My sister Radha’s fourth post about life as an autism mom.
Just so you know, we are those people. We have a couch in our dining room, and let me tell you, it gets sat on a lot.
I didn’t plan it. I had planned on a dining room that had credible dining room furniture in it. In fact, I spent a ton of time decorating our (couch filled) living room, and envisioned all of us piling in there to chat, watch movies, play board games and Twister, do yoga, and who knows what else. At no point did I say, “You know, there really needs to be a couch in the eating part of the house too.”
The little guy watched the living room decorating process with keen interest. He skittered about when his dad was installing the media cabinet, patted the delivery men affectionately when the new couches arrived, approved the paint color by warbling at the top of his lungs, and almost passed out with delight when he returned from school to find a coffee table in there. Nothing makes him happier than watching processes. They show rather than tell, which is just how he learns.
So the day came. The room was done. I had even unearthed an appropriately stately looking bowl to place on the coffee table. All of us stood about solemnly, studying the tableau, filled with self love and smug satisfaction.
It was then that Gumby decided to show his appreciation for the beautiful job we had done. Surely we meant it as an homage to his leisure time. He shook his head, removed the useless bowl, and promptly placed his wooden toys on the table.
When we didn’t have any kids yet, we laughed over a New Yorker (I think) article about how the 90s generation of parents was so into the granola lifestyle, and everyone had to buy character building wooden toys. And here we were, with a coffee table full of character building wooden toys! We still laugh about that, but it’s more a laugh at our own delusions.
Anyway, the room became Gumby’s safe spot. Everything was where he wanted it to be, and the noise and lighting were kept at a tolerable level in there. We decided to humor him, and balanced it out by not letting the creep of colonialism spread to any other part of the house. To this day, he only enters our master bathroom for a haircut, and never for any other reason, not because we don’t allow it, but because he doesn’t want to linger in a room he can’t manage. Same with his sister’s room. He was highly offended when she wouldn’t let him dispose of a pillow he found ugly, and won’t step over the threshold, which works for her just fine, since she’s a teenager and her room is her shrine to solitude.
At the peak of the Living Room Tyrant’s reign, my husband and I conceded defeat, and moved the old, battered couch into the dining room. We needed a spot to sit, where we could talk and work without stressing out Le Gumb, and where we could dump some comfy cushions. Did I mention the no cushions rule? Maybe I forgot, just because, you know, there were too many rules to remember.
The battered couch in the dining room soon became my mom lair. It still is, really. I don’t care if it looks weird, I love it, and I can keep an eye on my stove, my kid, and the front door. So brilliant, and equally tyrannical! Gumboo and I can be the next Frank Lloyd Wrights, telling our clients how to sit properly and staging their lives just so, requiring the humans to do justice to the architecture and decor, and not the other way around. *cackle*
Lots of things have changed since the room decorating saga, one of which is that the little guy has relaxed some of his rules. We are now welcome in his perfect room, and as long as we don’t upset his sensory apple cart, we can stay. Dad gets banished during allergy season because his sneezes are too loud.
But because the little guy now seeks out people to play with him, and he understands that my dining room couch is my lair, GUESS WHO NOW WANTS TO SIT WITH ME ALL THE TIME? You guessed right. We are constantly in a tangle of limbs, and just when I need to make a phone call or get my work from the printer, I am assailed by Gumby love. He puts his hand on my arm and says Mama, and I am a fool for that kind of affection, so we end up having a romp and laughing till we are exhausted.
It’s neocolonialism at its finest. And it’s also my most secret dream realized–that my son would someday want to engage and play with us, that he would let down his sensory guard just a bit, that he would call me something (Mama makes my eyes fill with tears because I waited a decade to hear it), and if it takes being followed around and colonized to get him to open up, I’ll take it. I’ll redecorate every room in the house if that’s the result we’ll get. Practically speaking, of course I won’t do that, since he would leave us with no pillows and we’d have to stop sneezing altogether. But the sentiment stands.
We work all the time, in tandem with his home therapists, on getting him to be more accommodating and less upset by small changes, and to a large extent, it’s bearing fruit. It’s his essential nature to seek out and establish patterns, though, so he moves on to find another focus for his pattern making. We raise the bar for his behavior, and he raises the bar for our parenting.
Every day has a character building wooden toy hidden in it somewhere.
Disclaimer: Gumby is the clay animation figure created by Art Clokey. We use the nickname in affection, and I am not profiting off the name.