My TJ is 15 and has autism.
TJ is tall – six feet and still growing. To the outsider who doesn’t know him, he looks like your typical 15-year-old kid, minus the swagger – TJ doesn’t swagger. And his shirts are most often backwards or inside out. But I digress.
We are having new countertops installed in our kitchen. There are two guys here, doing their work. It’s early morning, just after 8 a.m. TJ appears, fully dressed. You see, I warned him the night before that there would be workers in our house and so begged him to please remember to put pants on before he came downstairs for breakfast.
He did. Whew.
But what he does next makes me heap guilt on myself. Guilt for feeling embarrassed.
TJ comes into the sunroom just off the kitchen and plops down in our comfy chair. And he turns on Sesame Street.
Since he was little, one of his favorite things is to find out what the number and letter of the day are from Sesame Street. It’s different for every show. I think he likes to guess what they will be, and knowing him, I’m sure he has memorized each show’s number and letter and can guess which one it is by which clips appear in the beginning of the show. He watches a bit of the beginning of the show, makes his predictions, and fast forwards through the show until he gets to the number and letter reveal.
He loves it. And as sentimental as he is, I’m sure that part of what he loves is that it reminds him of being little.
But he’s not little. He’s 15. He’s got a thin little mustache. He’s got hairy legs. He’s taller than I am. And the workers in our kitchen could see this 15 year old man-child watching Sesame Street with a huge grin on his face.
And I was embarrassed. I felt the need to explain to them that he has autism, and that this is one of his favorite things to do in the morning.
And I hated myself for feeling this way.
It makes me teary just to write that. I feel so ashamed. Shouldn’t I just beam with pride all the time because this beautiful boy is secure enough with himself to act just how he wants to act in his own home? Shouldn’t I be celebrating this sense of security and well-being every day at every moment?
The truth is, I am human. Most of the time, I do celebrate his individual sense of self worth. Most of the time, I am not embarrassed by him, walking around in public talking to himself. Most of the time, I can look on his behaviors with pride that he is doing just what he needs to in order to take care of himself. To cope with walking through a crowd, or accepting strange workers in his kitchen, something that may bring a huge amount of stress to his system that easily overloads on sensory input.
Most of the time.
I think what I have to remember is to lighten up. On me.
I don’t expect TJ to be “on” 100 percent of the time. I am very understanding with him and his behaviors, letting him do just what he needs to do to find that balance between his sensitive system and the rest of the outside world.
What I have to remember is to be just as understanding with myself.
Most of the time, I am not embarrassed by TJ or his behaviors. But when I do feel embarrassed, I have to give myself permission to forgo the guilt, and just accept what is.
Feelings are feelings. We are all entitled to feel just how we do, at any given time. No guilt, no excuses, no self punishment.
I tell both my boys that all the time. Maybe it’s time I listen to my own advice.
So forward I go, trying to remember to be as kind to myself as I tell my boys to be with themselves. And trying to remember that it’s okay to feel whatever I feel, as long as I aim for the positive and don’t dwell on the negative.
And knowing that as amazing as these boys of mine are, there is no way I could possibly stay in the negative for very long. Love for your kiddos is like that.
Lauren Swick Jordan is a frequent On Parenting writer and blogs at Laughing…like it’s my job.
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