Ben and Ryan write a comic book series together. Ben is Art Man, who draws what he needs in a pinch. Elliott is The Screamer, who screams so loud he disables his enemies. It is an inside joke. Sometimes it’s funny and sometimes it’s not. The boy has screamed more than most other boys I know since he was about 14 months old to his present age, almost 5 and 1/2. It used to be for hours and hours, literally 6 to 8 hours per day, and I would dream of escape to the grocery store, the appropriate hum of the lights, the cereal boxes organized just so, my fellow shoppers avoiding eye contact, the soft “hello” of the checker, everything so civilized and sane.
This boy has come far, and he no longer screams for hours each day. Mostly, the screams are whines now, and he has more words and I can understand him more and more, so less frustration. Still, there are days where he will scream an hour straight, where he will strip his clothes from his body, throw his tiny orange sandals at my face, rip my hair. Sometimes I blame it on the autism. Sometimes I blame my parenting. I am extremely ashamed of this, but sometimes I wonder if he simply doesn’t like me, or if he will one day be a terrible person.
We are not supposed to think these sorts of things. I hate that I sometimes think these sorts of things.
He sometimes screams so much that I just go numb. I can feel the people in the museum or on the street or in the store staring at us–he writhing in my arms, wrenching his body away from mine, eyes filled with tears of rage, me, juggling his unpredictable limbs, attempting to both ignore him and prevent him from injuring himself. He recovers quickly, as if it didn’t happen. He skips away and plays with bubbles, and laughs, too loudly, the tears still in his eyes. I don’t know if I recover. I think each round takes a little something from me. But it doesn’t matter. We move forward.
This morning, he comes into my room and touches my face with that delicate hand of his, with those long, slender fingers. He says, “Good morning, Mommy.” He politely asks me for juice, for Chex, for vitamins. Eye contact is still difficult for him, even with me. It is there, it is improving, but it is fleeting. I ask him for a hug and he kind of touches his forehead to my rib cage. Most hugs are elbows and leans and fidgets. Occasionally, when he is very tired or very sad, I get that melting into your body hug that I crave.
Of course, I am grateful that he even lets me touch him, as he didn’t used to. Of course, I am grateful for all of his strides, for his intelligence, for his humor, for everything that he has given to me. Of course, I know he is not a terrible person. He is just a boy who sometimes struggles just as I sometimes struggle. There is no lesson here. As I have said, we move forward. I hope the screaming stops soon.