My superpower is being able to get to sleep wherever I am. Trains, planes, Minions films, I can tell myself to go to sleep and I do. What I can’t do lately, is stay asleep. I wake each night around 4am. And I wake with a jolt, and it is without fail the same thought racing around my head. “What will become of him?”
Sometimes I go down a path of destruction, where the only possible outcome is the worst. I worry he will lose control of himself when he’s grown up, that he will self destruct in some way. I allow myself to ponder the statistics around autism and mental health. I picture him swayed by drugs and alcohol, hurt by people he might think are his friends, used by those with a streetwise outlook he can never ever have. I imagine myself calling lawyers, police, psychologists just to try and keep him on a straight track. I wonder what will happen to us both when he is too big and too hormonal to manage, in the way that I can manage him now. And my greatest fear is that he comes to feel my fear, and that it limits him in some way.
The odds of success, in the broadest sense of the word, are stacked against my child. I listen to his little boy hopes and dreams and want him to carry on hoping and dreaming. The 4am feeling is without hope, a dark pit with no end, no obvious solution, a tunnel with no way out. But this is my nightly ritual and I’ve become accustomed to what a wise friend called “just sitting with it.” So I prop myself up and sit, listening to his breath. We still co-sleep. If he needs me to be lying next to him to nod off, then that’s where I must be. I look at his perfect face, and I know that the only thing I can do is meet him where he is, and love him. If that means that what he needs is different to his peers then that’s where we are. If that means we have a very narrow and rigid routine, then that’s the routine. If that means he only wears soft clothes and is mostly barefoot, so be it. That’s where he is and that’s where I must meet him.
And love him. I love every atom, and he constantly amazes me with his abilities. His palate is truly refined. He’s able to recognise different varieties of plain white bread just from the taste. The same with cheese and ham, and cordial. So I let myself imagine him as an epicurean, a connoisseur of the senses. I watch him build complex inventions, solving problems I never knew we had! He has constructed a “telescope storage facility” in the dining room, and glued it to the wall. We don’t own a telescope yet but when we do, we will have the ideal place to put it.
He draws complex plans and diagrams. They are also glued to the wall. He says it keeps them smooth. My previously beautifully smooth Farrow and Ball scheme is looking jaded and is full of sticky marks. He doesn’t see them, he only sees the great contraption he’s built and the discoveries he has made. And anyway, there’s a spare half tin of paint in the garage.
So I allow myself to picture him happily creating, in his own space, in his own way. And really, isn’t that all we have the right to hope for, for our children? That they can be whom they really are? This is the dream I allow myself now for him. He’s smiling to himself, busy, lost in the moment. Safe, warm and happy. That would be enough.
4.20am and the panic is starting to fade. Maybe it will all be ok. Maybe tomorrow will be ok. Just love him and meet him where he is. The rest might just fall into place. Tiredness begins to take over again and I lie back down and look at his long dark eyelashes, and black curls, his arm flung carelessly across my pillow. For this moment, he’s peaceful, and therefore so am I.
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