A Private Look at Autism and Motherhood
Sometimes life is too much. I feel this way. Of course, she feels this way too. How am I supposed to instill in my girl a capacity for dignity and self-respect, while I also acknowledge her requisite burden of crippling unease? I must be her example. I’m duty-bound to set a precedent.
Not always sure of my questions, I’ve enquired all over the map. I’ve gathered a handful of sugar pills on our journey that do serve their purpose well, but the ultimate panacea still eludes us. I cannot keep searching relentlessly. Surely I must simply recall and cling to just one excerpt of wisdom and make it our mantra. I must determine well.
In truth, the real world gives up reams of profound instruction but not a single seed that could diffuse or destroy the fury and the despair at the same time as it grips us.
Of course, we know exertion is the answer—to pace and pound and stride until we are exhausting our disquiet along with our somatic selves. I rarely yearn to break into a run, but I will do it. My daughter, though, will not entertain sprinting at the end of a school day, nor when technology fails her, nor when she can’t bear to sit at the dinner table, nor at bedtime when subjective self-loathing rises and recurs.
We fall back on our attempts at measured breathing. She screams, wails, and whimpers. Sobbing, stamping, punching pillows. We plunder her box of items to throw and break—anything to avoid her hurting herself again. Any distraction from her own cherished form. Cherished by us. We have learned to draw our feelings and our eloquence abounds should we be asked to describe them, but what’s lacking is a strategy to neutralize their suffocating grip. My greatest sadness is in accepting that her essence takes on every droplet of your displeasure, impatience, or disinterest and turns it inward. Her pores ingest your intonation and consume every person’s often-unconscious passive-aggression. You don’t see what happens when she withdraws from you all. Very few do. It is a joyless privilege.
Tonight, she wants to die. She doesn’t want to be herself. She read each flicker in your eyes. She accumulated every vibration. Today, she said, “My life is not worth anything!” Tomorrow, in class, she will find it hard to sit still. She will battle again to remain in the flow of your dialogue. She will be processing many things all at once while staring past you. She will seem distracted, but she hears everything and takes her time to process it perfectly. She cares what you say. She cares to exhaustion. She has no choice but to take her precious time. She hears way more than you and I. She feels your frustration. She blames herself for spoiling your day, your week—your life, actually. Your vibrations overwhelm her. She hates herself and I love her so much.
—Mother to Lola, aged 9.
Teresa Potter is 46 years old. She abandoned her writing career very early on and succumbed to earn a ‘sensible’ wage. Having re-invented herself many times as sales exec, recruiter, small business owner, songwriter, horticulturist, and designer, she married at 34 years old and became a mother at 37.
With one daughter and a husband (both of whom have high-functioning autism), a cat, and a dog, Teresa describes her home life as joyfully unconventional while lacking in structure and routine but for her daily dog walk.
Teresa and Mojo, the Chocolate Labrador, understand one another perfectly because, apparently, all cats have Asperger’s, too.
This article was featured in Issue 62 – Motherhood: An Enduring Love