I really blew it tonight.
I thought that some cookies and milk before bed sounded like a nice snack for the kids, so I baked up a batch of chocolate chunk cookies and poured cold milk into paper cups for each of my four children. As I distributed treats to the older kids, Ben retrieved a giant tumbler from the cupboard and poured himself some milk--somewhere around two quarts of it. I knew Ben would not only not drink that much milk, but that he'd most likely spill it. So I took the cup from him, poured the contents back into the milk container, and then handed him a paper cup of milk as I had given to the other children.
And he lost it.
He slammed the cup to the ground, splattering milk all over the newly cleaned floor, cabinets, refrigerator, and range. He fired off a round of the most terrible yet nonsensical language you'd ever hear come from the mouth of a seven year old, and stomped upstairs where he proceeded to kick the walls, punch and abuse the long-ago-destroyed plantation shutters in his window, throw toys and books out of his closet and all over the freshly vacuumed bedroom and hallway floors, and once I finished mopping up the milk, I broke the cardinal rule of parenting an autistic child.
I lost it, too.
I yelled. He yelled back. I took him into a "basket hold" to prevent more damage to his room. He craned his head around and spit into my face. I held him tighter. He squirmed free and landed several punches and kicks on my arms and back. I threatened him with a cold shower. He screamed at the top of his lungs. I mustered all my emotional resources and left him in his room with a warning that if he didn't stop, I'd be back. He resumed his destruction of the walls and windows. I returned. And so it went for nearly 40 minutes.
I couldn't stay in the room with him because he continued to hurt me. I couldn't leave him in the room alone because he was literally destroying it.
All I could do was ask him, over and over, to use words. "Ben! Use words to tell me what you want! Just ask for what you want! PLEASE just tell me what you want--tell me in words!!"
At long last, when I had just begun to think that I really could not survive one more minute, he yelled, "Fine! Mom-will-you-PLEASE-get-me-some-milk?!" So, I did. As quickly and quietly as I could, I retrieved a paper cup of milk and a cookie, and brought them to him in his bed. I watched him in a haze of fatigue, heartache, and relief as he calmly dipped his cookie into his milk and consumed both with the gentle slurping sounds of contented childhood, as if nothing at all had interrupted a serene bedtime ritual. Three minutes later he was buried under his blankets, sound asleep.
For the past few weeks, I've caught myself watching internet video clips, t.v. shows, and movies about autistic children (The Temple Grandin Story is a particularly lovely movie, by the way, if you haven't seen it yet). Secretly, I've been hoping that the children in those clips and shows would not be anything like Ben. I've caught myself hoping that the language, coping skills, and behaviors of those other children would seem totally foreign to me. However, everything I've seen only reinforces to me that Ben is autistic, and my heart hurts.
So tonight I find myself sitting alone at the kitchen table, my arms and back aching from Ben's earlier blows, my hands still stinging from his fingernail scratches, and I can't seem to stop crying. I'm crying because I can't always understand him. I'm crying because I don't know how to "fix" him. I'm crying because I don't know how to reach him.
And tonight, when I trace the uproar of the evening back to its genesis, I'm crying over a paper cup of spilt milk.