I have to begin by pointing out our redesigned, upgraded and improved site! (If you could see me I look like Carol Merrill in front of door #1 on Let’s Make a Deal. I’m waving my arm up and down, pausing at all the new, awesome features, while smiling invitingly. Okay, totally dating myself on that one.)
A few months ago my cousin, Peter and his wife invited Emma’s older brother, Nic to come to their home for a “sleepover.” On the designated and much anticipated afternoon, Nic and I took the subway uptown to their home. I got Nic settled and discussed when we should come to retrieve him. It was decided that we would all come the following morning for a breakfast of pancakes and then be on our way. (My cousin is actually close to my mother’s age, yet I feel particularly close to him and his wife.)
When I returned home Emma had just returned from a full day of activities. We had told Emma that Nic would be spending the night with “cousin Peter and Susan” several days before and she seemed to take it all in stride. The next morning as planned we went to pick up Nic, ate a lovely breakfast that Susan had prepared for us, and left, thanking them profusely.
Yesterday, now at least a month later if not more, Emma announced, “Go sleep over at Susan and Peter’s house.”
Thinking she meant that she wanted Nic to go there again and that she had so enjoyed our night with Richard and me all to herself, I said, “Oh! You want Nicky to go back to Peter and Susan’s house?”
“Yeah!” she said, nodding her head vigorously. Then she came closer to me and said, “Go with Nicky?”
“You want to go with Nicky to Peter and Susan’s house?”
“No. Just Emma.”
Confused, I said, “You want to go to Peter and Susan’s by yourself?”
“Yes.” She looked at me expectantly. “Spend the night at Susan and Peter’s! Nicky stay home.”
It was one of those moments when you feel overjoyed, but also filled with sadness. How could I tell her this was unlikely to happen? How could I explain that Peter and Susan might not invite her? How could I explain that this was not something I could ask them to do? As my mind whirled around trying to figure out how to respond, Emma began to cry.
“Go to Peter and Susan’s house. Sleep at Susan and Peter’s house. Tonight.”
The longer I remained silent the more she upped the ante. I glanced over at Richard with a look of desperation. A look that said – how are we going to deal with this?
Richard explained that tonight we were going to have dinner and then go up on the roof. We brought out a calendar and ticked off the upcoming activities we had planned. We tried to explain to her that we couldn’t invite ourselves over to people’s homes. (This was way to complicated and too much information.) And the whole time I kept thinking how do we explain? How do we say this simply? As she became more fixated on the idea, she began repeating it over and over again in between tears. Everything we said, “Not tonight, Em.” or “Maybe over the summer,” did little to satisfy her.
Eventually I brushed her and did joint compressions. She seemed calmed by this and we talked about pressure and how she prefers firm long strokes, not light strokes. We both did some breathing exercises together and the fixation on going to her cousin’s house seemed to dissipate. Later Richard put on music for her and we danced.
After I had put Emma to bed and read stories to her, I said to Richard, “You know there’s a really positive side to this. She’s showing her desire for independence. It’s pretty amazing.” We discussed how this represented so many terrific leaps forward for Emma. She is eager for more independence, is cognizant of Nic having sleepovers, and wants to have that experience too.
It’s all good. (Where did that expression originate, by the way?!) But it is. It’s all good.
For more on Emma’s journey through a childhood of autism, go to: Emma’s Hope Book
For my latest Huffington Post: HuffPo