Since I had Georgia, I tend to feel more reflective at the end of each year, thinking about both her progression in the world and the evolution of our relationship. As mothers and adolescent daughters go, we have a good connection. Sure, there’s drama and rebellion on her part and some nagging and frustration on mine. But most days with Georgia are pretty easy and we like to spend time together. What would I like to change and make better?
First, I’d like to spend more focused time with Georgia. Of course, that means doing so on her terms – which is not unlike most kids and parents. But we spend a lot of time parallel to each other, rather than engaged with each other. Which is actually pretty okay. She’s happy to play in her space, the basement, while I work upstairs. She comes up and asks about what I’m doing, or watches for a while. I go downstairs to share a snack with her.
But typically we exist quite peacefully and beside each other. She actually likes me to literally be beside her (the invitation is always “come sit beside me, Mommy”) for certain television shows — after which I am instructed to leave immediately. We do lots of things together, we eat meals together, we go out places and on vacations and have plenty of time together doing the things that she needs help with, like dressing and bathing and braiding hair. But much of our time is spent in parallel.
There’s a lot of discussion of the notion of parallel play in kids with autism: where kids are happiest simply playing alongside other kids. Georgia did that often. She’d be thrilled to be with other children, but never engaged them in chatter or play. She’d watch them intently, laugh when they laughed (even if she didn’t understand the joke), repeat things they were saying and comment to herself about what she was seeing. She also developed a habit of giving other kids adult-style instructions and clear safety advice when they were playing: “Hey kids, be careful on that swing!” Kids who knew her never seemed bothered by it, but she still occasionally gets looks when she yells at 10-year-olds on the playground: “Hey boys, please be careful! No running!!!”
The fact that she is still a ‘parallel player’ is not surprising. I think that this year though I’m going to push myself on her a bit more, even just to be beside her for more hours of the day. Sit beside her while she watches one of her thousands of self-made short videos on her iPad. Watch a movie beside her on the couch every weekend. As long as I come bearing popcorn with butter and salt, she’ll let me stay.
The other thing I’ve been thinking about is the past year: it felt very reflective. Moving Georgia from grade eight into high school was a monumental transition for me. (For her, apparently, it was pretty damn easy.) It made me even more reflective about who Georgia is and what she’ll become. The trajectory of high school is meant to build a solid foundation for what’s to come, and the transformation from ‘kid’ to ‘young adult’ is a formative one. Facing that with Georgia, I’ve found it admittedly bittersweet and it’s made me engage in some serious soul searching. In 2013, that is.
It may sound like an odd almost-resolution but I’d like to do far less soul-searching in 2014. I don’t mean that I want to be more superficial. It means that I’d like to just worry a little less about the big things. I’m aware that the way I’m wired means I worry about the big things all the time; the danger is not only missing the really good, small things but the ease with which I can slip into “The Abyss” — the place my most serious worrying takes place.
It’s the place where I worry about what will happen to Georgia when I’m no longer around. Where I worry about how she’ll find happiness as she gets older or how she’ll be treated in what’s a pretty cruel world. It’s easy to go down intoThe Abyss (trust me, middle age hormones and Apple holiday commercials make the plunge far too easy). It can be as easy as hurdling down an icy luge. It’s cold and fast and dangerous and you reach the bottom so quickly, you hardly see it coming. It leaves you breathless.
Worrying about the big things often means taking that icy luge trip into a dark and cold place, a place where I ruminate on things yet to come. It’s easy to get out of and I only linger there occasionally, but still. Like Ebenezer Scrooge, I see that those things I fear may be yet to come can actually be altered by me.
In 2014, I’d like to not visit The Abyss so much. I suspect all parents have their own Abyss – the place where their deepest worries about their children take them. And I suspect that their experience is similar to mine. Worrying can take you there on a particularly grim day or when an important life transition is happening or other wonderful days when middle-aged hormones make you sob at dog food commercials with soft piano music.
It’s the reality of raising children: You worry. But as my mother says, so much of what we worry about never happens. And much of what I worry about are things that I can avoid happening. I’m not sure exactly how, at the moment, but I’m up to the challenge. The first tiny step is to probably live a little more in the present. Georgia, a true master of living-in-the-moment, is surely the one to help me with this.
So what almost-resolutions am I making this year? Well, I think I am happy to simply anticipate a year to come of spending less time on the icy luge ride and more time in the moment beside that fabulous kid, eating popcorn with plenty of salt and butter.