There’s a good-natured running joke in my family about me and my odd relationship between punctuality and lateness. They laugh that since
I was born a little bit early, I’ve been making up for it ever since by running late. It’s funny because there’s truth in it. As an autistic woman with time agnosia, I do find myself rushing more than I’d like! I often try to compensate for it by building in extra time and/or getting an early start, but that backfires too because sometimes I end up arriving way too early, which can be perceived by some as being just as impolite as being late! (Darned if I do, darned if I don’t…)In recent months this dynamic has been complicated by some changes in our family’s life, namely a return to “traditional” five day a week brick-and-mortar schooling as well as a return to full-time employment. This has been a huge shift for all of us.
Early mornings. Full days of peopling. Homework. Bedtime routines. Etc.(Sometimes I wonder if it’s all worth it.)
I suspect that even if I didn’t struggle with timeliness ordinarily, I would in this instance. It’s a lot of work to get the six of us ready and out the door. Some of us struggle with falling asleep and therefore drag in the mornings. One of us has arthritic joint pain that is worsened by cold weather, and it’s typically colder in the morning here than in the afternoons (so that slows things down also). Some of us need a certain temperature of water to wash up; certain types of lotions or body moisturizers that don’t create a sensory nightmare…and/or a particular brand/flavor of toothpaste. Hair brushing must be done starting from a certain side of the head and in a certain order with just the right pressure – not too hard, not too soft.
Getting dressed? The clothes that are selected must feel comfortable…no itchy tags or bunched up seams. No buttons or zippers that pinch against the skin. No shoes that hug the feet too snugly.
“Just wake up earlier then,” you might say, “to make up for all of that.” Sometimes that is a solution, but often it is counterproductive.
My kiddoes need a certain amount of sleep in order to be able to function. When they have to face the day with less, they have a difficult time making it through the day. And so do I, for that matter.I have my own routines too. I check the light switches as I’m heading out the door to make sure they’re turned off, and I always check in the same order. I grab my keys in the same hand each day. I put on my employee badge and make sure the lanyard is facing the way I want it to face. I start praying aloud with the kids for our day as I reverse the car and finish before we make our second right turn.
One day we were running even more behind than we usually are. Fearing negative consequences at work, I attempted to rush everyone out of the house. Knowing that being rushed can be stressful for some of the children, I tried a little humor to speed things up. I made up a goofy departure jingle and sang it in a silly, off-tune voice. I added a bouncy dance to go with it and deliberately swayed off beat. My plan backfired; the kids were amused by my antics and started laughing loudly. Because they were laughing, now there were moving even more slowly than normal.
Bad idea. Time for plan B.
I decided to go “no-nonsense mom” on them. Using a stern tone of voice, I called each of them by their full name and told them to get
going NOW! This earned me whining from the younger kids and loud sighing from the older kids, along with a few “You don’t have to get all mean!” glances.
I groaned inwardly. Time was running out. I was going to need a different approach.
I decided that it was time for some honesty.
AND it was time for some begging.
“Guys,” I said, “I’ve been late to work a lot lately. I really need to get up there on time. If I keep coming late I can get in trouble.
Maybe lots of it. Will you hurry to the car? PLEASE?”
It mostly worked. Four out of five of my brood headed to the car. Only one stayed back; my youngest. I saw no urgency in his expression; no
swiftness in his movements. He dawdled happily near the front door in his bare feet, backpack still hanging on the peg. Under his breath he was humming the jingle I had just finished singing. It was clear that he had no intention of rushing.
“Honey,” I cajoled with a faux syrupy sweetness I wasn’t feeling inside, “we need to go. Let’s put on your socks and shoes.”
Still humming, he turned away from the socks and shoes and instead toward some toys. Bending low, he reached for them and began to line them up in precise order.
Several toys slipped from his hands, knocking against the ones he’d already lined up and disrupting the straightness of the line. He frowned in distress at the disorder. I felt like frowning too; it did look out of whack…plus I was getting even later. Without thinking, I walked over and straightened the line.He stiffened, cried out, and swung his foot across the part of the line that I’d touched. His face contorted and I knew he was hurt and near tears. I winced, understanding exactly what I’d done wrong. What a jerk move on my part.
“I’m sorry.” This time my tone was genuine. No singsong voice, no yelling, exaggeratedly sweet pleading. Just real. “I know you can do it yourself…and I know that you need to do it yourself. I’m sorry.”
I am the main one who admonishes people to give my kids, especially my son, time. I constantly emphasize to others the importance of showing him the respect of letting him do things on his own. I also highlight how he self-regulates through some of his scripting and patterns. And why wouldn’t he need to try to calm down when his mother had been acting like as erratically as I had been that morning? Was I really SO late that I couldn’t afford my child a few much-needed seconds to right himself for the day? Was saving a few seconds worth his psyche? Ugh. I know better.
At least I should.
He stood near the mess, not looking at me and not moving. We waited in silence together.
“I was wrong,” I admitted. “I’m really worried about being late and not being able to do my job. I wasn’t thinking. I shouldn’t have done
that to you. May I hold the ones you’re not using so you can fix the line?” I asked. “Then when you’re ready for them, you can come get them from me and put them in their place in line. I won’t do the line for you. I’ll just stand here and hold them until you need them.”He pondered, and gently handed me some of the toys he had clutched in his arms. What a sweet, forgiving child I have. I watched as he tidied the line. Then he came over to me and reached for the toys I was holding. I watched as he added them to the line. Now finished, he smiled at his work. Then he smiled at me. I smiled back.
He sat down and lifted his left foot, which is my cue to help him with his socks and shoes. As I slid a Marvel Avengers sock on one foot
he said, “Mom, you were wrong.”
My heart felt like it would break. “I know I was wrong, sweetie,” I said softly. “I said I was sorry.”
“No,” he said forcefully. “I mean you were wrong when said you were worried about doing your job. You ARE doing your job. You’re being my
mom.” He reached for the other sock and put it on himself, albeit crooked. He smiled broadly at me. I smiled back and lifted him into my arms.
Yes, I was late that day. But that day my son gave me a powerful reminder. About what really matters. No responsibility in my life is above my primary responsibility to myself and to my family. Fulfilling work, school, or other important duties are indeed important – but they are secondary
at best, and though they are of value, they should never surpass more meaningful things.
I run late. A lot. And even right now as I write this the dishes need washing; laundry needs folding; the oil in my car needs changing; tests need grading; lessons need planning; and I have emails and PMs that need answering. As an autistic mom to autistic kids and kids with other disabilities, I have a unique set of life circumstances that require a lot from me – and I’m not going to pretend like I always have my stuff together. I don’t. I try hard, but I don’t – period. I am far from a perfect employee or a perfect parent. I know that very well.Yet despite my many imperfections, I was somehow fortunate enough to land the “job” of mom to a handful of awesome little people who love me very much even when I screw up.That day my son did me a great service; he reminded me there’s no greater job on Earth than the one I have as their mom. I don’t always do it right, but I am grateful to have this role, and I will keep striving to be the best at it that I can be, because they deserve that and more. And no matter how late I might be, I will try my best to always make time to learn how to be the mom that they need.