it’s ok

**

Forgiveness is the giving, and so the receiving, of life.

~ George MacDonald

***

Sometime in early 2006

(The following is an excerpt from a post called Getting There is Love. Its story takes place before we knew anything about Brooke’s challenges. To read the post in its entirety, click -> HERE.)

Brooke must have been three years old. She wanted her ballet slippers. I don’t know why, perhaps she was playing dress up, perhaps the moon was in the seventh house. Whatever the reason, she had it in her little head that she needed her ballet slippers.
.
I looked around the house but I couldn’t find them. I didn’t think it was a big deal. I flippantly told her that the slippers were a no go. I knew so little. She began to perseverate on one sentence. “I want my ballet slippers!” Over and over and over and over again. “I want my ballet slippers!” It would almost have been funny. But it wasn’t. It got louder. She got more anxious. “I want my ballet slippers!”
.
I explained that I couldn’t find the slippers. I’m sure I offered an alternative. She fell apart. Sobbing, shaking, yelling – you know the rest. All the while, stuck in automatic rewind. “I want my ballet slippers! I want my ballet slippers!”
.
I wasn’t going to stand for a tantrum. Oh hell no, not this mom. I don’t ‘do’ tantrums. Not in this house, child. I sent her to her room. I just didn’t know. I had to walk her up there because she didn’t understand what I was saying. Or she couldn’t hear me. Or both.
.
All the way up the stairs she yelled, “I want my ballet slippers!” Jagged sob after jagged sob. “I want my ballet slippers!” Her little body shook like a leaf in a hurricane.
.
My dad’s words rattled around in the back of my head “You’re really quite lenient with those kids.” Oh yeah? Watch this, Pop. She will NOT get away with this kind of behavior.
.
“I want my ballet slippers!” She could barely catch her breath, but there was no stopping the broken record. “I want my ballet slippers!”
.
For heaven’s sake, enough with the %$&*!@ ballet slippers! I put her in her room. I didn’t know. God, I just didn’t know. “I want my ballet slippers!” Gasp. Sob. “I want my ballet slippers!”  Over the screams, above the hoarse cry, I explained that she would stay in that room until she could calm herself down. Calm herself down. I didn’t know.
.
I walked away. She looked so small standing in the middle of her room. I choked back my own tears. I swallowed the sour taste in my mouth. I left her there screaming, overwhelmed, confused, lost.
.
“I want my ballet slippers!” Gasp. Sob. ”I want my ballet slippers!”
.
I crouched against the wall at the bottom of the steps struggling to find the right thing to do. I can still feel that wall – cool, immovable against my back. I could barely breathe. Something wasn’t right, but I didn’t know what.
.
I thought of Ferber’s sleep method - let your child know they are safe and loved but leave them to soothe themselves. I went up again. I stood in her doorway and I told her that she would be free to come out of her room when she got it together. I raised my voice in an attempt to be heard over her screams. “I want my ballet slippers! I want my ballet slippers!” I told her I loved her. Then I told her that her behavior was unacceptable. I walked away again and left her screaming, her face streaked with mucus and tears.
.
“I want my ballet slippers!” Her voice was breaking, but she didn’t stop. ”I want my ballet slippers!”
.
I was so frustrated. I was so angry. Why wouldn’t she just let it go?
.
“I want my ballet slippers! I want my ballet slippers!”
.
I went up again. I grabbed her by the shoulders, too hard. I squared her body to mine and chased her eyes. “Enough with the God damned ballet slippers!” God, I didn’t know. I am so sorry. I thought she WOULDN’T stop. I didn’t know she COULDN’T stop. I didn’t know there was a difference. I just didn’t know. She didn’t see me. She didn’t hear me. I am so sorry.
***

November, 2009 – Three and a half years later
.
The following is an excerpt from a post called You’re Sorry. To read the post in its entirety, click -> HERE.

Brooke and I stood in the upstairs guest room among the assorted detritus of her babyhood. We sifted through long since cast aside quilted books and soft, worn rattles in a desperate search for a long-lost Elmo doll.

Brooke picked up a flimsy nylon tutu that had fallen out of a box and stepped into it. Amid all of the souvenirs of years past up there –  the first toys, the early books of colors and shapes, the gifts from friends and family – I never would have given the tutu a second thought. In and of itself it had no significance to me. It likely would have been one of the first candidates for a trip to Goodwill.

