It happens to anybody that is a parent. One day you look at your kid, and it hits you. “He/She is (insert age here) years old? How did that happen? Where did the time go?” You try to value each day with your child and give it the weight it is due, but life gets in the way. You have to work and do things around the house, and you need time to unwind with a little “me time”. The next thing you know, your kid is about to start kindergarten and you start to understand first hand another part of the cycle of life. Your kids get older. Next you start to panic because you realize that the clock of mommy and daddy being the center of their universe is ticking. It is a small window in the grand scheme of things. Next begins the phase in which you try to stay relevant and involved enough in your child’s life that you don’t get shut out during the teen years and hope that you have nurtured your relationship enough that your children feel comfortable coming to you in difficult situations.
As my friend and I were talking about how far our children have come and how much they have grown, she mentioned that she broke out some old home movies from when her child was younger and couldn’t believe how much a human being could change in such a short amount of time. We talked about the perception of time and how 5 years seems like nothing to us now in our late 30’s, but that when we were kids, 5 years seemed like an ETERNITY. We crowed about how much our kids have progressed, and how fortunate we were.
As I lay in bed at 4AM staring at the ceiling, my thoughts were consumed by this conversation, it finally clicked as to why that conversation, that moment, was echoing loudly in my head. I only allow myself to go so far down memory lane… then I turn back. My subconscious has created a mental road block that is unhealthy, but also probably incredibly common for parents of Autistic children.
When I look back at my memories of my autistic daughter Bianca, I tend not to look back past her first birthday. Not only do I not look past, I actually seem to have blocked most of it out. Even now as I sit here and write this, I can only think of a handful of events from Bianca’s infancy. The memories that I do have seem to be mostly about alarms that Bianca was sending out letting us know that something was wrong. Early warning signs that now I would recognize as indicators of ASD. I remember that she crawled late, and walked late. I remember her mouthing everything. I remember generally that she was the easiest kid in the world to take care of and that she was a ham in front of a camera. I also remember her birth clearly… and that is about it. Interactions that we had, fun times we had, cute things she did… specific things that I can clearly remember with my neurotypical daughter Sofie, I cannot conjure up with Bianca.
|Bianca at 3 weeks showing early signs of problems. ;-)|
Maybe this is a common occurrence for parents of multiple children. Perhaps it is more common for parents that had kids in close succession, but I still find it strange. Did my mind actually block these memories out to protect myself? Am I really so fragile that I can’t look back at more naïve times without it damaging myself further? Am I just afraid? I will admit that just thinking about a time in which I didn’t have to be consumed with Autism Spectrum Disorder seems so long ago that it barely seems like it happened. I did live 35 years of my life without giving it so much as a thought except for Rain Man and a few specials I saw about savants. None of these examples even come close to showing the world what life is like for families dealing with ASD. My life consists of fighting chaos at every turn and trying to develop routines that will help Bianca to thrive and feel comfortable while trying to ensure that my other kids do not resent their sister for the restraints her condition put on our daily lives.
It could be that I feel it is unfair to Bianca. As if remembering a time when she was still “perfect” would somehow indicate to my subconscious that I am disappointed in her current state of imperfection. I do try to avoid negative thoughts when it comes to Bianca because I don’t see it as being productive. Bianca is what Bianca is. As her father I love her unconditionally, but if somebody were to ask me if I would take away her Autism if given the opportunity… absolutely. But I don’t want to have it taken away for a few moments only to come back to reality. That is what those memories would do… give me back my daughter at a time before Autism robbed me of my projections for her and my dreams and aspirations for her life. I don’t want to get stuck there. The present is reality, and we have work to do. If I were to allow myself to remember the times when everything seemed perfect, I may not want to come back to the present. Life was much easier then and certainly a lot less complicated.
Perhaps the reason for blocking out those early memories is as simple as I am not ready for them right now. This is the digital age. The pictures are a click away. There is a mountain of video sitting on a shelf on my desk that I could go through at any moment. Yet I must admit that even the thought of going down to grab a video and watching it fills me with an anxiety and fear that makes me not want to travel very far down memory lane.
I wish I had a concrete answer. Maybe none of these are the reasons for my hang-up. It could be that they are all contributing factors. I am confident that someday I will tear down the road block... just not this day.