Emma’s sleepover came with some fallout. I suppose that is to be expected. Emma had a blast , so what’s my problem?
My fear. My expectations. These are the issues that plague me.
I watched Emma burst through the front door. I saw how she didn’t acknowledge or even look at the other little girl she’d just spent the night with. I saw how in the photos and from Joe’s summary of those sixteen hours spent away, Emma and M. didn’t interact despite Angelica and Joe’s attempts to facilitate. They co-existed. M. seemed a little sad, I may be projecting this onto her. But I wondered what it was like for her to have a sleepover with a child who barely acknowledged her presence. And then I felt awful that I’d had that thought.
Emma was happy, genuinely happy to have had her sleepover, in fact, seemed exuberant to be away from us for a night. When she left Sunday evening, without a look back, I could see that Emma was ready for this. Emma was ready for her little adventure, time spent away from her family. This is as it should be. This is what all children experience. That initial flickering desire to venture off, to have experiences that do not involve her parents. A flicker, which over time, will grow into a more steady, stronger, determined flame. This is a good thing.
So why am I having a problem? Because I have expectations. Because I have worries and fears. In addition to all of this, I project my own hopes and feelings of what specifically a sleepover means, onto her. Emma’s sleepover was not the sleepover I had in mind. A sleepover of two little girls connecting with each other, whispering secrets in each other’s ears, laughing and playing and interacting, holding hands and friendship bracelets. But what little girl was I projecting that idea onto? Certainly not Emma.
Eighth grade – I was invited to a huge slumber party at my “friends” house. Unbeknownst to me several of the girls, maybe all of them, got up in the middle of the night and threw my bra into the freezer, much to their amusement and my horror, embarrassment and shame. Shame because I did not require a bra, shame because I was singled out and didn’t fully understand why, shame because it felt mean and made me sad, but everyone else was laughing. Laughing in a way that made me feel all the more isolated and alone. Shame because I wanted to be included, often was included, but never felt that I really fit in. They laughed, so I tried to laugh too, which made them laugh all the harder. I remember. I remember feeling so relieved when my mother came to pick me up. “How was your sleepover darling?” my mother asked.
“Okay,” I answered. How could I explain? How could I tell her about something that I hadn’t entirely understood? How could I put into words that which I found confusing and oddly shameful?
“Did you have a good time?” my mother asked again.
“It was fine,” I said, turning my head away from her to stare out the window at the blurred landscape as we drove back home.
I am grateful knowing Emma will be spared this kind of “sleepover.” I am grateful when I take Emma to one of the many playgrounds in New York City with various water features, and she pulls off her dress revealing her favorite two-piece bathing suit, without any self-consciousness. Her belly prominently displayed for all to see, she tears from one water drenched shape to the next with gleeful abandon. Emma is without inhibitions. She is without embarrassment, she is without shame. Female neuro-typicals could learn a thing or two from Emma. I could learn a thing or two from Emma.
It is in those moments, at the water park, as I sit watching her that I come face to face with my perceptions, my expectations, my ideas of what should and should not occur in our daily interactions with one another. I catch glimpses of the fallacy, the dishonesty of the words we so carelessly toss about.
“How are you?” “Great!” “How was the sleepover?” “Fine.” “Did you have fun?” “It was nice.” “Are you okay?” “Yup, everything’s good.”
Even when we aren’t. Even when it wasn’t. Even when we didn’t.
My latest piece My Fear Toolkit published in the Huffington Post
What a wonderful, moving post. You conveyed so clearly and powerfully how I feel when my expectations are dashed — particularly in regards to Emma’s inability to connect with peers. I just keep trying to glory in her unfettered happiness and hope that eventually more kids her age will delight in her as much as we do.
When I’m able to it is bliss, but when I can’t seem to get there I can go so quickly into the darkness.
Okay. This was a PACKED post. There are so many issues you have touched on and my head is sort of spinning right now. But, that is why I like reading your posts. They are thought provoking. The word I grabbed onto was “expectations.” Our kids force us to reevaluate what we thought we wanted, and why we thought we wanted it, and who we wanted it for. I always say it takes me a while to catch on to things, it wasn’t until Ted was a senior in high school that I “got it” and started saying “There is more than one way to okay.” He taught me that, just as Emma is teaching you. It is just up to us to see their okay and accept it as such. When that happens, well, there is this beauty, this calm, this unbelievable certainty that simply fills your being. I think it is called peace.
I get moments of it. Yesterday and today, not so much, but I’ve had moments of it, even whole days of that peace you speak of. I hope to have more of it as time goes on. This other way is very painful. Loved yours and Teddy’s line – “There is more than one way to okay.”
