I'm up because my heart is hurting. My daughter wasn't invited to the birthday party of a girl she thinks of as a good friend. Two separate parents mentioned it to me, assuming Riley was at the party, along with their children.
The questions go through my mind. Did Riley say or do something to offend this girl? Is the mother upset we have not had her daughter over to play in months? Oh God. I have not had a Circle of Friends meeting in such a long time. Was the party centered around an activity which was out of Riley's reach? Swimming? Skating? Shouldn't she have at least run it by me? Does the girl just not like Riley anymore?
We see this mother/daughter duo twice a week at an after school program, which the mother and I coach together. I thought things were good between us. Between the girls.
It took Riley a really long time to have any friends at all. And her friendships are different than those of typical kids. She is happy to just be included. To say she has friends. Her friendships don't have the intimacy mine did at her age. She likes to be in her friends' presence, but she's not going to be the one to carry the conversation. It isn't the easy, back and forth flow I had/have with my friends. Did this little girl tire of that? Did she ever really think of Riley as a friend,or was her mom forcing things. Did I force things?
Riley, painfully aware of her differences, will be devastated if she finds out she wasn't invited. I can already hear the voices of people who don't understand, minimizing things, "Oh, that's something that happens to all kids." But it's more than that. I know my kid. She'll think it is because she has autism, and she'll hate herself for it.
Tossing and turning I've had my limit. I come downstairs and sit in the dark living room. I try to meditate. Small glimpses of tranquility tease me and then back on the train I go, taking it all the way to my sweet girl, never being able to connect with anyone...living a sad, lonely existence, never holding a job, having a relationship, possibly homeless, possibly committing suicide.
What am I not doing that I should be doing to help her....?
"Stand in a different place," I hear author Nancy Slonim Aronie say in my mind.
A woman I met at a writing conference told me about her. Aronie wrote a book called Writing From the Heart. Her "Stand in a Different Place" video rocked my world.
So. 2PM: Riley wasn't at the party. She wasn't invited. But look! She was joyously working on a graphic novel she's creating. She was in her bliss, drawing her little heart out, completely absorbed.
4PM: She was playing with her brother. An outsider listening in would be hard pressed to know she has Asperger's based on the ease and flow of their conversations. She is capable of deep connection, but must be very comfortable for it to happen.
Move back a day: She's at the home school co-op. Riley is in a gaggle of kids, ramming around the gym at the end of the day. Huge smile on her face, literally skipping with joy. She is happy and free.
Presently: She's safe and sound, asleep in her pink bedroom which she describes as "snazzy," with all its tweeny paraphernalia. Millions of glittery stars are being projected across the space by a machine she bought with her birthday money. She's warm. Her dog snores at the foot of her bed.
She is mostly joyful.
She is so very loved.
Right this minute, she is okay.
She is always okay. Even if she hurts.
I breathe again and my throat tightens.
And so is her mom.
Michelle O’Neil has contributed to A Cup of Comfort for Parents of Children with Autism, and Special Gifts: Women Writers on the Heartache, the Happiness and the Hope of Raising a Special Needs Child. She has written for Literary Mama, The Imperfect Parent, Age of Autism, Cool Cleveland and she has been published in SISIS Quarterly Newsletter, a professional journal for occupational therapists. She blogged for years at www.fullsoulahead.com.