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Finding My Marbles

Posted Jan 02 2010 5:28am
So I realized -- just yesterday, in fact -- that I get a little afraid of Nat. There's a kind of super-polite distance that has been created from his living elsewhere during the week. But it may go back further than that, because it is a familiar feeling. It's a brittle apart-ness that develops between us when I am not truly connected to him. It happens in two different circumstances: when he has recently been aggressive with one of us; and when I'm not used to his being around.

The memory of any sort of aggression fades but does not die. It traumatizes; it sinks beneath the bruised skin and becomes a faint scar long after the wounds have healed. This must be an evolutionary-based development, meant to protect us from further harm by causing us to learn from these situations.

I also have to remember that Nat is not the only aggressor, though his hurt the most, physically. There are lots of forms of how parents learn to "Get back! Leave me alone!"

But still, when it's your own child hurting you, it is very disturbing. As Nat's mother, I come from a place of the deepest connection, when he first grew inside me, a tiny lima bean spinning and gathering and dividing. I held him, I protected him.

As kids grow up, however, their job is to split from us in every way possible, and stand on their own. But this can be a very bloody process, as messy as birth. The trick to having a relationship nonetheless is to maintain a fluid and flexible connection even so. So there's a kind of natural backing-off I have had to learn -- with both Nat and Max, and now even Ben a little bit -- to let them grow and do their thing, but also a weighing-in, a putting-my-foot-down, a re-gathering, that I must also do regularly with them.

Reconnecting after fights is tough; reconnecting after absence may be even harder. I now have an inkling of what next year will feel like, when Max comes back from college, a big man with dirty laundry and secrets. That's why these long family vacations are so necessary.

But they are so intense. When Nat first came back, at times I had this sinking feeling of, "How long is he going to be here?! How am I going to get through this?" Especially when, on one morning, he was extremely anxious (remember when I almost made myself eggs just to please him?).

So there's this thing I learned, long ago, I don't know when, maybe when he was 11, maybe younger, maybe older. Instead of running from it, I have to fall into that long span of time and space that opens up. Instead of dreading contact, I must dive into it. I dig down inside and reconnect with my own true priorities: loved ones, including myself, feeling the time we are in together, enjoying it somehow.

Nat always knows when I have come back to him. He can sense genuine from false very keenly. So when I said the other day, "Nat, you want to play something with me?" I said it with my heart and with hope that he really would want to play. And he did. We settled on that marble run game, where you take all these bright plastic ramps and platforms and you construct large Rube-Goldberg-like structures and then roll the marbles down and see what happens.

We had not gotten this game out for years, and the dust attested to that. (There is no real way to get my house clean, I accept that. It has a clean appearance, and the clothes, sheets and towels are truly clean, but the rest of it -- don't look too closely. ) (Here is an old picture of Ben with the game, you can see what I mean about the clutter issue.) We settled into it quickly, because it was fun. I had to relearn how to hook the things up so that the marble would roll somewhere and not just plunk out immediately to the floor.

I didn't know if Nat understood the physics involved; he seemed interested in the marble aspect. I'm sure that the throaty clinking of those curved glass balls pleased him as much as me. I built and he rolled for a long time. There was no sense of how it would end, unlike Candyland or Connect Four. You would think, with your Autistic Assumptions, that Nat would prefer a game with a finite end, but there you would be wrong. He was so content just to sit there in that sunny spot and watch me build, and wait for his chance to try it out with a handful of marbles. Click, click, clatter.

The next day I found a new, similar game. It was an adult version of the marble thing; a desktop toy with tiny ramps and tiny ball bearings instead of marbles. Nat was game, so we played with it. His fingers had terrific dexterity as he plucked a tiny silver ball from its magnet home and rolled it with care down my fragile structure. He did not mind when they collapsed. He figured out how to get the ball to roll when it got stuck, due to our uneven floors.

The playing ended when it ended. We both got tired of it eventually. He helped me clean up and he went on his merry way. But I have found that I am now more casual with him today, more assertive. I am not afraid, because we're friends again.
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