“I can’t, mama…I just can’t.”
It was the fourth night in a row that she was having nightmares. She couldn’t bring herself to discuss what they were about but my patience was wearing thin between waking with her brother at 1 a.m. and then her at 3 a.m. then him at 3:15 a.m…. You get the idea.
“Please, sweetheart. You can tell me. You can tell me anything. I’m not going to laugh or get mad. I just want to help.”
She curled her body tightly like a shell and burrowed her head into me. I marveled at how flexible she is and remembered that I once was that pliable. Nothing about me feels the same anymore. The child I was is such a distant memory yet so vivid. It was as if I was merely visiting the body of that child and she was my host. I wasn’t allowed to be a child for very long. With both children, I try to make sure that they don’t feel rushed to be older or attain milestones until they’re ready. Much to my own downfall at times now that we’re returning to co sleeping yet again.
“Maybe in the daytime. When the light is out…” I desisted in pushing for an explanation and realized that it was pointless. We both were exhausted and, whether she knew the cause of her nightmare or not, we were not going to find a solution while struggling to stay awake.
“Ok,” I kissed her head and combed her hair with my fingers trying to detangle the worst of her sleep steamed curls as best I could, “In the daylight. You’re right.”
She probably was having the same nightmares again. Reliving the past. Reliving the monstrous episodes I couldn’t save her from. The hidden dangers that every parent doesn’t want to face. From the small indignities my kids face when people stare at them in the midst of a meltdown to the offensive remarks from educators about them and to them. Then I think of the larger fears and my chest tightens. The abuse she lived through at the hands of others under the guise of “typical” kid behavior. I think about the kids living through such atrocities yet magnified with the brutality of our government inflicting it on them daily as they cage them.
I thought once again of the many families ripped from their children at the border. Of those seeking asylum only to face greater dangers than those they escaped. It makes me sick that we’re expected to continue living our lives in acquiescence to a dictator that risks our safety and liberty with every passing day. What world are we leaving for our children? Who am I to think that my voice or vote matters? Yet I keep trying.
I woke to a knee in the middle of my shoulder blades and resisted the urge to shove whoever was doing so from my body. The sheets were pinned in around me as I pulled loose and rolled out of my bed as silently as possible. It felt like a special martial arts move but I’m sure it looked more like an SNL skit.
My phone flashed red then purple so I knew I had texts and emails from known contacts waiting for me. It wasn’t reassuring. I knew what they most likely were regarding and that no matter how well I explained my point of view I wasn’t going to change their opinion. Normally I would walk away from a futile debate such as this but when it’s regarding your kids you don’t have a choice. More importantly, it’s a fight you can’t turn from. A reminder pinged for me to vote. I nodded to myself and hit “snooze” so it would remind me after breakfast.
There’s some salient truths to me that have become more evident because of my circumstances as a parent but also with the political quagmire we’re living through.
Everyone needs to vote. Each vote needs to count. Everyone deserves equal rights. There is no compromise over these three beliefs.
I mused to myself what might be if the ballots in Oregon didn’t go our way. For the millionth time I worried over our kids losing their services. Their rights being limited yet again. Our insurance premium going sky high, yet again, with no explanation and the discrimination obvious with every denial of service or therapy.
The old floorboards creaked as I tried to sneak to the bathroom and back. The morning temp had suddenly taken on the chill of winter. I welcomed it and yet my body felt so much older this year. I rolled my neck and listened to the internal sound of a cheap tourist rain stick I once was gifted as a kid. It sounded like my vertebrae were tumbling down inside me.
From the dark I heard a giggle and the motion sensor light went off above and behind my head in the hallway as the distinctive pounding footsteps of Owen rang out. He sped past me and threw himself headlong into the bed alongside his sister. I now had a ten inch span of space to try and lay down in if I wanted to attempt to sleep once again. It was almost four in the morning. I sighed, climbed in with my back to them, and pushed back slowly until their little bodies accommodated me. They giggled like it was a game.
Owen popped up like a prairie dog, “OOO! I be right back!”
