The chaos and mania of parenting a child on the spectrum

“Unconditionally…I’ll love you even if you bite me.”

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Today my very wild, child bit her 10 year old twin brother because …he tattled on her…for sticking her finger in the dog’s eye.

And it’s only the third day of summer.

She was trying to get a “sleepy” out of the dog’s eye, and was no doubt on the verge of blinding him when both of her brothers tried intervening. Her father and I were pretending to enjoy ourselves on our deck, when we heard the blood curdling shrieks. Her brother cannot help that his voice, at ten and a half, has the shrillness of a soprano Eunuch after having inhaled a tank of helium, so I try not to let it enrage me. The problem is that high pitched shriek could follow the dismemberment of a sibling or an unfair battle move in a game of Call of Duty.

With no ability to discern, we ran to the house with adrenaline pulsing to find our soprano Eunuch in tears, his shirt pulled down revealing some horrific , likely bleeding, injury.

“She bit me,” he screamed.

We thought the biting phase had ended at least, well, months ago. Her phases are usually replaced by equally exhausting and egregious behaviors, so for a quick second instead of being horrified, my sped up adrenaline juiced brain thought, “Ah, biting…we haven’t bitten in a while,” and rejoiced in that small celebration. But that was quickly followed by, “Oh, God damn it, she’s freaking biting again.”

And then all rational, logical thought was stamped out with the screams of our little vampire. Hair flying, limbs akimbo, kicking the screen door like a tiny Linda Blair.

“I didn’t do anything!”

Anything turned out to be a teeth marks deep enough into our son’s shoulder that our pediatric dentist could have used it to mold a new set of child size dentures.

“What the hell is the matter with you?” I yelled.

“I didn’t do it!” my wild child yelled, continuing to pummel our door with her feet.

There was no showing her the injury. No apologies. No sanity at all to be found.

My husband had to find some safe way to get her upstairs to her room, while I bandaged and soothed our little Eunuch.

It turns out his screams were mostly fueled by the horrifying looks on our faces which had convinced him his sister had left him disfigured.

“What does it look like? What does it look like?” he screamed on repeat, until I was almost afraid to look myself.

Our 11 and three quarter son (I refuse to except that 12 is coming) danced around like Mohammed Ali recounting the sordid details. I picked up on “Poking the dog in the eye,” “Told her to Stop,” and “Little Psycho.”

When my husband came back down, we all huddled in the kitchen, directly below her room, listening to the sounds of pounding and slamming coming from above, like refugees hiding from the sounds of artillery.

As my husband and I ranted a post mortem, repeating that we were afraid we would have to send her to live somewhere else, my 11 and ¾ son kept blurting “little psycho” and said he wished she would go live somewhere else. “Will she? Get sent away?”

“She could,” my husband said. “If she doesn’t stop hurting people. But we are going to do everything in our power to keep that from happening.”

That has always been a priority and concern for us, making sure that we keep our boys happy and protected, and at the same time preserving their love and support for their sister.

Sometimes it isn’t easy. For any of us. I have moments of thinking that she would be better off somewhere else.

“You have to remember that your sister has problems with her brain,” I told my boys. “Remember and feel sad for your sister that she is going to suffer, and we have to love her unconditionally.” My voice cracked when I said unconditionally. I am not sure if the boys know that term—they are bright—they pick up on so much on their own. They have none of the struggles of their sibling. They know nothing of the intellectual tangle that their sister drowns in.

But they stopped. And stared at me. With that face that tells me that they know. The game is over. The adult is broken. She is telling the truth. No holds barred.  No bullshit.

In that moment, they got it.

Unconditionally. When our very wild child heard the Katy Perry Song, one of her favorite singers, she said, “This is a little bit sad, isn’t it?”

And then the other day, she asked me what it meant. I told her, “It means I love you no matter what.”

She wanted to know how that could be if you are angry. I realized that maybe she understands far more than I’ll ever know. I felt overwhelmed with all of the internal thoughts I will never be privy to…my husbands, my child’s, my parents… of all of my own, private and soul baring that my heart yearns for someone to dig out.

“But, how can that be?” she asked.

Because you can be angry with someone and still love them.

She pushed and prodded at the fairy glitter play dough we had made together. “I guess,” she said, unconvinced.

I’m not sure how it transferred from my brain to hers to deduce the fact that conditions are rules. Maybe I was projecting. I wondered if she had figured out that conditions were the rules, as in: here are the conditions. I’m certain she has never heard this phrase. Somewhere, somehow, my child who struggles with inferences, was inferring…how could I love her…weren’t there conditions to love? Like not biting? Or hurting people?

She had nailed it. She was calling me out on my shit.

“It means that I love you, even if I am upset with what you did. I can be mad at you for a little while, but I am not going to stop loving you.”

She didn’t say anything. She didn’t even nod. She just paused for a minute. And then went back to coloring. I like to think, in that moment, she got it. And that, in that moment, I promised to make it true.






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