Yesterday when Gary and I left church we ran a couple of errands. We also decided to eat lunch at Olive Garden. I’ve just returned from a week at camp, so the time alone with Gary was very nice. I really enjoyed our lunch……..the good food, uninterrupted conversation, and just time alone with my husband. Later in the day, Aaron was hungry and asked if he could have some Taco Bell. He and I jumped in the car while Gary was watering some new grass. Aaron and I stopped to throw some newspapers in the recycling bin, pick up a prescription, and finally ended up at the Taco Bell drive-through to buy his supper. Aaron wanted to know if I was getting any food, but I told him that I wasn’t really hungry.
On the drive home, Aaron asked why I didn’t buy any Taco Bell food. I again told him that I wasn’t hungry. I felt like I knew where this conversation was headed. Aaron was pondering about why I wasn’t hungry. He was wondering what I had eaten and when I had eaten that would cause me to not be hungry at this time of day. I wasn’t trying to hide anything from Aaron, necessarily, but I just didn’t want to make a big deal out of the fact that Gary and I had eaten out……….without Aaron.
Therein lies the problem……….we ate out without Aaron. And sure enough, as Aaron and I played a game of Skip-Bo before bed, Aaron brought the subject up again. “Mom, at Taco Bell, why didn’t you get food?” I repeated to him that I wasn’t hungry, even as I knew that now we would face this issue head on.
Aaron continued to probe. “Did you eat?” I told him that I had indeed eaten. And he asked, “So what did you eat?” I’m not going to lie, and therefore I told him that his dad and I had eaten lunch out.
“Where did you eat?” he wanted to know. Funny how I was feeling like a delinquent teenager who had to give an account to his parents for going somewhere that he should not have gone. Feeling badly now, I told Aaron that we had gone to eat at Olive Garden. He then gave me a look that touched my heart. And his words………oh my!
“You should have told me. I would have gone. Didn’t you want me?”
Stabs of guilt pierced my heart. Aaron’s shoulders slumped some, and I was initially feeling miserable at this turn in his mood and this sadness when he spoke. “Oh Aaron,” I assured him, “Your dad and I would have loved to have you go with us. It’s not that we didn’t want you…….but sometimes Dad and I need time together, too.”
Aaron seemed to accept this explanation, and his mood lifted as we continued to play Skip-Bo and talk about other things. He had no idea of how badly I felt………how conflicted. This conflict is one that any parent of a special needs child feels, especially an “adult child” that can put two and two together enough to know when he is being left out. For this is how Aaron sees this situation. He is simple in his thinking and very egocentric. He is being left out of an event that he loves………eating out………….with people that he loves to be with. He doesn’t understand the relationship of husband and wife. He doesn’t understand or care about the fact that Gary and I relish some time to be alone and to be “normal.”
Gary and I both have to balance our own relationship against that of our relationship with Aaron. This is paramount for any couple with children, and I believe especially important for those who parent special children who take so much time and energy. Gary and I are in a place in life when parents are typically experiencing empty nests. I’ve written about that before (Our Nest). We don’t know how long we will have Aaron at home with us. We do know that Aaron is smart enough to piece together that we went to a restaurant without him when we could have taken him. We do know that Aaron feels hurt about being left out. We do know that Aaron knows how to make us feel guilty, whether intentional or not. And we do know that we must not let this guilt rob us of our relationship with each other.
We can explain these issues to Aaron and we can assure him of our love, but we must never sacrifice our bond in an effort to always include Aaron. There’s a balance to be kept on both sides. It would be wrong for Gary and I to be so absorbed in each other that we neglected Aaron. Likewise, it would be equally wrong to be so taken up with Aaron and his needs that we neglected our own time and growth together. Thankfully, neither Gary nor I are ones that feel a need for constant attention or big trips together or going out every weekend. A dinner alone here several times a week is a respite for us, a time to recharge and converse and connect. It’s really a matter of the mind more than anything.
And sometimes those mind games can be very tricky. I refuse to feel guilty for enjoying time alone with my husband………time without Aaron. Time without listening to him talk of his latest movie, of something he has read, of what someone said, of the weather, of what time he went to bed and what time he got up, of global warming, of icebergs, of what food he’s eaten, of cavemen, of the legend of the trash men or the legend of the beagles, of the medium window he broke…………..I could go on and on just like Aaron does!
Sometimes Gary and I run out of things to talk about. Maybe we need Aaron around more than we realize!