If Gary and I ever doubted that Aaron is on the autism spectrum……and we don’t doubt it…….but if we did, yesterday would have removed all doubt. It was a topsy-turvey day for Aaron, and for us…..one of those days when we felt like we were back at square one. Have we learned nothing over the years? Yes, we know we have, but Aaron does have a way of making us wonder.
Aaron has a Star Wars PC game that he hasn’t had on the computer for a long time. We didn’t remember that it’s one that makes Aaron very excited. We remember now.
Gary put the game on Aaron’s computer over the weekend. Aaron had been bugging Gary about it for days and days. Of course, now Aaron was happy, happy! Life was good and life was fun……..as long as life consisted of nothing but playing Star Wars Knights of the Old Republic II, Sith Lords. And be sure that you write the “two” with two capital I’s, Aaron told me over and over as he had me look up various characters on the internet.
Yesterday when I got up, I noticed that Aaron’s light was on. He sure was up early, I thought. And sure enough, later that morning, he came bounding downstairs. “Mom!” he excitedly said, “I got up at 5:18!!” He proceeded to tell me that he couldn’t go back to sleep so he got on up…..at 5:18!! Of course, he got right onto the computer to play his Sith Lords Star Wars game. Don’t tell Aaron I wrote it that way because he would correct me.
The day before, I had taken Aaron to the doctor for his required physical. On the way home, we stopped to buy him some new headphones……and I also let him buy some gum. He chose Juicy Fruit. So yesterday morning he said, “Mom, since you got me that gum and bought me headphones, I want you to have a pack of my gum.” I thanked him but said I don’t chew gum very often…..but he ran upstairs anyway and came back with the Juicy Fruit gum.
He set it on the table and said, “How about you keep it? Take it to your room and then if you don’t want it you can give it back.” He was very excited, with his face red and his hands rubbing together furiously the way he does when he’s very animated about something. So I thanked him for the gum and I said I would keep it. He was very pleased, and then with his hands still rubbing together, he told me more about getting up at 5:18 and playing his game.
“I’m actually getting good at it, actually,” he said with great gusto……….and his hands continuing to rub together. He took his pills and took his shower, and then back on the computer he went. I began to wonder how the “getting off the computer to go to Paradigm” was going to work. I was soon to find out.
I knew we might be in trouble when I went into his room later and told him it was time to get off so that we could go meet his group. “I’m ik-norin’ you,” he flatly said. I just “ik-nored” him, and a few minutes later went back to his room with the same message. “I’m still ik-norin’ you,” he repeated.
Thus began a war of our wills, with Aaron getting off the computer but being very unhappy to do so. All the way to Quik-Trip to meet his group, he was angry and verbal……..escalating as we drove. I stayed mostly silent, knowing that anything I said could and would be used against me. It’s very difficult to turn Aaron around once he is on this path of anger, and words will only make it worse.
His ride wasn’t there yet, so Aaron got out of the van and went into Quik-Trip to get a snack. I just let him go. He returned with more than I knew he could afford, so that’s when he told me that he had taken a dollar out of my wallet. I could feel my own anger rising. Hoping to salvage the situation, Aaron eventually reached over to pat my arm and told me that he was sorry. I did not respond with great warmth, feeling like Aaron just wanted to get his own way and would repeat these actions again……and hoping to teach him a lesson.
And then, feeling rather mean myself, I told Aaron that I didn’t want the pack of gum. “No, Mom!” he said, “I want you to have the gum!” He patted my arm again and insisted I keep the gum, so I talked to him about trust and anger and hurt feelings. And then he asked the question.
“Are you taking my keyboard out?” he asked…….and asked and asked and asked. He wouldn’t take anything but a yes or no for an answer, so I told him the truth….yes, the keyboard will be gone when you come home. This resulted in some yelling, even in the parking lot when his ride came. I just talked calmly, but Aaron was very upset. I finally was able to make my escape, and head home….where I removed the keyboard and the game.
Gary and I discussed things and came to a compromise with Aaron later that evening. No Star Wars game in the morning, but he can have it in the evening. We told him that he has to get off the game by 10:00 p.m. And then I said, “Aaron, you need to start getting off the game by 9:45 so that you’re off by 10:00.” Little did I know.
He spent about two hours going up and down the stairs. He tried to decide if he would eat and what he would eat. He watched Gary and I eat, and while sitting there he took my Juicy Fruit gum that he had given me, and he tore the whole pack in two! He cried. He let me know that he would love to have another mother. He paced around the house like a caged animal. He finally ate some cereal since the food that Mom fixed wasn’t fit to eat. He let me know again that he did not love me.
“So if I get up at 5:18 I can’t play the game?!” he said through his tears. That’s right, we told him.
“At 5:18 I can’t play the game?” he repeated. Yes, we assured him.
“So what am I supposed to do at 5:18?” he wanted to know.
On and on and on about 5:18.
He then continued to pace around the house, affirming his distaste for my cooking…….and for me in general. All of his anger and frustration was directed toward me. Gary was incredibly patient and calming, but did tell Aaron firmly that he would never find another mother as wonderful at the one he has. Aaron did not agree with that……at all.
I just went about my business while Aaron continued to go up and down the stairs, at some points talking through his tears about his great frustration with Mom. I was really puzzled at his reaction. Then Aaron declared that he was watching Wheel of Fortune in his room. “You can watch it in the family room, MOM!” he declared. “I’m watching it in my room, BY MYSELF!!” And he did just that. It was a true sign of his anger.
Finally, Aaron stood in front of me, purposely trying to block my view of the television, and he said, “Mom, you said I could play the game until 10:00 but then you changed it to 9:45!!” The tears flowed and it hit me. This is the big reason that he was so upset. I changed the time. Fifteen little minutes was totally ruining his life.
For crying out loud!
So I told him that I just wanted him to start preparing to get off at 9:45, but that he could play until 10:00. And his face instantly changed. He was so relieved, and happy, and he smiled and dried his tears, and life was good again.
Fifteen minutes. So minor to us…..so very major and earth shattering to Aaron. Just like 5:18. Every minute counts with Aaron.
The rest of the evening was pleasant. Aaron got off the computer at almost the required time, and even carried the game disks down to us…..teasingly hiding them in his pocket. He happily got ready for bed, and then as I helped him get his bed ready…….every cover in place in just the right way…….he saw a wrinkle in the cover.
“Mom, wait,” he said. “The cover is bent.” And I smiled as I watched him very carefully pull and smooth the cover until it was as smooth as could be.
Just as Aaron will not climb under covers that are “bent,” I also know that he will not function well……..if at all………when he sees his life around him as bent. Gary and I try to smooth, smooth, smooth. Sometimes I feel like that’s all we do on days like yesterday. It’s pretty exhausting.
And then we often leave one little area with a wrinkle……bent, as Aaron would say. So he is off the charts with his behavior and his anger and his distress until we can figure out where the bent place is. Last night it was that simple 15 minutes, but that is not so simple to Aaron. He finally expressed it…..YAY!!…..but so often that doesn’t happen.
The broken pack of gum is my reminder that sometimes we have these very hard days, broken and sad. But somehow we survive, with God’s strength. We straighten out the bent places, but we can’t always totally repair the damage…..like the torn pack of gum.
That’s when we forgive, and we love. Always, over and over.
We love you, Aaron! Even on the bent days.