The thing is, she knows that there are things that she can do here that she can’t do outside – or at least she’s learning that. But I just can’t take away the things that help her relax at home just because they may not be functional or appropriate outside of home. Does that make sense?
Respect autistic downtime.
~ Barb Rentenbach, I Might Be You
It’s Thursday night. I’m just walking in the door from work. I’m done. D-U-N done. I want nothing more than to shed my work clothes, don my comfies and in so doing, declare the transformation from professional on the go to Mama on the couch.
Brooke and Luau are out. She’s got her gymnastics class, which she loves, but which I know will be a lot for her to handle after a full day of school. I look forward to her coming home, but I know that she’ll need some space when she gets here.
Katie is on the couch in the den, laughing just shy of maniacally. She’s watching one of those inane tween shows that she loves. The ones that I know are just updated versions of the vacuous offerings that I adored at that age, but which I just have to admit to being too old to find any more than mildly (very, very mildly) amusing.
I give her a quick kiss, then go upstairs to change my clothes before joining her on the couch. I sit down just as she starts another show. I plop down next to her, happy to be not talking, not rushing, not doing.
The show bores me to no end, but she’s already started it, so I decide to stick it out. Besides, there’s something appealing about staring into space for a while.
As soon as the credits roll, I grab the remote and tell Katie that we can watch one more show and then the TV goes off, but we’ve got to pick something together. She gives me an exaggerated sigh that makes clear its message — Oh the humanity! Compromise!
I do what I swore I wouldn’t do as a parent, but by God, it’s unavoidable. “Katie,” I say, “when I was a kid, if I wanted to watch TV with my dad, you know what I did? I sat down and watched whatever the heck he was watching. I hated the shows he liked. Mission Impossible. Sixty Minutes. Anything involving Kung Fu and terrible dubbing. And the all-time worst, football.”
“They bored the hell out of me,” I tell her, “but I wanted to be with my dad, so that’s what I watched. Now, I get it. It’s a different world now, where shows are on demand and we’re no longer subject to what’s on one of the three broadcast networks, so, yes, I will make compromises. But for the love of God it’s my damned TV and I’m not going to sit here watching kid’s shows on it every single time we sit down together.”
Yeah, I went there.
She takes in my words, but she’s not happy.
“Mama,” she says, “you don’t understand. I had a long day at school. It’s been a hard week. And I really, really need some time to just be able to do something that I like to do. Something relaxing. Something that doesn’t force me to .. well, anything.”
I tell her that I get it. I also tell her that I had a long day too. And a hard week. And that I need that too. And that I let her watch two shows of her choosing before saying a word BECAUSE I get it. But that it’s now time to compromise so that we can both get what we need. And the neat thing is, if we’re willing to be creative, we can both get what we need together.
We manage to find something that we both like. When it turns out to be a three-minute behind the scenes special rather than a whole show, Katie graciously offers up the one show that she can’t stand that she knows I love. (No, I’m not telling you which one.)
A few minutes later. Luau and Brooke come back from gymnastics. Brooke bounces into the den and sits at the coffee table. She launches into a favorite Blue’s Clue’s script as she lines up her Playmobil castle friends along the edge of the table.
“Blue skidoo, you can too!”
“Brooke, PLEASE stop scripting. You KNOW it drives me crazy.”
I smile at Brooke, play my part in the Blue’s Clues script because I know that she NEEDS to hear me say the words, then whisper to Katie.
“Remember what you said before, Katie?” I ask. “About how you’d had a long day and you needed some time — time to be able to do something that YOU like to do? Something relaxing? Something that doesn’t force you to .. well, anything?”
“Well, Brooke needs that too. She had gymnastics after school today and that takes a lot of energy for her. You needed to watch your shows. I needed to change my clothes and watch mindless TV. She needs to script. That’s HER way of being safe and comfortable. Of just being.”
Katie looks at me, then at her sister. She takes a deep breath and then says, “Got it.”
Brooke carries on. “And what did Joe have on his head when he was being Old MacDonald?” she asks. I’m about to answer, but this time Katie beats me to the punch.
“His farmer hat,” she says, looking at me for confirmation.
“That’s right,” says Brooke. “A hat!”
I smile at Brooke, then turn my attention to Katie. I mouth the words, “Thank you,” and give her shoulder a squeeze.
We all need to shed the day. To be safe. And comfortable. To just be.
Yes, I think, at least for the moment, she gets it.