Brooke spun around in the tutu and said, “I cried and I cried and I cried.”

I looked up from the bin through which I was digging. “What’s that, honey?”

“I cried and I cried and I cried,” she said again.

I must have looked confused, but she wasn’t looking at me. Even if she had been, she wouldn’t have picked up on the nuance of my expression.

“I wanted my ballet slippers,” she said, still spinning, “and I cried and I cried and I cried.”

I stopped in my tracks. There are so many moments with my little girl that literally take my breath away that I know I must lose credibility when I use the phrase. But, for the millionth time in our life together, she did indeed take my breath away.

“Honey,” I heard myself say before I could stop to think about the words, “I am so, so sorry that I yelled at you that day. I just didn’t understand.”

She kept spinning.

“I cried and I cried and I cried,” she said. “And then I had the white water and it made my tummy feel better.”

White water? I scanned my memory, but came up dry. Mine is obviously no match for hers. If she says there was white water, there must have been white water.

“Milk, honey?” I asked. “Did you have milk that day?”

“I had the white water and it made my tummy feel better.”

She picked up a Zoe book from a nearby bin and began to read the single words on its pages. The conversation was over.

Giving up on finding Elmo upstairs, we made our way back down to Brooke’s room. I brought the Zoe book downstairs with us and at the last second I grabbed the tutu and brought it down too. As much as I may have wanted to leave it behind, bringing it along felt like the right thing to do. When we got into Brooke’s room, I held it out to her and asked if she wanted to put it on.

I sat on her floor and watched her get into it. I stayed put as she went into her closet to find sparkly princess shoes. Shoes on, she turned to me. “What is this?” she asked, holding the tutu between her fingers.

“That’s a tutu, honey,” I said. “You had it when you were little.”

She walked over and stood directly in front of me. I looked up at her from my spot on the floor.

“And you’re sorry that you yelled at me.”

“Yes, baby,” I answered. “I am so sorry that I yelled at you.”

I didn’t try to hide the tears that streamed down my face. Maybe I thought somehow they would help her to understand just how sorry I really am.

She looked right at me. I still get taken aback when I see her full face that way – dead on. Her eyes searched my face, trying to make sense of what was happening.

“What are you doing?” she asked.

“I’m crying, honey,” I answered.

“What did you hurt?”

“Well,” I began, “I didn’t really hurt anything, baby. I’m feeling a little sad.”

“Did you hurt your heart?” she asked.

I said that to her once when Katie was crying after her fish died. Brooke had been determined to know what she had hurt. She wouldn’t let it go. If she was crying, she must have hurt something. Did she hurt her arm? Did she hurt her eye? Did she hurt her tushy? Did she hurt her head? There was no end in sight and Katie needed my attention. I had finally come up with “Well, honey, she hurt her heart.”

And there it was right back at me. I must have hurt my heart.

“You know, honey,” I said, “In a way I guess I did hurt my heart. I’m sad because I’m so sorry about the day that you couldn’t find your ballet shoes.”

She began to walk away. She circled the room slowly. I sat and waited. Suddenly, with no warning she pounced into my lap. She curled her little body into me and threw her arms around my neck. I hugged her back as hard as I could.

Just as quickly as she had pounced, she got up and left the room.

***

January, 2010

The following is an excerpt from a post called Sometimes. To read the post in its entirety, click -> HERE.

My sweet baby girl ran down the stairs as I came in the house.

Her hair was wet from the shower. She wore her favorite pajamas – the top now two sizes too small. I don’t have the heart to make her retire it yet.

She came to me, so I dropped to the floor and sat down with her right in front of the door.

We looked at each other for a moment – wordless. She searched my face. I searched hers.

“What are you sorry that you did that?” she asked. Her little brow was furrowed into her patented expression for sad or sorry.

I didn’t answer right away.

I knew exactly what she was asking. It’s become a painful script.

“About the ballet slippers,” she said. “What are you sorry that you did that about the ballet slippers?”

“I’m sorry that I yelled that day, baby,” I said for the God knows how many-eth time. “I’m sorry that I didn’t understand.”

“You’re sorry that you yelled at me,” she said as she crawled into my lap. “About my ballet slippers. And then I had the white water.”

Four years. It’s been four years since the day that she couldn’t find her ballet slippers. It’s been four years since I yelled because I didn’t understand. Because I didn’t know. Four YEARS.

