Tuesday, 10 August 2010

Bred of an airy word

Logic tells me awful moments like these don't last forever, but when you're in them, time, like space, has a way of stretching vertically as well as horizontally into infinity.

And how did it begin, this civil brawl, bred of an airy word by me, o mummy? This morning as I pinned up younger daughter's hair in preparation for her swimming lesson, she groaned. "This is going to be a bad day." I was baffled, but in a bit of a hurry.

Nothing bad at swimming lesson. Younger daughter executed some admirable dolphin kicks, and did well treading water in preparation for her Red Cross Level Eight endurance requirement. She was excited that it was a water slide day and unhesitatingly zoomed down twice.

Afterward, she was withdrawn and tired, so I took my most recent tack and tactfully withdrew to read the paper in the lounge, leaving her to finish dressing. Unfortunately, younger daughter's change time has been slowly increasing over the summer. What used to take twenty-five minutes now takes thirty-five. As not one but two buses whizzed off downtown when we finally left the rec centre, I turned to her in mild exasperation and said: "You know, we'd have caught those buses, but you're taking a bit too long in the change-room."

Sigh. I forgot that I was talking to a premenstrual fourteen-year-old on the autistic spectrum. By the time we boarded the bus, she had advanced from indignant to furious, and about halfway through the long, long bus ride (because we'd missed those two other buses) she had graduated to heart-broken sobs. When this kind of thing happens, talking is of very little use. I've learned through hard experience that it simply feeds into the maelstrom of her injured feelings. So I sat there, feeling the gaze of our fellow passengers on the crowded bus (being packed with ESL students from the summer programmes at UVic, of course), and sensing the unspoken "Why aren't you doing something?".

Our plan had been to return items to the library, eat at her favourite restaurant, then do a bit of grocery-shopping. We got off the bus, and she stalked ahead of me to the corner. I had decided the quiet courtyard behind the coffee shop might be an opportunity for her to cool down, so waited by the entrance until she noticed I was not following her. I gestured her to follow me, and she dashed by me to the other end of the plaza where a passage by an optometrist leads back to the street. I sat down and waited for her to notice I was not behind her. Eventually I heard sobs and saw pedestrians exit the passage, looking over their shoulders. I got up and went to investigate, being joined at the same time by the woman from the optometrist's.

"Are you her mother?"
"Yes," I nodded.
"What's the matter?"
"She's upset," I replied, politely but concisely, hoping she'd take the hint. She stood by, while I talked to my daughter.
"How can we solve this?"
"I don't know!"
"You're stuck in your bad feelings?"
"How long will you feel like this?"
"Oh. That's a very long time."
"I know it's a long time, Mom!"
"Can you tell me why you're so upset?"
"I...I....I...... I miss Daddy!"
I felt something relax in our observer.
"Can I do anything to help?" (People say this. I'm not sure why. Because they can't think of anything else to say?)
I decided to focus this back to younger daughter: "The lady is asking whether you need help. Do you want to say 'Yes, please' or 'No, thank-you'?"

After the optometrist departed, we continued our stalemate. I told younger daughter we couldn't go to the library unless she calmed down. I stepped into Broughton Street and daughter headed east toward the library. I waited until she noticed I wasn't following. And there we were standing about ten yards apart. When I moved toward her, she retreated, and when I turned back toward Douglas Street, she gingerly followed. Every time I tried to speak, she turned her back and grimaced, rather like the Peanuts kids do in the animated Charlie Brown specials. Two Taurus at an impasse. It seem to be endless, but probably wasn't much more than five minutes.

Finally, I decided to walk toward the library. She carefully kept her distance and studied an exhibit while I sort the library items into the bins. When she entered the library, I followed her to the children's section and sort of non-directed her to the DVD section while I took a seat. After she stood irresolutely for some time, I ventured to ask her if she wanted help. Gradually, we eased into what passes for normality for us, and I felt brave enough to lead her through the planned itinerary.

Seated in the Dutch Bakery, her favourite diner, she murmured: "I'm sorry."
"I'm sorry; I did a terrible thing today."
"What was that?"
"I slept too late."
She had been up in plenty of time, but I had had to rush her a little through breakfast.
"Then I said rude things on the bus."
"You were very angry."
"Yes and you told me to leave you alone. Never say that to me again!"

I had, in my despair, mumbled, "Oh, Leave me alone," when her shouting and crying had made me want to leap off at the next bus stop and leave her there. But a person on the autistic spectrum takes things very literally, and although she's told me to leave her alone a hundred times, when I say it, it means abandonment and that I will never love her again. Even as she ordered her food, I could see her face still on that brink of crumpling into tears.

As we left the restaurant amicably, she was humming to herself and stimming slightly, and the little old ladies stared.


JoeinVegas said...

OH, I'm so happy we are done with teenagers.

Persephone said...

...until precious granddaughter hits adolescence, I guess...