My best day last week was the day we went to the beach and Costco. The day that found me a long gas line at Costco turning off the car so that I could pull my screaming infant out of his carseat and breastfeed him half in and half out of the car. The day I carried an 18 lb baby and 30 lbs of beach stuff then frantically tried to both supervise water play and keep the baby from swallowing fistfuls of sand.
My worst day was the day we stayed home. My daughter is currently afraid of the floor so she does not get off one small corner of the couch all day. Of course everyone tells me to just ignore her and force her to walk on the floor eventually, starve her or leave her alone. Aside from that being against our unschooling philosophy, I know she is truly terrified. She wants to visit her brother when I nurse him on a different chair so she scrambles across the room and leaps on me, gasping for air with her heart pounding.
I love her, I want to help her through this and we’re doing all we can–occupational therapy, drawing worry monsters, special shoes, pillows on the floor. But this is exhausting. I have a kid who isn’t potty trained exploding with energy on the couch, jumping and twisting and hanging upside down but terrified to move out of that spot, suddenly unable to do anything she used to do for herself–go to the kitchen and pick out snacks, go to the dining room table and draw, go to the other side of the room to get a toy. And I have a baby who never sleeps by himself, and if I don’t remain perfectly upright and bouncing with him in a carrier–no bending to change a kid’s diapers, no screaming from his sister–he won’t sleep at all.
Not to mention all the adult stuff I’ve had to give up–writing time (which I’m stealing in between shouts for “MOMMA!!!” and baby whimpers); dairy, chocolate, and soy because they irritate the baby; exercise because even with two parents at home we can barely handle it; cooking, gardening, having anything be clean, any project ever; movies (other than her three “not scary” shows), podcasts, or any kind of talking that makes my daughter scream “too much talking!!!”; and no time alone with my husband except once every six month dates or the rare 10 minutes the baby sleeps in past me.
The thing about going out is 1) I can carry and nurse the baby wherever, and doing so outside is much more pleasant most days. And 2) the ambient noise and wide spaces seem to calm everyone–the baby sleeps better, my daughter takes naps sometimes, I feel better. Finally, and most importantly, when we are out, I see that we have the world at our finger tips. We have the world at our finger tips in many ways at home, with internet and enough food and books. But when we are out the newness of the world is just enough to break my daughter out of her ruts, her fears. She maintains a safe space–her stroller with the shade pulled down–but there is the world, just on the other side. There are books at the library and sand toys at the beach and leaves and sticks at the park. And they have so many more possibilities than the ones that seem to be narrowing further and further at home.When we are out I am her source of food and safety but not only that–not only “MOMMA” screamed over and over all day. I am also her guide, I can point out something new, I can explain or find out. We are still finding out together how the world is instead of her screaming insistence that it be a certain way.
When we were still thinking of preschool, I would look at the preschool near our house and think about all the toys and the other kids she could be familiar with, and wonder if that might be the right thing. But I would do this while we waited at the bus stop, getting ready to go somewhere. I know from years of work on socializing and stories from other autism parents that the school socializing isn’t necessarily effective, that some kids just never talk to the other kids in their class. I know the demands and pressure and chaos just of organizing 10 kids in a circle throw my daughter into incoherent meltdowns. And I know that the the preschool’s very nice play yard also looks like a cage. I know that when we step on the bus my daughter is amazed, that the world is hers, that she wants to know about every street and every sign, and why the bus makes that loud noise when it lowers down, and how you get a transit pass. I know she’s learning, and even though it’s hard I think we’re making this part of her life as easy on all of us as we possibly can.