***

October 19, 2010

We’re trying to get through homework. It isn’t easy. We’ve had a long and relatively disastrous day. One that included a cancelled drama class, a blown-out tire, a long-expired warranty, a very nice policeman and a ninety-minute wait for a tow truck. Dinner was late and homework started even later. We are both exhausted.

As we count out coins, Brooke stops suddenly. She sits stock-still and stares out into the middle distance.

“Are you sorry?” she asks.

She’s not looking at me, but I know the question is mine.

I’ve grown weary of this routine. It’s like a vaudevillian nightmare.

“Yes, baby, I’m sorry,” I answer.

She turns to me. She looks as though she’s searching for something. Neither of us is quite sure what. I can’t help, so I wait until she breaks the silence.

“I really wanted my ballet slippers.”

“I know, baby,” I say. “I just didn’t understand.”

There’s so much more I want to say. Does she know what I mean when I say ‘I didn’t understand’? Does she wonder what exactly I didn’t understand? I say nothing.

“And you’re really sorry that you yelled at me.”

“Yes, baby. I’m really sorry.”

She’s still watching me. The wheels are turning.

She throws her body onto mine and wraps her little arms around my neck.

And as she does, she whispers into my ear.

Two words.

Just two.

“It’s OK”

The world goes quiet as I hug my girl.

It’s OK.

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52 thoughts on “it’s ok

  1. I rarely read your blog without tears forming and a lump in my throat but tonight…….tonight I am sobbing and bawling!

    Beautiful, inspirational, wonderful….and so real.

    I’m in love with your writing! Thank you for the magical insights into the autistic mind that you provide with such grace and passion,

    Fi

  2. What a glorious, magical moment! Sigh of relief — it’s OK.

    I’m thinking how important repetition is for learning. Even when it seems frustrating, oh, the possibility for powerful new connections out of that endless repetition!

    I wonder if/how this conversation will recur again. And what the next step forward might be.

  3. Dear mother of God, I don’t know how you are not a complete puddle on ‘those’ days, cause I can barely make it through without blowing my nose several times. What I often say to peeps, progress not perfection and that post just shows progress is good, really good:) xo
    S~

  4. I just recently found your blog – your writing is amazing!! I think I cry at least once a day reading your posts – not because they are sad, just because they are so beautiful! THANK YOU!!

  5. May you BOTH finally and completely release your anxiety over that very difficult experience when you both just did not know any better. I am so pleased she did not bury it but has come back and back to it until she made sense of it and made peace with it.

    And Merry Christmas Jess – no gift coming in December will even remotely measure up to this. Nothing ever could.

    • catherine, i hope you clicked over to the other posts.

      at the end of the ‘getting there is love’ post, i copied something written by my dear friend, M – who is an adult with asperger’s who writes a fabulous blog called incipient turvy.

      he had said, ‘“Being there is empathy. Getting there is love.”

      in that post i said ‘for me it boils down to this: We’re so much harder on ourselves than we are on others. We mete out forgiveness and support, validation and love so freely to each other, but somehow it’s so much harder to find the same compassion, the same gentleness for ourselves. And according to my dear friend and sage, as long as we’re trying, we deserve a little slack. An ‘A’ for effort, as it were. Because we’re getting there, aren’t we? And getting there is love. So says M.

      i hold onto that. every day. being there is empathy. getting there is love.

      i hope there’s some comfort in that for all of us.

  6. I am continually amazed at how much I can relate to your experience, given that my house is all boys and my spectrum son is now a teenager. I threw a little plastic knight from a kids meal out of the car once when he was a toddler because he just wouldn’t stop screaming about it. He was completely nonverbal then, so I don’t know what that meant to him at the time. He’s pretty high functioning these days, and last year he surprised me by asking me why I did that. I had no idea he still remembered. He forgives me, too – for that and a whole lot of things that have happened since.

    You and your children have such a special connection, and you write with such eloquence. Reading the thoughts you share so openly and so generously always makes a difference in my outlook as I face the day. Thank you.

