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Of Bark and Bite. Another Autism Mad Mothering Moment.

We each have our share of moments we will relive forever, sneaky little flashes that come right in uninvited square in the middle of another moment. Things are going along great—the perfect cup of coffee great, a nailed workout great, new pair of boots-great, and Bam! a clip inserts itself, a brainworm on roids, bigger, stronger, complete with the ability to rewind and replay itself at will, ad infinitum, create its own highlights and soundtrack, freeze-frame, slo-mo, discord.

Here is mine: I feel my teeth sinking in the flesh on my son’s left ring finger. I feel the resistance of skin and bone. I hear, almost out loud, the word bite three times in rapid succession. It is not a reaction, not an instinct to protect myself, but an intentional, briefly pre-meditated action done in deliberate attempt to show him that he should not be pounding my face with his open hand, that inserting his fingers into my mouth and trying to yank my lips off from the inside is a mistake he will regret.

Just before clamping down on his finger, I feel a slap tingling in my fingertips, the palm of my hand anticipating the smooth roundness of his cheek. And then I decide to bite instead. The slap is still a year away. I am not angry. I am livid. I do not see red, but black. Not the basement steps where I know we are dangerously teetering, not the indoor playland my husband just installed below, its commercial-grade tunnel and slide, its image of safety and happiness, not the eyes of my son inches from my own as he stands just one step below me, making us equal in height. I see nothing but black. I think my eyes are closed, but I when I recall this later, I will become sure that they were open. I clamp down. I do not know if he pulls away before I release, but I see him holding his hand against his body. I see the faint teeth marks on his finger. I see his shock and surprise.

He stops. The world quiets.

And then he attacks me with the other hand.

            The shoes come off, followed by the socks, the opening scene to an aggressive episode. We are going to be late for school if we don’t leave in the next seven minutes. Just as quickly as it seemed to stop, my awareness of time resumes. Until Thomas rips his pants and underwear off at the top of the stairs we have somehow managed to ascend, I had been thinking that we could still salvage this morning. He hadn’t had this kind of rage since he left public school. For some reason, his removing his pants, this one particular action, stands as testament to just how bad it can get, though he has done worse—kicking, scratching, pulling hair—the animalistic nature of his intentional nudity, exposing himself in the last stages of pre-puberty right there in full-frontal view, serves as a reminder that my days of winning any physical battle with him are quickly coming to an end. One hundred ten pounds at last doctor’s visit. Four feet, nine inches. He is only a few pounds from me. Tomorrow I will up my weight training regime. I will review my crisis plan. I will read over my notes on the coping skills he should be using instead of physical assault. Tomorrow I will confess to his BSC that today I sunk to a new low. I will ask her for her input and she might graph his aggressive episodes on each dose of the medication. She might even tell me that other parents have done the same thing. But today, today I will stay alive. Today I will cry a lot when I remember this moment. Today I will get us to school on time no matter what it takes.

Focusing on this minute detail that does not matter in the grand scheme of things, beating the clock, autism or otherwise, somehow becomes my lifeline in times like this. Or maybe the biggest battle in these crises is the one against my own need to control what I can, a list of things that is steadily shrinking in the face of autism. There are instances when I freely say the phrase, “I hate my life.” Maybe I mean it, maybe I don’t, but today I will be damned if I am going to be late. I will justify taking him to school despite this complete psychotic break (on both our parts) as a stubborn refusal to reinforce his negative actions. I can’t very well let him skip school for trying to kill me, I will text to my husband when he asks if I am sure Thomas should go to school in this state. And maybe my logic is partly true, even correct, but it is not why I am doing it. I am taking him to school not even so that I can have a few hours of freedom from him, truth is, he is never not with me, present or not. I don’t even really know why I am insistent that we adhere to these invisible guidelines, themselves little life rafts I cling to in moments of drowning, I just feel compelled to stay on track. To do what is right. To proceed with the plan, soldier on, stick it out. To get it done. To not fail.

            I later think back on this moment, not because I want to, but because I was instantly aware, my teeth still in his my child’s flesh, that it had inserted itself permanently into my psyche. It had already taken on a life all its own, become a demon, a regret that would be back both when I least expected it and when I intentionally summoned it in order to punish myself. And I would. I have. In the two years since this happened, I have relived it hundreds of times. The first time I pulled the images up, just an hour later, sobbing uncontrollably in my parked car outside of school, I felt the familiar need to run, to physically attempt to distance myself from something stronger and faster than me. To do the impossible. To engage in another leg of the life-long marathon that will remain without a winner, only injured, battered runners with torn tendons and pulled muscles. I am not determined to win. I know I won’t even place. It’s not that I want the satisfaction of completing the course, I don’t have a choice. Sometimes I pull over and take one long, deep breath, and then I keep on running. I cannot stop. If I do, I will get plowed over in the stampede of runners at my heels, the other bruised and battered parents being chased not by their oddly-mannered children as they funnel down the streets like a mummer’s dance, trying to flee from the invisible force of Autism itself. It’s a running of the bulls, but these are not animals, these are our children. As much as we want to get away from them, we want to hold them. We want to save them. We are all dead-ass tired. For most of us, at least for me, parenting is the hardest job I have ever had. It is also the one job I cannot quit.

            I will get bitten. I will fail. I will fall on my face and screw up medications. I will make bad decisions about my child’s education. I will be ashamed of him. I will over-prompt and over-correct him, try to compensate for his deficits in ways that make no sense.  My heart will forever be broken, and I will long for him to tell me what’s on his mind, how to fix it, how to make it better. And he never will. I will accept this eventually, or maybe I won’t, but I will love him. With his finger in my mouth or his foot in my face, with his hands around my throat, I will love him until there is no breath in my body. When I am gone, I hope there is someone who will take over the thankless task of parenting him, someone who might do a better job than I have, or than I am doing now because no matter well I do, it will never be good enough. There will always be more to do, more to learn, more love to give. The serenity prayer asks for the serenity to accept the things that cannot be changed, the courage to change the things that can be, and the wisdom to know the difference. My prayer asks for the courage to accept the things I cannot change, the energy to change the things I can, and the refusal to see the difference.


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