to be — and to let be


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?

 – Diary, Of Scripts and Bras, January, 2013


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!”

Katie snaps.

“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?”

She nods.

“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.

21 thoughts on “to be — and to let be

  1. Cymbie’s thing is to grab 2 of her dozens of favorite stuffed animals, and sit n the couch, facing the arm. And rock, and look at her “guys”. Functional? Not at all. But After a long day at school, and some kind of therapy session coming in the next hour (she has either ST(2x a week), OT(1x), or ABA(3x) every. Single. Day. After school), I know this is what she needs, and I let her be.

    • If something serves to calm and soothe, I call it functional. Truly, what a fabulous “function” to perform in a world that can so often be devoid of true comfort.


      • Jess, I find this reply of yours to be almost as impact full as your whole post above. Just because it doesn’t look to the outside world to be serving a grand purpose doesn’t mean it’s not functional. I play with my hair a LOT, which to others may be distracting or annoying or any number of other non-functional terms, but it helps ME. And sometimes in my world of chaos, that’s all that matters. Thanks as always for the reminders…

  2. Scripting….. That’s it. I never knew there was a word. We all do it, don’t we on some level. Thanks

  3. I’ve had this conversation with my youngest son about my eldest several times, and although he’s only six, he seems to be “getting it”. We all need something to self-soothe sometimes…

  4. Your reply to Barb resonates so deeply. I often feel badly about letting Nik watch his YouTube videos or listen to certain music over and over after school. But I console myself with a reminder that he’s given everything he had at school during the day and he needs it. Nice to know I’m not alone there.

    • Ditto. Ditto. Ditto. When I just “let him be” after school or in between weekend activites, and he goes wandering the yard, fiddling, doing his “tv talk”, I sometimes feel guilty that I am not re-directing or trying to keep him more engaged with the rest of us. I always appreciate coming here for the reminder and assurance that he needs it and it is functional. So thank you again for that, today.

  5. I was talking about just this w some autistic adults i follow the other day…after my 3 yr old gets home from school he often takes his ipad and goes into our room away from everyone…I was struggling w this bc I felt like I was ignoring him by letting him do it…to which they patiently pointed out “he left you”..yup…he did

  6. Pingback: Let Him Stim | Flying Solo On Eagles Wings

  7. This “down time” can be so hard to allow and accept when parents are constantly assailed by “experts” about what our kids on the spectrum “need”–another therapy, tutoring, facilitated social skills groups, 40 hours of ABA a week, etc. Sometimes I feel like I’m being lazy or ineffective as a parent when I let my son enjoy his afternoons doing whatever HE wants to do. And then something will happen that removes my doubt and calms my self-judgment, at least briefly.

    This weekend my son wrote a letter on his own while he was “doing his own thing.” Handwriting is a huge challenge for him, so initiating a letter was already a milestone. But the content of the letter was even more important…he was apologizing to his friend (yes, his friend, I didn’t mistype) for hurting said friend’s feelings during a play date the day before. And I quote, “Dear J****, I guess I was so attached to having a fun job I just forgot what a friend is all about I am super sorry Lov, H****.”

    My son had hurt his friend’s feelings (also a kid on the spectrum) by joining the friend’s brother’s “Friend Club.” Apparently, H was already a member of J’s “Friend Club” and J assumed the membership was exclusive, so it was a very hurtful situation. 🙂 While they made up during the play date, clearly the concern that his friend was upset stuck with my son (can you say empathy?). In the course of 24 hours, my kid made huge leaps by being allowed the space to think and do on his own: he wrote a meaningful letter AND expressed his feelings (and self-awareness) to his friend. I shared the letter with the friend’s mom and both boys are happy and ready for their next play date. Oh, and my son was offered #1 President status of the friend club by J.

    Perhaps this is another commandment in development: Respect the child’s right to down time. Or maybe it is: Don’t assume that down time lacks meaning.

  8. That is so beautiful. Jess, your family is so beautiful. Because you get it. I love the compromise, the understanding. And when I lived with my 96 yr old former roommate, the stuff I watched just to be with her…. Never would have thought, lol. To love someone enough to want to watch crappy tv with them, that’s priceless!

  9. I love this and I am trying to get my oldest ones to understand that. when it comes to the other boys. Bug still has an issue because he says that since he doesn’t do all that stuff anymore that he does not understand why his brothers still do…how to explain that one? I’m still stumped

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