    Diane

    • thank you, diane! i continue to believe that all of us have far more in common than that which separates us. i think when anyone speaks from the heart, we find a kernel of our own truth in it.

      i’m so glad to know that your son has made such progress and that you can talk about all of it. i hope for nothing less for all of us. xo

  7. incredible. it is ok, she’s right. that is one amazing kid.
    (and I’m just glad that I wanted until after lunch to read this today so I wasn’t in tears at the bus stop…)

  8. It’s more than okay!
    Have you ever considered doing “the ballet slippers” play with her? In which she can play Mom and you can play her? And vice versa? One time as a Shakespearan tragedy (with lots of hand wringing and dramatics)? And one time as a physical comedy, with a bumbling mom? All very gently (not meant as teasing). Etc, etc? And maybe creating a book “the ballet slippers?”

    • i’m not sure we’re quite ready for the role playing – we’ve tried it on a very basic level with other things and found that we’re not quite there yet. but a book could be wonderful! and eventually, i’d love to come back to the play idea.

      thank you for the ideas!

  9. As I read this, I had memories of the times in raising my children I wish I could take back. It was like a slide show. And they are neurotypicals – for the most part.

    As I have probably said before, I need to pray for you more. Bless you, dear Jess.

  10. What a beautiful story. I just want to let you know that I am guilty of the same “not understanding” sin. I yelled at my son before diagnosis because of all the tantrums that I was not going to “allow” in my house. I didn’t understand how his sensory issues were wrecking up his world and I yelled. Now I know. Perhaps we can learn soon what the “white water” was! Many thanks.

  11. she goes back to that day, over and over, but i know she goes back to all the other days as well…all the days that followed, where you did everything in your power to love her and “get” her and do everything in your power to improve her life. that day, it’s one piece of negative evidence. every day since, every post you’ve written, every moment you think of her: more positive evidence than could ever be counted.

    and she knows that, she’s doing the math.

    it’s okay, jess.

    thank you for this very beautiful, very heart wrenching, very wonderful post.

  12. damn…now I don’t know whether to cry over Brooke’s words or over M’s words! Thanks, Jess, for sharing and thanks, M, for helping us to “get there” with our amazing children.

  13. What you have written sums up all my feelings for my little Aspie. For so long I didn’t know; everyone would tell me he just needs to toughen up–that I wasn’t tough enough on him. Oh, the tantrums (both his and mine). If I could only take those moments back and be more understanding.

    Being a mom means starting fresh every day. And forgiving ourselves every day.

  14. Oh goodness. My three year old has lots of ballet slipper moments these days and your blog just makes them a wee bit easier, it’s so nice to know there are other moms out there who really get it… :)

  15. FACEBOOK COMMENTS

    LM~ Two powerful little words. Your little girl has forgiven you. It’s time you do as well.

    NA ~ Ok.
    Jesse I have kept a diary all my life. First it was my own self not quite understood by myself :-) then I got married and had my first born. My diaries are upto the brim with pages and pages of such incidences. Reading this had flooded me with memories if so so many times I did not understand and I want to say to ash I am so sorry. I did say that when he would be asleep… But this has brought my diaries out. I am reading them and crying.
    You have inspired me to perhaps come out and blog my pen written gnawing experiences.
    Ash turned 17 this year. It’s been a priceless journey. :-)

    THF~ My son remembers the ‘noisy egg’ that was in his bedroom when we lived in England–we moved back to the States a few months before his 3rd birthday. It was an egg shaped nursery monitor that glowed at night and, apparently, made noise that I couldn’t hear but he could. I didn’t know that he had autism and told him hundreds of times that it didn’t make noise and it wasn’t hurting his ears. For 2 years he slept with stuffed toys covering his ears. The ‘noisy egg’ still haunts him. I’m looking forward to the day he says, ‘It’s okay.’

    Diary of a Mom LM, thank you. i mostly have, i swear, it’s just hard when the script persists, you know?

    NA, if you do, let us know where to find you online!

    THF, it’s those things that kill me. how much did we not know? at the end of the ‘getting there is love’ post, i copied something written by my dear friend, M – who is an adult with asperger’s who writes a fabulous blog called incipient turvy.

    he had said, ‘“Being there is empathy. Getting there is love.”

    i’d gone one to say, ‘for me it boils down to this: We’re so much harder on ourselves than we are on others. We mete out forgiveness and support, validation and love so freely to each other, but somehow it’s so much harder to find the same compassion, the same gentleness for ourselves. And according to my dear friend and sage, as long as we’re trying, we deserve a little slack. An ‘A’ for effort, as it were. Because we’re getting there, aren’t we? And getting there is love. So says M.

    i hold onto that. every day. being there is empathy. getting there is love.

