Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Progress, Step by Step

Saturdays, these days, my husband and I divide and conquer to bring the boys to their simultaneous basketball practices, and it was my turn for Jake.

Jacob truly loves basketball and the "Challenger" Special Needs division we finally found for him to play in last year, but was having a hard time sharing the ball after all those months of getting his own when we went to shoot baskets in the schoolyards.

Jake shoots wonderfully well, but the rules of the game, remembering to dribble, the need to pass, to pay attention to what other people on the court are doing... all these things continue to elude him. Autism, you know.

Jake kept chasing after the kids with the balls and yelling "STOP! That's mine!" Cringe.

I try not to interfere, to intervene too much when we're at basketball, try to give him his independence, to not be "that mom" kid-coaching from the sidelines. Yet the actual coaches seemed too busy to deal with this really-not-OK behavior and I couldn't let him terrorize the other kids, who were mostly younger and / or smaller than my giant son.

I kept popping out of my seat, running up to Jake to remind him that game is played with ONE ball and everybody shares it. Or yelling something to that effect when he was within earshot of my seat on the parent bench.

A couple of times he came over to me looking sad, and I kept sending him back into the game after a quick hug or a deep drink of water, reminding him to stay with the other kids wearing red vests and to keep his eyes on the ball.

Jake held it together during practice, drifting in and out of connection with the drills and game. But afterward as we were getting our coats on I saw the eyes blinking, the lip trembling, the sadness welling up; and on it came.

So I sat with my son, sobbing and wailing. I held my son, lost and losing it, his words coming out in a jumbled salad I could not make sense of.

And then in the middle of it all, he looked me in the eyes and asked the most amazing thing:

"What's happening to my brain, Mom?"


This level of self-awareness, recognizing that something in his brain is going haywire?



An incredible thing that I feared I would never see.

And then Jake was telling me that he was going to go home and cry at Cocoa the cat, and that then she would be mad at him, and he started to caterwaul anew.

I was trying to piece it together, realizing he might be thinking I was mad at him for having had a hard time in the game, and maybe even mad at him for crying, now.

I kept telling him to look in my eyes and see that I wasn't mad, that no one was mad at him, that I was proud of him for how hard he had tried playing basketball today, that it's fine to cry if he's sad, but that maybe his brain was stuck, and if he wanted to stop crying I would help him.

"Remember to breathe Jacob; slow breaths; in, out; one, two."

He gained his composure, only to lose it again. Again and again. We were going to be late for the movies.

And then one of the coaches came over and praised his shooting abilities, promised he would get more ball time next week.

And maybe my murmured words of love, of soothing, had washed over him enough that they were sinking in.

Or maybe his brain finally stopped misbehaving, let him move on

But suddenly it was OK again.

My boy smiled. Said: "I want to eat popcorn at the movies, Mom."

And so off we went.

And loved the movie as Jake loves all movies, although this movie, Hugo, was particularly lovable. (Paris in the 30's, a history of cinema, what's not to love?)

And when we stopped for a quick grocery shopping before coming home, Jake was remarkably present, helpful. He reminded me that we needed bananas, picked out a nice ripe-but-not-over-ripe bunch himself without any prompting at all.

Hungry for dinner, we hopped a cab home, and as we pulled up in front of our building he said: "Thank you driver, for taking us home!" to the cabbie, more polite by far than his twin ever is.

And so deep into the evening I pondered my son and his question.

A sign that more self-awareness will one day come.

That one day I may actually know my son Jacob's innermost thoughts, a cypher no longer.

Patience is now needed. For this can not be pulled from him, but rather, I must wait for it to blossom.

Wait for his next step, in this dance that he alone knows.

Let him be.

Enough as he is, and embracing what he will become.

(Note: This is a repost from my personal blog, so if you read me there regularly and it sounded familiar, you are not just imagining it... I am just swamped this month but didn't want to miss posting on H.P.)

Varda writes about "birth, death and all the messy stuff in the middle" on her blog "The Squashed Bologna: a slice of life in the sandwich generation"  She also tweets as @Squashedmom. Varda is proud to be a Hopeful Parent.


  1. You're a wonderful mom and your son showed remarkable insight. Not all kids are cut out for team sports. My boys are NT young adults but back in the day they preferred the school swim and golf teams to lacrosse and basketball.

  2. Not sure if I read this before (probably) but it was wonderful all over again!