I can hear you

“Mom, are you there?”
“I’m upstairs making the bed,” I return.

Five minutes later…

“Mom, where are you?”
“I’m in the laundry room!” I answer.

Five minutes later…

“Yes, Jonah.”
“I can hear you!”

Five minutes later…

“Yes, Jonah.”
“I like you!”

Five minutes later…

“I’m in the kitchen, making dinner.”
“I love you mom.”

This exchange can happen twenty times in a day (if J’s home from school). Separation anxiety, I read in a study conducted in England, is quite common in children with high-functioning autism. It’s why Jonah wakes up 2-3 times a night looking for his dad (if his dad isn’t already sleeping beside him in the bed). It’s probably why returning to school after Christmas break has been difficult. Tonight we put the vaporizer in J’s room to chase off a persistent cough. “Am I sick? I am sick!” Jonah declared. He was thinking ahead. Sick means home. The first day back after the New Year, J complained all morning of a stomach ache. I don’t doubt it. When he’s upset or anxious, his bowels are the first to say so. John stopped by the school to check on him after our second phone call from the secretary and ended up staying over an hour. More than anything, J seemed to need a buffer to help him transition.

I’ve written a little about the “all in the family” aspect of autism, and today I’m struck again by the ways I see myself (and John) in Jonah. When I was ten, I pretty much had a nervous breakdown. Severe anxiety kept me home from school for months. When my parents realized I wasn’t actually sick, they insisted I return. I responded by hiding ALL of my shoes ten minutes before the bus arrived. I still remember the horrible relief I felt watching my poor mother running from room to room, coming up empty handed.

No one ever gave me or my parents a good reason as to why I was this way. Looking back, all I can really say or see is biology. Something in my person—maybe my hormones, maybe my brain—is predisposed. I learned to make different choices to stay away from those frightening feelings, or if failed to see them coming, I found a way to work my way through (if you want to call perfect grades or obsessive tidying coping mechanisms). In a way, I became a different person as a result. This took awhile, and didn’t really kick in until college, after my grandfather died and I had to deal with intense grief away from my family. Knowing what I knew about myself as a ten-year-old gave me a starting place to hone in on the person I actually am.

Considering how performance-oriented I was in high school, it occurs to me now that my pendulum shift to an almost complete lack of ambition isn’t really an accurate representation of who I am either. I’m not big on trying new things; I hate the thought of failure. I’m also pretty awful when it comes to transitioning. Okay, maybe awful isn’t exactly the word. Let’s say slow. Terribly slow.

Track this back to the J-man. Functionally, I may be able to keep things running a little more smoothly, but we have more than a few things in common under our skin. He needs John and I close (in shouting distance at least) in the same way I needed my mother to sit by my bed until I fell asleep so many nights. Even Jonah’s inability to concentrate and focus at school (or at home) can probably be tracked back to that rotten feeling of not knowing what exactly is going to happen, or when it’s going to happen. Maybe something has changed that only he sees. Maybe something has changed in himself, and he doesn’t know what (a growth spurt, a cold, an aching tooth). He just wants to be sure.

And sureness is hard to come by. I hear you J.


One thought on “I can hear you

  1. Oh Jennifer, in some ways, I think we’re really cut from the same cloth…performance oriented (perfectionism?) sliding into lacking ambition, yep, I get that. To strike the balance is so hard, I think…

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