Thursday, September 20, 2007

Where We Are Is Where We Were

September is a big month around here: Oliver turned five, I turned thirty-eight, Nik turned forty-nine, and our 6th wedding anniversary is on the 29th. That, plus the change in seasons has me thinking a bunch about change.

What a difference a year makes, huh? And two years? Well, it would be hard for most people to comprehend the changes we've been through over the last two years. In a lot of ways, the trajectory has been at a solid, forty-five degree angle. But in some ways it has been an arc, and we are back where we were before Oliver was diagnosed. In a good way.

First, the forty-five degrees. That's Oliver. Wow, that kid is amazing! He is really developing a bit of independence. When we walk together now, he refuses to hold my hand -- as any five year old might. But the difference now is that I can let him walk by my side and not worry (well, almost) that he will dart into the street or run away from me towards something that catches his eye. The other day we walked together to my mother's house. She lives about a half mile from me and at some points he was nearly a block ahead of me. And I wasn't worried. If I needed to I would call out: "Don't get too far ahead!" and he would stop and wait for me. A year ago this would not have been possible. And when we go to a store or any other busy place, I don't constantly have to keep my eye on him. He knows that he needs to stay with me. Sometimes he wanders away a bit but he always comes back. Going places is so much less stressful than it used to be.

Yesterday we went swimming at the new pool for the first time and I just stood back and soaked my boy in. Now that he has the basics down he is swimming really beautifully -- not just the doggie paddle but something that looks like the back stroke and the side stroke. He is also swimming under water a few feet at a time. He is so extremely capable in the water. It is such a joy for me. Then later in the evening I decided to take the boys for a bike ride. It was garbage night though so the sidewalk was dotted with garbage cans the entire length. But Oliver and Sam both navigated around all the obstacles and only fell a couple of times. Each time they both jumped up, picked their bikes up and got right back on. Sami kept saying: "I'm riding with my brother!" It was so cute. Then I thought back to the many, many hours we spent trying to teach Oliver to pedal and how he would just sit there, on the bike, not moving a muscle. I wondered if he would EVER learn to ride a bike. And now here he is, incredibly capable on the bike.

And then there is the arc of development. That's mine. There was a time, more than two years ago, when there was never any doubt -- any question, even -- that I was the expert on my child. I never would have thought to ask anyone for input on my parenting. I am a believer in attachment parenting and that's what I did: I breastfed him until HE chose to stop at 2.5; He never slept anywhere but with me; I carried him close to my heart in a sling until he grew too heavy. I never let him cry. I wanted him to feel secure, attached, not alone in this world. That was the best way, I thought, to help him feel confident enough to develop independence. I never would have thought that someone understood Oliver better than I did.

But then the diagnosis came along and my grasp on motherhood loosened. Suddenly there was someone else who claimed to understand Oliver better than I did. When I would talk to her about something particularly troublesome she would tell me what to do. I wanted her to tell me what to do. Live through enough 45-minute long tantrums that end with you and your child both covered in vomit and you'll know what I mean. I was glad she was there and she was glad to share her expertise with me. And yet, I now see how much our parenting strategies changed and how this person's appearance subtly shifted the dynamics in our house. I see how vulnerable we all were and how we lost something intangible and yet so valuable.

I came to really resent this person and am glad that she is no longer present in our lives. And don't get me wrong: she is no monster. She is acting from the heart. She believes she is helping families. But from our experience I also now see that these "experts" hold a tremendous power over families in their most vulnerable state. To not recognize that is almost criminal.

Anyway, back to the arc. It took me awhile, but I have finally reclaimed my hold on motherhood. I put our bond, our relationship, first and know that Oliver will go as far in life as he is able. It is my job to see no limits, only potential. The experts, those who label and classify him, don't know shit. Because he is not apart from us, his family. He is a part of us, his family. It took me two years to fully embrace my instinct and intuition again and sometimes I still falter. But overall, I must say, it feels good to be back where I started.


  1. Christine, this is a beautiful post. I love hearing the strength in your voice.

    You have captured so much of what many of us must feel. That sense of loss and being lost when the diagnosis comes down, needing/wanting to depend on others to make things better, and then, finally, acceptance that we are the ones who truly make a difference for our children. It is within the family, the security and focus of our love that lights the way.

    Thank you for this.

  2. Ditto! Well said, my friend. I still falter now, but I felt the same way as you describe about the two years, my most vulnerable years, following Andrew's diagnosis.

    I respect you so much for all that you are doing for Oliver. You are no doubt his best teacher and more importantly his best friend.

  3. It's been 2 years since the diagnosis for us as well, and I finally feel at peace. Your last paragraph summarizes everything so simply and beautifully.

  4. Fantastic! The progress is staggering, isn't it? Our kids work harder than any adult I know.
    Ironically, I also wrote a post today referring to going with gut instinct and knowing your child best.
    (and ohhhhh, the vomit meltdowns. I'm so glad those are over with!)

  5. This is a beautiful post; I enjoy your writing tremendously.

  6. Christine, this moves me very much tonight. As you know, we are in the process of trying to take my Nik out of school and it's been a nightmare for so many reasons. You remind me that I DO know Nik best and I CAN give him what he needs most...unconditional love, confidence, belief in his ability to do anything. Thanks. xo

  7. This is gorgeous and so true----that's so often where I feel as a mother in this whole experience, back at square one. But how much wearier, a tiny bit wiser, and more forgiving I hope I have become!

    Oliver's swiming sounds like Charlie's when he was starting to get the hang of it and starting to take true job in his newfound water ability. Keep on swimming, and biking, and growing together.

  8. A lovely posting. There are so many positive posts today, I think we're all shifting gears.
    Best wishes

  9. Anonymous10:09 AM

    Awesome. So so super. My eyes got misty on this one. Sincerely, DianeG.

  10. oh what a wonderfully inspiring post! thank you for this...i think i will re-read it for strength.

  11. All sounds very positive!!
    Well done for getting there!

  12. I found an 'Autism guide' for parents and teachers on the website of the National Education Association (NEA). It has a LOT of good info that parents should make sure their school district and teachers of your children have AND use. I thought you and or your
    readers would find it useful.

    I have more details and the link on our blog.

    Good luck!

  13. Your son seems to be making amazing progress, something to really celebrate! It's wonderful that he is doing so well with his swimming - I still can't get my 5 year old near the water, but we are progressing with other things, so I guess 'one thing at a time'.
    Thanks for sharing!

  14. oh, christine! i love this! i congratulate you on all your passion and hard work, your return to your instincts, which, from reading your blog, i don't think you ever lost sight of. congratulations on all the milestones, on oliver's bike riding, on his turning FIVE!!! on your birthday, your husbands, your full circle feeling. i think things go this way, round and round, not fruitlessly but building in strength and complexity and joy. your words show that loud and clear!