Something's been bothering me now for two days. In fact, I've gotten almost as low as I used to get, and this has not happened in more than half a year. Ned kept asking me what was wrong but there was only a blank bad feeling. I am not one to just sit with it, even though that is the counsel of many I respect; no, I like to figure it out.
I did a cataloging of things going on in my life, and when my thoughts alighted on Nat, the pain was sharp and fresh. Yeah. I'm not happy with how things are with Nat. Every time I see him, it is too compacted a visit. I hate the phone conversations because they only make me sad. He never seems light and bouncy. He always sounds flat.
But he is autistic. How should he sound, how should he be, given that his disability affects communication? In fact, how do I have a satisfying relationship with someone who has some pretty severe aspects of autism?
I don't know if Ned feels this problem as acutely as I do. I know that I am not one for whom clipping toenails is the way towards a close relationship. Ned is able to connect and feel in a much more silent and still way than I am; it is a gift of his. Sweet and discerning; that is Ned. But I need more. I told him in a big crying jag this morning that I wanted Nat to come home to live. I wanted to take care of him again. I didn't want to have to think about the future, how he would live independently in 1 and 1/2 years. I just wanted him here so that I could re-establish what I used to have. It was just like the old days, when I would just force everyone to stop the presses and change things because it did not feel right. I have never been told by some Expert what is right for Nat -- mostly because I don't believe there is any such expert. Oh yeah, it's me.
I don't know if I can explain what I used to have with him. There was this ease, this lack-of-awareness, this no-self-consciousness that I had. I could exist around him and he around me, and we were in tune -- not all of the time, but enough. Now I'm like a Divorced Parent (and I mean no disrespect to anyone who is divorced; I am using a phrase that I have heard, that describes a syndrome where the parent who no longer lives with the kid feels an urgency to Superconnect with the child, to make up for lost time when they are not together). I feel the need to observe and make every moment count with him -- and so I am not joying most of those moments with him.
He is also a bit more standoffish. Is that normal? He is nearly twenty. So probably. But how am I to know if it's okay or not? He is my oldest! What can I compare it all to? So I compare him to Max, who is also more standoffish, but also who has a reassuring smile and demeanor, letting me know all is well.
Nat does not often use a social smile. His smiles are reserved mostly for his own private jokes. I have to work hard to plumb those depths and figure out what he is joking about. Get a life, you might say. Well, just try being me for a second and you will realize that this is my life. Or, a big part of it. My children are the biggest things that ever happened to me. My Nat is my firstborn, the one who changed it all for me. And I feel adrift from him and I want him back.
So -- I went on an 18-mile bike ride with no music (I washed my iPod accidentally and it turns out they don't like being clean). But this gave me a chance to think, my favorite and also most hated pasttime. So as the road thrummed against my fat tires I wrestled with this. I was filled with a Nat Problem, and to tell you the truth, it felt good. All his life I have had those, and I have become used to having to think them through and figure something out. But in this last year, with him living elsewhere, there is less to think about. His daily needs are attended to by others. He has all of his goals and programs he is working on. Those kinds of issues are not my purview at the moment.
But this one remains: trying to be connected to my autistic adult son who no longer lives with me. And the answer came to me at the twelfth mile: change my attitude. Lose the panic. I have to try to enjoy him without the pressure of making every second count. I have to stop being afraid or reluctant to take him places. That's old shit. He is calm; he loves going places. He loves being among people. He is -- knock wood -- rarely upset enough to hurt himself or others.
I have always pushed myself to take calculated risks to get where I want to be. It is time to go out into the world with Nat, fearlessly and with a full and optimistic heart. Others do not have to change; Nat's living situation does not have to change for me to feel happy about him. I have to change in order to feel happy about him. If I want him back, I have to come back to him.
I bumped along the road, savoring my solution along with the occasional drop of sweat that trickled down my face. I hardly noticed my surroundings. All I felt was a charging certainty, and an eagerness to tell Ned -- and to see Nat. I rode up the final hill in the hardest gear.