Our bodies were jarred in every direction as he exploded from the bed and ran into the front room. He returned just as quickly with his thundering little feet. Suddenly the room was lit with the light of his iPad and filled with the sounds of “Big Block Singsong”.
Leonora rolled over and groaned in a whimper. I shifted my body to lay on the opposite side of her so she could sleep. Owen snuggled closer to me and happily held the tablet to share with me.
“Owen, turn it down… please.”
“Ok, ok,… th’orry.”
“It’s ok, baby…. Kindness with each other. Sister hasn’t slept well. Let’s be really quiet.”
“Ooooo…okay…okay….LOOK!! I found favorite!”
He excitedly, and with good intentions, thoughtfully shoved the iPad into my face with one of my few favorite episodes from the show playing. He meant it to be kind but managed to bloody my lip instead.
So many interactions are like this at times. How do I explain? Should I explain? Lately I don’t try to explain anymore unless I have to. A bit of the fight has gone out of me. There’s too many battles in any given day that are physically near me and emotionally around me. Battling schools, battling bullies, battling attitudes. It’s too much sometimes.
I dabbed my lip with some coconut oil as I made their breakfast. The scab would last for a bit. It meant another week of dodging people. It’s too hard to explain my injuries at times. They’re not as frequent as they used to be. How do you explain that your kid hurts you? If you try, the unsolicited advice is overwhelming, hurtful for the most part, and the worst reaction is the incredulity. The disbelief that this toddler is physically abusing you. It’s one of those topics about autism most parents are reluctant to admit or discuss. It’s as if you’re admitting that you’re a failure as a parent.
Owen climbed on my lap later and touched my lip, “OOO, you got an owie!”
“I know. Do you remember how this happened?”
He didn’t respond. I waited for him to look at me. He didn’t, “No.”
“You hit me with the iPad. It was an accident though, I know. Do you remember?”
He leaned against me and grunted with frustration, “YES!”
He pushed away from me in a huff and ran into the other room.
I gave him a minute and followed after him. As I approached his sister’s closet, I could see his bare feet sticking out from underneath her dresses. I smiled and pushed the dresses apart gently, “Hi, buddy.”
His little face smiled up at me and then quickly scrunched up as he covered his face, “No.”
“I’m here when you went to talk, ok? I’ll sit right over here and wait.”
I touched his cheek and sat on the end of the bed.
He scooted towards me without opening his eyes and crawled up on the bed next to me. I began to rub his back and he relaxed against me.
“I know you didn’t mean to hurt me.”
He rolled over and hugged me around my head in his octopus style. I began to cry and he laughed, “No do, mama!”
We both laughed and I wiped my tears away, “I’m just so happy when you hug me.”
He laughed and agreed that I was fortunate in his magnanimous way, “Yeah.”
Leonora looked concerned as I came back into the room, “It’s ok, honey.”
She hugged me tightly, in a whisper, “You ok, mama?”
“Yeah. Mama is fine. Owen is ok too.”
She kept hugging me as we swayed slightly, “Did he mess with my clothes?”
I laughed and with a hint of mischief theatrically mocked, “NO, no way, just the ones he wiped his face on.”
Her eyes were wide as I smiled into them. She growled like a cat and went running in to check her dresses. Laughing, knowing that I was kidding, but checking nonetheless.
I checked my phone and saw that our Governor had won the race and we once again had Kate Brown. I sighed in relief and read over the ballot results once again. I made a silent wish that the rest of the country fair as well and hoped against hope that our country will begin to behave with decency towards each other once again. An article popped up about the children being held in detention centers. History repeating itself.
It wasn’t intended to be aloud but I found myself announcing, “How could anyone deny kids their freedom? How could anyone treat people this way?”
My husband looked at me with sadness, “They don’t think kids deserve any rights.”
I scoffed and shook my head, “No, they don’t think ANY of us deserve equal rights.”
I made the mistake of opening social media only to discover old friends and extended family battling each other over semantics. I’m just happy that they voted and said a wish for all of us that we see a better world for ourselves and our kids.