    TB I think every parent that reads your blog can relate to this post. We are all still learning. There are many past events I would like to have handled differently.

    THF ~ Jess–M is very wise. Thanks for sharing! Off to find incipient turvy now….

    Diary of a Mom In today’s post, if you click on ‘the link next to ‘getting there is love’ you’ll find links to him and to the posts to which I refer here. He’s an amazing human. One of my all time favorites.

  16. Oh wow! I can only imagine how that felt to hear her say that! I’m crying happy tears for you.

    I bookmarked your blog awhile ago when I came across it and just pulled it back up today. Absolutely love it! I have a 4 yr old little girl with autism and so many of your posts make me feel a little less alone in navigating through this.

  17. I saw this linked on your twitter and i read through it. There have been so many times that this has happened with me and my son.. so many times when he was little that ” i just didn’t know” and hey he’s 12 now and i’m still learning from him every day.
    Thank you for writing about you and your family… it is an amazing feeling to know that there is someone out there that ” just knows” what you are going through on a day to day basis.

  18. Jess, as an aside…I love that your mom and dad are on here. If only we all had that kind of support. Hugs to the grandparents!!!!

  19. Oh man. I had a similar incident with my son when he was probably not even two yet. He took all the books out of his bookshelf and would not put them back. I was determined he would put them back….he didn’t get it. I tried to show him how to do it and he still wasn’t getting it. He wasn’t even 2 yet. We sat in his floor and screamed at each other for what seemed like hours. I spanked with strength I can still feel and regret. Eventually, after I named each part of the book to him and showed him how I put it in “spine first” we got the books put up. He will be NINE in September…and he remembers. I also knew something was not right, but I didn’t understand. I still don’t understand, but he still remembers. Nothing can ever compare. Hugs!

  20. Wow, this really got me. I read it with such intensity. I can relate to this on such a deep level. Thank you so much for sharing yourself.

  21. I have read many of your posts, I have even gone back into years past to read your postings, but this posting I think has hit me hardest. Although I can not completely understand what you are feeling, I can in a sense, relate. I too have lost my cool with a child before learning what it was that caused the behavior, a behavior that wasn’t a choice. This is such a lovely reminder to be cautious in passing judgment on any individual. When I go out with the children I work with who are touched by autism I get judgmental glances by others because of their behaviors and my lack of “appropriate” response, this is a wonderful reminder that these children are unique from others. I wish everyone would take the time to learn and understand it. Thank you again for all your posts, you are an inspiration. (:

  22. Jess, I understand this post all too well as I am sure others do too. Too many of us have similar stories. I agree with the comment about the grandparents too. My parents died before we had the diagnosis, but my husband’s parents have struggled to understand and still do although I honestly think they try.

  23. I don’t know if you will read this. I don’t know if you notice me combing through your blog one post at a time. Ever since I found your blog I have been searching for something. On the “welcome to the club” post I wrote a comment about feeling bad that I had been parenting my daughter so wrong for 4 ½ years. I felt horrible. I couldn’t stop reading your blog. You write what is in my brain/heart yet cannot express. I searched and searched for something that told me it was o.k. That all this time I just didn’t know. Although, I found encouragement in your words, I sometimes would come away sad wanting to know why I couldn’t be like you. I’m sure this post was hard for you to write. THIS IS WHAT I WAS SEARCHING FOR. You are human just like me. You made mistakes just like me. And like you I can change too. Thank You.

  24. Thank you for expressing so well what everyone else is feeling. I do not have an autistic child but I work with autistic children in a public preschool. I so desperately want to do the right thing.

  25. Thank you so much for this! I have only been reading your blog for a few month and this is exactly what I needed! Thank you for bringing this post up again!

  26. What astounds me is our children’s capacity to forgive us our sins and love us unconditionally. Every 6 months I have to take my son on the spectrum to have blood drawn and it can become a wrestling match to hold him and keep him safe while the white coats do their thing. And EVERY time he looks at me and gives me hugs and kisses with the tear stains still damp on his cheeks and my heart breaks for I know he forgives me despite my part in it…and I know it will happen again. I keep waiting for the time he blames me for the pain/procedure, but it never happens. He loves me and never hesitates to forgive.

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