“TELL ME I AM THE BOSS, EVEN IF IT IS NOT TRUE!”
This is what he screamed at me during the four hour episode I am now calling “the exorcism”.
It is a ridiculous statement, really. And even more ridiculous when being said by a little boy to his mother. That little boy is mine. But on this day, and on many days as of late, I don’t always recognize him. My little boy is sweet. He is my “easy” child, compliant and agreeable. This new little boy who lives in our home, well, he’s angry and difficult.
It was a hard week. Beginning on Monday with defiance, anger, disrespect…more anger. I talked to Michael at lunch time.
“I think we need to check and see if our insurance covers behavioral therapy”, I pleaded.
Michael answered me with logic, which is his forte and greatly needed in our household.
“I don’t think this is related to Asperger’s. It might be manifesting itself through the lens of that, but think back to when this behavior started…” I began to think it through as he continued. “This started because we have been changing the rules on him. We are calling him on his behavior and it makes him mad. This is classic strong-willed child stuff. We have to stick to our guns…and eventually he will ge the message.”
I took in his words, determined to “stick to my guns”, no matter the cost. But I was still unsure. Maybe he cannot help this. Maybe this anger will just get worse. This is the hard part of having a child on the spectrum – differentiating what is an autism apple…and what is just an apple. So, I cannot blame all of this on the Asperger’s. Although, the Asperger’s and I must share the blame. Because of Zeke’s delays, sensitivities and reliance on schedule and routine, I have been allowing him to call the shots for a while. Sometimes, I am aware of it, as in the case of deciding where to eat lunch. A typical exchange might go like this:
“Where are we going for lunch, mom?”
“I don’t know, Zeke. I was thinking about Panera.”
“No! I don’t like it. It’s yucky.”
“OK, well, where do YOU want to go?”
And that’s where we go.
Sometimes, it is not that obvious – the surrendering of authority. Sometimes, I just let the reins slide gently from my hands to his. Instead of being a mother, I have settled into the role of pacifier. For the cause of peace. So there is no tantrum. So the proverbial apple cart remains stable.
I did better with Julia. I didn’t worry about her. Julia is great at adapting. Adapting is really hard for Zeke. So, over time, I…we, adapted to him.
Trouble with this is, he has to learn to adapt. And in the name of love, for the sake of peace, I have been robbing him of the chance to practice that skill that he will desperately need in order to thrive in his life.
When we know better, we do better. So, we have changed the rules in our home. And it has rocked Zeke’s world (and mine) something terrible.
The exorcism happened on Wednesday this week. On Monday night, after a battle of wills reminiscent of a scene in “Breakfast Club”, Zeke lost games for the week, followed by TV for the week.
As he was logging on the computer on Wednesday, I quietly reminded him that losing games included computer games.
“That’s stupid….That’s a stupid rule.”
My mind began to race through possible loopholes that I could present to him. Maybe there was a way he could earn computer games back…this is what I do, you see. I hate conflict. And no one asked me about that before I had children! No, I had to stick to my guns. There’s a new sherriff in town…even if she doesn’t really feel comfortable in the gear.
He got louder. “DID YOU HEAR ME, MOM?? THIS IS A STUPID RULE!”
Zeke is nothing if not consistent. And I knew he would not tire of repeating this if I did not respond to it.
“Zeke, I understand you feel like it is a stupid rule. You lost games because you did not obey mom and dad. Next time, I hope you will make a different choice.”
“I WON’T!” he shouted.
At this point, the soundtrack switched to Ozzy. And off the rails we went.
He yelled. He kicked. He hit the TV. He spit on the floor. I sent him to his room. He refused to go. I counted. I threatened. I swatted. Nothing seemed to work. He threw a handful of Leapster cartridges at me. “Bombs away!” he chuckled as they hit my back. Trying to remain calm, I picked them up and put them on top of the refrigerator. “You have lost those now,” I said.
I picked him up and took him to his room. “I am not going to be around you when you are acting this way. You are going to stay in here until dinner time.”
He did stay in his room, but only so that he could throw clothes out of drawers, fling toys at the ceiling fan and kick his door. Repeatedly.
“Zeke, you can be mad. But you have to stop destroying your room. If you don’t, I am going to take your blanket.”
I should tell you, the child loves his blanket. It is the companion piece to his thumb. I don’t remember a night that he has not slept with it. His affection for this particular item should have been enough to nip this in the bud. However, he was in too deep at this point. So, he answered instead with, “FINE!”
I took the blanket and put it in my car’s trunk.
“That’s FINE, MOM. Take my sheet too.” So I did.
I also took the comforter, fitted sheet and pillow case. Anything that he could suck on with his thumb.
He continued to rage.
“I WANT GAMES BACK. I WANT GAMES BACK. THIS IS A STUPID RULE!!”
Finally, he was quiet.
I invited him to come out and join us for dinner. “I want cereal”, he said.
“I made cheeseburger macaroni tonight, Zeke.”
“I hate that. I want cereal. Give me cereal, mom.”
I knew full well what was coming. I could have given him cereal, but I knew that I had to stay at the helm for the rest of this day’s journey. A bowl of cereal would have pacified. A b0wl of cereal would have kept the peace. But, a bowl of cereal made him the boss. And I couldn’t have that. Not on this day. Not ever again. So, I stood my ground.
“Our family is not having cereal tonight. We are having what I made. If you don’t like the macaroni, you can eat the carrots and the blueberries.”
He poked each item with his fork. “I hate this….and I hate this….I only like the blueberries.”
So, he ate blueberries. And then he was sent back to his room to get ready for bed.
I came to his room once I had cleaned up the kitchen. “Zeke, you are not the boss of this house. I have let you be the boss sometimes, and that was mommy’s mistake. Mommy and daddy are the bosses, and you will obey us the first time, even if you think the rules are stupid.”
“TELL ME I AM THE BOSS, EVEN IF IT IS NOT TRUE! Just tell me, mom. Just tell me that I am the boss.”
“No, Zeke. You are not the boss.”
“Tell me, mom. Please just tell me that.”
“No, Zeke. I will not tell you a lie. I will tell you that I love you. I will tell you that I am glad you are my son. But I will not tell you a lie. You are not the boss.”
There was no holy water flicked upon his face. But even so, his anger began to change into sadness as the consequences of the day began to sink in. We followed our regular tuck-in routine. We said his prayer. I read him a story (“Snuggle Puppy”) and sang him my love song.
And then I left him for the night, lying on a bare mattress, a belly full of blueberries and regret.
(I would like to say at this point, I did come back once he was asleep and cover him up. I am not heartless, you know.)
And that was the exorcism. It was not pretty, folks. It was hard. As I read this, it sounds like I was tough stuff, major mommy-material. But remember, my wimpiness is the reason we are having to go through this re-teaching process. I had a rock in my stomach the entire time and cried many tears in the bathroom during this day. The worst part is, it might not be the last time. But I am proud of the progress that was made, even though the fruit may not yet be seen. There was good work done on this wretched day. A new trail was blazed – a trail that we will continue to travel on as Zeke grows up.
Lessons learned today: It is never too late to be the mom you want to be. And Tony Danza is not the boss.
I am not Catholic. But I think even the pope would have been proud.