When my son was a baby, he was happiest in his swing or in his crib. Most kids fall asleep in the car, it wound him up. Going to the park usually ended in some altercation with another child. Playgroup was a nightmare. Most of the time he wanted to be alone. It was Mommy's idea to go to the park, join a playgroup, or invite people over. Eventually, I stopped taking him places unless we had to go. By the time he was 4, not many people even wanted him to come over. I was isolated, lonely, and pre diagnosis clueless. He did have a few kids he wanted to be around. One on one, not in loud groups. The beach (my favorite) was an assault on his senses: hot sand, cold lake water, suntan lotion, and if it was windy he covered his ears or eyes. What he really liked was being inside the house playing with our canister vacuum and it's attachments.
One summer the city decided to put in all new water and sewer pipes. Huge backhoes, bulldozers, payloaders showed up one Monday at 8am in front of our corner house. The crew were all Italians. At 10am one of them would go to a local bakery or donut shop and bring back a box. They all sat on the grassy parkway under a tree drinking coffee from their thermos' and eating. Many spoke Italian. My son was over the moon about the earth moving equipment in his front yard. By the end of the week he had taken his little lawn chair and parked it in the shade. He was happy to sit and watch them. He knew after the first day to stay back. They worked, he watched...perfeto! The 3rd week he was eating his lunch outside in his chair when they broke for lunch. Now they were watching him. He still was not talking, and the workmen tried to talk to him. I told them his name, and they all told him their names. Silence, but smiles of delight.
By the 4th week the crew realized this kid wasn't going anywhere. I knew that
I would be spending the summer with an Italian construction crew. "Vito" drove the backhoe. That was my son's favorite. When the crew left at night, we would let him sit in the seats of the equipment. He was in heaven. By the 6th week he was having donuts with them. I felt this was good, as he was limited in foods he would eat. His birthday is in July. I bought the pastries on his birthday for "their" coffee break. At the end of the day Vito asked if he could take my son up in the cab and let him drive the backhoe. Talk about thrilled. I think he was still smiling when he went to bed. Vito made quite an impression. While other mothers were having picnics at the lakefront, I was having donuts with Italian construction workers. But my son was happy, and that made me happy.
Those days seemed far away by the time public school 3rd grade arrived. I was called every day to come in and talk to some staff member. I do not exaggerate. He was in trouble constantly. We kept a journal with the aide. Kids taunted him, teachers yelled at him, he was in the principal's office so often that he started fixing the secretary's printer when it would seize up. The first hour home after school he had to decompress. I would engage him in a favorite activity, or have a snack once he was relaxed. One afternoon he was sitting at the kitchen table after school.
"Why am I a boy nobody can love?" he asked. My heart went into my throat, and I could feel the tears start to come. I couldn't think of an answer. So I asked: "Is that how you feel, unlovable?" He nodded his head, and slumped his shoulders. This is one of those crystal clear memories we have few of.
All I could do was try to hug him with his stiff bristly posture. He didn't pull away. I knew at that instant that I had to change that perception, and feeling. I think I cried for days afterward every time I thought of him feeling unlovable. It still breaks my heart. From that moment on I knew I had to love him when he acted the most unlovable. His behaviors during our divorce were pretty scary sometimes.
Outbursts came often, and he's a big kid. Somehow, I always forgave him. Sometimes, I had to go in the other room, as I thought I would lose my mind. Sometimes I needed a time out. He taught me to love in a way I had never known love. He was affectionate to me, his big sister, and his Dad. He hugged and kissed us all the time. And only us.
By the time Middle School arrived, I was all he had left. Big Sis was a mom herself living in another state. Dad had lost all visitation. We had moved from the farm back to the city. I walked him from my car in the lot to the front door of his school on a Fall morning. We said our good byes, and he turned and kissed me on the mouth in front of the entire school and said: "Love ya Mum." I looked around and the kids were indeed watching. Now for the first time I realized that he was too big to hold my hand walking into school. And it really wasn't age appropriate to kiss Mum goodbye in front of school. This is another crystal clear memory. We had a little talk, and I think a few kids made fun of him. As Fall turned to Winter he would say: "Love you Mum." and walk away from my car. No hugs or kisses.
When I see my son and his fiance being affectionate, it makes me melt. I hear him tell her he loves her at the end of every phone conversation. Most of the time when we are ending a phone conversation he tells me he loves me, as he does my husband. I know he knows we love him. Wherever the school psychologist is that told me he would never show love and affection, nor receive it: I have one thing to say. I love you for being wrong.
Thanks for reading.
Each day is a gift. Open now.