She wanted to hear him speak. To say the word“Mum” instead of “nnnnh”. She wanted to be more than just a sound in his mouth. She wanted to be a whole noun. She wanted the nuance and the meaning of it to fill her ears and let her know that he at least knew who she was and that she did indeed mean something to him. She wanted to hear joy and laughter falling from his lips. Not the sounds of anger and frustration that too readily constituted his vocabulary.
She wanted so much for him, of him, from him. But most of all she simply wanted to know him. To feel his emotions and understand his thoughts. She wanted to run her hands through his mind. To untangle all the misplaced knots that held him so bound up inside himself. To reconnect all the disconnected synapses that short circuited his world and left her floundering in a sea of unknown origins and misunderstood currents. She wanted to swim in the tide of her son. To be a part of that which no moon held sway over. For he seemed to her to come in and out of himself on a whim.
She found no rhyme or reason for his demands, fears or peculiar likes. Everything about him to her was a compound mystery. She constantly felt he was a haunted house. The structure, the main body of which, was sound but that something un-named was adrift in the attic. Shaking the foundations of his life. Sending furniture like thoughts flying around his head, following their own kind of bizarre and intricately crafted, maze of other worldly logic.
She used to dream that one day he would simply look up at her and say one complete and glorious sentence. Bang, out of the blue. Just like that. But he never did. Even the act of smelling flowers was a mystery to him. He constantly put the flower under his chin. As if he really believed that his chin was the part of his body that could best enjoy the flowers fragrance rather than his nose.
She bowed her head as she watched him aimlessly pulling up fist fulls of grass, mechanically, one, after, the, other from the ground. She found herself thinking again how truly lovely it would be to be able to walk into the garden of his mind. To hear his thoughts and to really know his fears and joys instead of always having to guess at them and hope that she was reading him right.
‘How much easier life would be if it were just like in the movies,’ she thought, as a tear traced its way down her face. She wished she could somehow plug into his universe. Then he could show her his world from the inside and she, in turn, could show him the world as she saw it. But life wasn’t a TV show and she knew no amount of wishing would make it so. The only actor in this play was her.
She presented to the world a jovial face and a warm smile, while inside, she felt every single dream that she had ever held for her son dying as the beginning of acceptance wound its way around her heart. He was different. He did have autism. She knew this first moment was always going to be hard. She hated herself for feeling as if her son were missing. She hated that there was no reason for his condition. She found herself staring resentfully at other mothers wanting nothing more than the assurances of health and safety that their ‘normal’ children gave them. So many resentments in so little time. Their layers falling like blankets over her.
She was at a loss as to know how to explain, even to herself, why the world that she so dearly wanted to share with her son felt so totally gone. The passing down of her favourite child hood stories and the sharing of the animated version of ‘Kimba the White Lion’ seemed somehow to be more than far away. Such simple things and yet….
She tried to blink back her tears of loss and frustration but they kept flowing. Following the crevices of worry already etched into her skin like the tattoos of belonging. Her mind kept asking, ‘how could life distort itself so?’ She felt like she’d been thrown in to the deep end of life and all she’d been able to do was tread water and try to stay afloat. She didn’t want to float. She didn’t want her son to live a life of floating. She didn’t want him to live a series of rote-learnt achievements, or role-played scenarios. She didn’t want him to only ever know his world through a set of computer- generated pictures velcroed to a carpeted board. That was no way to learn any thing. Let alone a life.
In that small moment of clarity, buried so deeply beneath all of the things that she didn’t want for her son, she found herself to be a mother. A mother who knew that she needed to thrash her arms and kick her legs. A mother who knew that she needed to learn how to swim in the ocean of autism. That simply floating was never going to work. That her son too was afloat and he needed her to teach him how to swim.
Suddenly it didn’t matter that he couldn’t call her ‘mum’. It didn’t matter that he smelt flowers with his chin. It didn’t matter that their life together would be different. All that mattered was teaching him how to swim.