I think we all teeter on that fence between darkness and bliss and what I appreciate so so much about you is your honesty that the fence exists!! I think as Brett ages there are more blissful times…..I can see that he has excellent qualities that I just love about him and it makes me feel joyful. I think what is hard is the things that he has issues with….can be very dark things that are just really really hard to deal with sometimes. When something like seeing a group of boys playing together, talking, laughing….doing boy like things…it can be oh so easy to fall in to the darkness. I think we have to learn to be OK to allow ourselves that sometimes…and to know when to snap back out of it and look for the bliss again. The fact that we know to climb back up on top of the fence again is the important thing. We will never, in my opinion anyway, be able to ALWAYS look at the bliss side. There are times, as with any child or human being for that matter, that things will get us down. It’s OK!!! It’s only natural and because you reflect on it and meet it head on, it will come less and less I think. Such a beautiful picture of Emma……just love it!!! 🙂
Teetering, yes, that’s how it feels, uncomfortable, often scary, but also okay. When I took that photo I kept trying to get at an angle where her belly wasn’t so prominent, but then I had to examine my ideas and perceptions of what is beautiful. I concluded that she is. All the more so because she doesn’t care what others think. I really do envy and love that. I aspire to that.
I loved reading this. I have written about some of our experiences around expectations and particularly how we inform others of our Son’s needs within giving them either unrealistic expectations of his abilities or of limiting their expectations in a way that might deny him opportunities. It is such a difficult balance.
Hi Violet! Yes, a difficult balance. Becky from the above quote described it as teetering and I like that because we’re still balancing, but sometimes it feels really precarious. Thanks so much for stopping by to comment. I’ve been enjoying your blog.
I Have A sick feeling that may have been my party. You even back then were soooo beautiful outside.The Inside put that to shame even back then. Emma is so lucky to have you. I have a question? Is there a polite way to start to a talk about what seems a dirty little secret. Friends of ours have a nine year old boy who has the skills of a two year old.It is plain to every one that has spent time with him that he is autistic. He has never been in school they are home schooling him yet he can’t spell his own name,Gives his`age in #s of fingers and he will only talk side of your face to side of his face. If anyone looks him square on he will cover his face. Back to you. At Your family dinners your dad always made sure we had our thinking caps on! If i ever gave you one moment of sadness. I am so very sorry. i love reading about emma. Thank you for sharing. Tami
Hi Tami! It’s good to see you here.
I didn’t understand the first sentence, but thank you so much for the kind words! It is very tricky and I don’t know that there is an easy answer. I think it depends on how close to them you are, whether you think they would be at all open to your concerns. I know a loving, nonjudgemental approach is one I have found helpful. Another thought is to send them some links. Such as this one – http://www.autismweb.com/signs.htm or http://www.helpguide.org/mental/autism_signs_symptoms.htm
If you do decide to approach them, let me know how it goes. Thanks for commenting and reaching out!
Oh Tami, I just reread your comment and understand what you meant. NO! That did not happen at your house. It’s funny, I can no longer remember whose house it was, but it was when I went to a new junior high school after we moved. It was a hellish year and a half of feeling I didn’t belong and didn’t fit in, a feeling that sadly followed me through high school as well. I know I did things that were hurtful to others too.
Wow Ariane, your words are painful and sweet at the same time. Sometimes it just hits us doesn’t it? You can be going along fine, even blissfully and then a thought sneaks in or another child does something or you just see them walking with their mother. Yesterday driving back from an OT session I saw a little girl of about 4 walking down the street all rugged up because it is cold here now, holding her Mum’s hand. Then it snuck in my mind Oh Roslyn never did that. It was just enough to hurt. I know they are MY expectations but it still hurts.
“Neorotypical girls can be so cruel. I have never understood that group mentality myself or the need to single someone out. Some how it is supposed to make the others feel more superior or powerful I guess. I am sorry that happend to you, I never really fit into big groups like that and it never worried me. That would have hurt
I think there is a lot we can learn from our children. I can handle that they hear and follow the beat of a different drum. But sometimes those little things sneak in..
A blissful moment was on Sunday we invited close family friends over for dinner who have 2 boys with ASD of similar age to our cihldren. As the grown ups sat around the table we looked up to see all 4 of them down on the floor in the other room setting up and playing with a wooden train set TOGETHER. Maybe not together like some children would, but all joining in, no fighting over pieces and all unprompted from grown ups. We were all stunned and excited. They have known each other for maybe 5 years now, so it has been a long time coming..
Just take baby steps. This was Emma’s first sleep over and she achieved a lot. Well done to all of you!
Hi Liz, what a wonderful evening with all the children engaged in playing with the train set together. That’s really terrific. And thank you for the reminder that it’s all about baby steps even for us adults! So important to remember that.
Ariane, I am moved and inspired by your insights, thank you for writing them down for all of us, although you are talking about you daughter, you are touching on the human frailties and insecurities we all struggle with,
Thank you so much for stopping by and commenting. Grade school is the fertile ground where those insecurities and human frailties become so obvious and then we spend the rest of our lives trying to work through them!
I just stumbled on your blog from your newest Huff Post article [which is spot-on] and am loving it. I can so directly relate to this post – my kiddo’s lack of a social filter is such a challenge at times, for me, but also so absolutely fabulous, for both of us. I love that he can enjoy himself in his way, without a care in the world about what others think. And, yes, I’ve had those moments when I’ve realized that while I’ve been worrying about how to create the “right” experience for him, he’s been out there creating for himself a darned fun time, ignoring all my expectations! Thank you for your writing!
“He’s been out there creating for himself a darned fun time, ignoring all my expectations!” that is such a great line. Thanks for stopping by and commenting.