When you are an awfulizing hypochondriac, there is a love/hate relationships with those prenatal appointments. I hated lining up like cattle at the scale, while the nurse chuckled and asked just how many Oreos you ate since your last appointment (funny how all those extra pounds made me clumsy and I frequently stumbled off the scale and stepped on her foot...hard). And there was always that mixed feeling of excitement and fear while lying on the exam table holding your breath until that doppler device found that fast racing heartbeat that you knew, even though it was a struggle to climb onto that table with your extra Oreo pounds, was clearly too fast to be yours.
After letting my breath out, I would lay on the table, envisioning this beautiful baby, and of course every vision had him or her looking and acting just like me. After all, it's only fair that if I'm the one who gets fat, suffers from constipation, rubs lotion religiously on my stretch marks, wears socks in August to hide my kankles and sacrifices my fashion sense (yeah, maternity clothes have come a long way, but they still are maternity clothes), then the child in my womb should at least have the courtesy to come out looking like me or at the very least, have my charming personality. You moms out there know just what I'm talking about and you know the feeling of injustice when that child looks and behaves remarkably like the parent whose only sacrifice for those 9 months was surviving your hormonal mood swings.
After you get over the "how dare you not look and act just like me" while pointing out your stretch marks to him (which by the way, I do not refer to as "badges of honor" they are evidence of skin being stretched too far from healthy salads and lots of healthy milk, to wash down those Oreos), you love your child exactly as they are. I tell Ryan several times a day that he is perfect and in my eyes and my heart he is, but that doesn't mean it's easy to try and understand his world that is so very different from mine.
Yes, unlike my little boy, who even complains about school parties (they deviate from the norm of his school routine) I was a very social kid and now I'm a very social grown up. I love parties, gatherings, events, etc. I can talk to anyone about almost anything and pretend to be interested even if I'm not. Dan once said I could befriend a fence post, and AWEnestly, if there was no one else around to talk to I just might. I love my family and they mean the world to me, but sometimes it's my girlfriends who keep me tethered to the earth. I can't imagine my life without them, which is why poor Dan has been stuck in cold, wintery, Central PA, I can't bear the thought of leaving my friends.
Dan on the other hand, is so very different. He occasionally enjoys a social event and willingly allows me to drag him to nights out with friends, but more often than not, he does it for me. Dan loves his family and would and does do everything he can to make us feel loved, happy and safe. Although he travels for work and is forced to put on his game face and socialize, his favorite place to be is at home with his family...at least for a little while. You see, as much as Dan loves us, at times he must escape us and I mean MUST. Dan has some similar sensory issues as Ryan and is easily frustrated when in a loud, chaotic environment (or if you rattle a potato chip bag too long), which is our house, most of the time. We can be too loud, too annoying, too overbearing, too chatty and too much. He is so outnumbered. Kyle not only looks like me, but acts like me. Loud, chatty, smart mouthed, thinks he's funny and incredibly charming. And Emma, who although looks nothing like me is my Mini Me (and oh, how I love it). Talk, talk, talk, "watch me", "watch this", "check this out", parties, sleepovers, play dates then talk, talk, talk some more. Yep, Dan and Ryan both have their escape routes and need to be evacuated often. Ryan to his bedroom with he friends Mario and Luigi and Dan to his man cave basement to watch home improvement shows. Dan most certainly has friends he genuinely cares about and he is a wonderful friend, but more often than not, he would prefer to care for those friends while they are in their man cave and he is in his.
Along with their sensory sensitivities and similar evacuation routes, Dan, like Ryan, is also very logical and analytical which is why in the moments when I'm trying to help or understand Ryan and I end up pulling my hair out, screaming in frustration, with both Ryan and I in tears, Dan ends up coming to the rescue. He is able to talk to Ryan in a logical manner, come up with a way to explain the situation in Ryan like terms and can do it without losing a single hair. Dan thinks more like Ryan, therefore, on many levels he is able to relate to him much better than I can. This makes me grateful, but sad too. I may be the one who snuggles with my boy every night, kisses all the boo boos away and stares down any bullies through the bus windows, but I want to be the one who "gets him" too. I'm horribly, horribly greedy.
This year, Ryan is in fifth grade. Initially, it was a hard transition. New teacher, new rules, more writing, more abstract thinking, less rote memorization. When Ryan gets confused or frustrated, he shuts down and his brain takes him to Bikini Bottom with Spongebob, to Mario World with Yoshi, or he becomes an Angry Bird bombing Pigs. These places are all predictable and safe. He is happy there. It is evident Ryan has gone elsewhere because he makes these strange facial expressions, funny noises and tries not to laugh. I have told him repeatedly that when he makes the funny faces and funny noises kids will tease him, but he says he can't control his brain. Dan, whose brain in many ways is a lot like Ryan's, told Ryan when Spongebob and those guys show up, he has to open a door in his brain, shove all those guys in the door, take the key and lock them in until he comes home from school. Ryan beamed at this description and promised he would try. He came running home from school the next day, bypassed my open arms, ran up the steps to his dad's office and proudly announced he "locked up Spongebob today". It worked!!!! I would have continued on with my rant of "kids are going to tease you, then you won't be liked and wildly popular so you won't get invited to parties" had I been left to handle that moment alone. Thank God, our little apple has two trees and that at least one of us knows just how Ryan ticks.
I remember one time during dinner trying to get Ryan to tell me who he played
with, talked to, sat next to at lunch, etc and I got nothing, absolutely
nothing. The kids left the table and I started to well up. I looked at Dan and
sniffed, "I just want him to have friends", to which he replied, "We don't want
any friends, leave us alone." How can that even be possible? No friends? My life is so much fuller and brighter because of my friends. It has been hard trying to understand that what makes my life complete is not what makes Ryan feel fulfilled. I worry about who will catch Ryan when he falls if I'm not around? Who will he share his deepest, darkest secrets with? Who will cover for him when he sneaks out of the house to meet a girl?
As the tree whose apple rolled down the hill, across the road and up another hill, I continue to make progress in understanding my boy who is so very different from me. I have learned that he may not want anyone to catch him when he falls. He may prefer to pick himself up, dust himself off and stand up on his own. He may not care to share his secrets since afterall a secret is "something kept hidden or unexplained" so my rule following boy will probably do just that. And chances are very good that my rule follower will never dream of sneaking out of his house to meet a girl and even if he did, I'd bet the only girl he'd risk getting in trouble for is named Wendy, for a meatless cheeseburger with ketchup, fries and a small vanilla Frosty.
As greedy as I am in wanting to be all things to my special, beautiful boy, I am grateful for the tree that my apple landed right next to, for on the worst of days when I feel like I'm drowning, I can grab onto his branches to keep my head above water. And although I know Dan certainly knows the inner workings of Ryan's brain better than I do, there is no one who knows Ryan's heart like his mother. Our brains may be very different, but our hearts are very similar. That same beautiful heart that I heard through layers of Oreos, once beating inside me, now beats beside me holding my hand, a stuffed Yoshi and his she she (aka, blankie) and I couldn't be more proud. And on the difficult days when we are both reminded how very different our worlds are, regardless of our differences, we end the day comforting one another snuggled up in his bunk knowing that regardless of the hold autism may have over my perfect little boy's brain, his mommy will always hold his heart.