I was not alone, and we would all make this decision together.
There are so many lessons that I want to share with you about this incident. But I think the most important one is about parent self-care. The days that followed were mostly filled with attempts to balance sitters for him with my busy private practice schedule, which thank goodness, is only 3 days a week. (I’ve designed it that way for such a time as this. We never quite know when they’re coming.)
So yesterday he positioned himself in a recliner, in front of the TV, with a playstation controller in his hands, saving the universe with the likes of Luke Skywalker and Princess Leia. He happily switched between lego personas; some human, some droid and some wookie.
And I allowed him to do so for four hours, because I needed to have some down time.
Because downtime is so precious to us, the autism parents, and we
just don’t get enough of it.
Even when the respite people come over and help.
Even when the grandparents sit for a date night.
Or the kids are at school.
It never quite feels like enough.
Because it never ends.
Most of us will have to care for these kiddos,
whom we love with our whole heart and souls, for the rest of our lives.
But not for the rest of theirs.
Because we are not allowed to die. We don’t have that luxury.
But we will. Someday.
So in the meantime, I will plan accordingly, listen to him as best I can, and I will take the best possible care of myself that I can.
I owe that to my young Jedi.
And yes, I will even allow occasional, excessive, overindulgent video game playing, and risk being a “bad mom”.
After all, he is saving the universe.