I forget sometimes that my son is different. We go for days with nothing out of the ordinary, nothing a normal parent wouldn’t call typical. And so I forget.
Then there are days when the simplest task takes 40 minutes and spawns a mad mommy and a pouting seven-year-old. There are days that become exercises in the basics of dealing with a kid on the spectrum. This is one of those days.
First came the innocent request, “I want chocolate milk.”
For those of you who know my son, it is possible to appreciate the miracle of simply that. Two years ago he might point, whine, grab my hand and lead me to the fridge, but get out a perfectly formed sentence? Not so much. He has grown.
We make a lot of chocolate milk in our house. It’s a staple in his diet. We buy Hershey’s syrup in bulk and milk gets replenished every couple of days. And we have a lot of little plastic cups with lids and straws around. We use a fork to stir and my son gets to help with every part of the process. Every part.
Today I grabbed a cup and watched as he went to the fridge to get the ingredients. I appreciate that he can lift them successfully by himself. He isn’t a baby anymore.
He put them on the counter and popped the top of the syrup bottle. As he flipped it over to squirt it into the cup, I asked if he would like my help.
“I do it,” came his reply. He was smiling.
I stood and watched him. He did it perfectly. I smiled too.
He closed the syrup and I put it away. When I turned back, he was distracted. His favorite show was on t.v. and he was eying it from across the room.
I stood and looked at him and then I glanced at my half eaten breakfast sitting on the table. My smiled faded. I said his name and asked if he wanted to finish the chocolate milk. No response.
I said his name again. Still nothing, so I picked up the milk and began to pour it in the cup. When it reached the halfway point, my son turned toward me and said “I pour the milk,” but by the time he got that out, the cup was full.
I replaced the cap and put the carton in the fridge. And then his lip stuck out. And his cheeks got red. And his arm started to shake. I lost a little patience.
“I pour the milk,” he repeated, but this time his voice was trembling and quieter.
“The cup is full,” I explained. “No more milk will fit.” I grabbed the fork and began to stir. My son lost his mind.
I tried the sometimes successful pretend-like-it’s-no-big-deal approach and asked if he wanted to help me with the stirring. His body shook in response. I kept on going.
Maybe his need for the calories and the sugar would overtake his upset and everything would be fine. I stirred some more.
When the milk had browned, I removed the fork and held it out cheerfully toward my son. “Do you want to lick the fork?” I asked. Surely he would lick the fork. He always licks the fork. He threw himself to the floor. I got annoyed.
“Okay, here’s your chocolate milk,” I said and walked back to my breakfast. I feigned an even temper. I sat and ate a few spoonfuls. I purposefully kept my eyes from the kitchen. I filled in a few spots on the crossword puzzle. I hoped he was drinking the milk. I ate another spoonful.
The kitchen was quiet, but my heart sank because I knew that he was stuck, unable to get past the anguish of the missed milk pouring. He had to pour the milk. He had to pour the milk or his day was over. And my day too.
I sighed and ate another spoonful. Then a plastic footstool came flying through the air and landed just in front of me. A sharp reprimand. It was replaced.
I called him to my side, put my arm around his little shoulders and tried to drag some words out of him. None would come.
I tried again. “Why are you mad?” and “What do you want?” Still nothing.
Then I gave in and put the words there for him. “I am mad because I want to pour the milk.”
“Yes.” came the tiny, quivering reply.
I hugged him and said “okay.”
New syrup. New milk. New cup and straw and lid.
We went back and started over.
Just like yesterday.
Just like tomorrow.
Just like always, because he’s different and it’s fine.