There are certain moments that will be forever engraved in my mind. Snippets of conversations with old friends, moments with GC when we first got together, light bulb flashes of realization about the Roc. Moments of laughter, joy, heartache and pain, as well as moments of wonder. I will always remember the pit lodged in my stomach when I dropped the Roc off at preschool for the first time. I was blinded by tears as I made my way to the car. Tears to be separated from my 3 year old, tears that his going to school was happening earlier and in a way that I didn’t expect, and while I was the one pushing for him to be there as soon as I realized that he had autism, I was grief stricken by what it meant when I left him there that first day. It was hard, so hard, it would be for awhile, and some days it still is…but the moments of wonder started soon after that tear filled day.
I will always remember pushing him in the cart at the neighborhood grocery store a week after preschool started. I chatted to him as we made our way around the store, labeling things, and asking questions I didn’t receive answers too, tickling his ankles that dangled down in front of me. I asked him if they sang songs at school, and I started to sing the A,B,C song…and he finished it. I stopped the cart mid-aisle and started the song again, only to have him sing it again. I whooped it up right there next to the canned veggies and grinned the whole way home. As soon as I got there I called my parents in Arizona. I had the Roc sing for my dad when he answered. I had him sing for my mom a minute later. I laughed and smiled at my boy who, even though he didn’t answer my question directly, he was listening, he was processing, he was singing!
Not long after I was astonished when the Roc did his own version of crying. Up until he started school he never really “cried.” He has always had all the emotions, but his brain just couldn’t seem to figure out what to do with them, and his sensory systems wouldn’t let him process. He would go completely stiff, scream in frustration and anger, gouge at his eyes when the tears came, and then try to smack them away while looking at his reflection. It was always hard to watch, and many times I pinned his arms down to his sides while saying “no hit.” My heart broke on a daily basis watching him struggle. But one day not long after he started preschool he became upset about something, and instead of screaming and hitting himself, he emitted a fake “Wahhh Wahh” while contorting his face. He still didn’t want me to comfort him in the way that I ached to…but in that moment, watching him push out those fake cries, I realized that he was imitating something he must have seen at school…and again I rejoiced! He was paying attention, he was processing what he was seeing, he was generalizing, he was trying it out at home! Holy crap! I told his preschool teacher the next day, “The weirdest thing has happened, the Roc learned to cry.” She laughed and said that they had a few criers in the room, so he had many chances to observe kids crying. It was one of the many things the Roc would pick up being surrounded by his classmates.
Now, three years later, something new has been happening with the Roc. He is expressing emotions like he never has before. He is crying, really crying, out of sadness and not anger or frustration, and he’s not faking it. Something is connecting for him and he is able to express this feeling. He got upset last week after he threw his favorite stuffed cat across his bedroom in a fit of anger. I found him crying on his bed and when I asked him what was wrong he told me he felt sad that he threw his kitty. I was stunned. He was sad, and he was expressing it! He came down to my room the other night when GC was trying to put him to bed. I heard him yelling “I’m going to go give Mommy a hug” as he thundered down the stairs. When he came into the room I turned around in my chair and saw his face contorting and his eyes fill up with tears. “I’m sad Mommy!” he said. “Aww buddy, what’s wrong?” I asked him. “I don’t want to be so far away from you when I go to bed” he told me, sniffling and wiping his eyes. I tried to explain to him that it was time to go to bed and his bedroom was upstairs, just on the next level. When he continued to cry I pulled him onto my lap and he wrapped his arms around my neck. I closed my eyes and took a deep breath, breathing him in. I don’t know when I will stop being amazed at not only being allowed to comfort my child, but that he is now sometimes seeking it out. Even though I knew I was delaying bedtime and making GC wait, I hugged and hugged the Roc, rubbing his back and kissing his cheeks. Slowly he calmed, and after we spent a few minutes tickling I was able to get him to go up to bed.
I sat back in my chair and thought about how he is changing, how he still has all these explosive emotions, but he is starting to label them, to explain himself, to seek me out for help and comfort…and I smiled. I will always remember being completely grief stricken on a beautiful fall afternoon three years ago. I literally could no longer stand in my kitchen, and as I slid to the floor in a heap of tears, the Roc danced around me squealing and laughing. I cried all the more for the realization that he did not understand my emotions, he did not connect my sadness to my face, my tears, my sobs. I didn’t know if he ever would. I worried endlessly.
Three years. He gets it.
My chest tightened and I thought my heart just might explode.
He gets it.