Monday 21 June 2010

And what does your Mother call you?

I was born fifth of eight. This was not good. I spent huge swathes of my life being a double middle child. Not the difficult attention seeking one, I strived for notice through invisibility: through an almost psychic ability to predict what would need to be done. I planned for every eventuality and obsessed over ensuring nothing could go wrong. I agreed: even when it took depths of unimaginable self-control.

The determination I channelled into making sense of autism stuns me now. No going with the flow for me. The unhappiest years of my life were the ones where I still believed I could cure, if not the condition, then definitely the behaviours. I was going to make Sonshine like-normal.

Then I evolved. Freed from the pressure-induced panic, I realised that, for a bad parent, I wasn’t doing too badly. 

It was the day my son, aged 13, went to the Community Dentist. He had been his usual challenging-in-a-public-place self. I had worked, red-faced, to keep him from anti-social activities in the crowded waiting room. The expressions, on the faces of the three professionals, read about an 8 on the I-pity-that-poor-mother Scale. 

Then the dentist approached him and said, “Hello, young man - what does your mother call you?”

The assistant caught my eye. She raised her eyebrow. I could read every one of the choice phrases she was working her way through.

The Boy took a deep breath and began with his full name but, somehow, I could tell he wasn’t finished ( the assistant’s nose twitched and the Pity-o-meter hit the full 10) “... but my Mum calls me: Sweetpea, Precious, Poppet and Son.”

That was the moment I stopped trying to make everything perfect. I settled for fine.

I couldn’t change the habits of a life-time over night, but that was the moment I decided  I was going to let him be - take time for me – and , eventually, to write.

My name is Elaine AM Smith but my Dad always called me Alanna - Gaelic 'a leanbh': 'O child'.


  1. What a lovely post! It sure started my day with a smile :)

  2. Aww, what a great story. My mother (and father) call me Pinky. They have since I was a baby. The only other person in the world allowed to call me that was my father's mother, but sadly she has passed on, so now my parents own exclusive rights to that nickname.

  3. Hi Karen - I'm glad the post started your day with a smile. It was a good day. Even when he tried to bite the dentist for putting a foul smelling mirror into his mouth.

    Karen Amanda, you have the cutest nickname. It is bitter-sweet remembering those who have passed and the ripples they have left behind.

  4. I can relate, being both a middle child and the parent of an autistic son. I just got back from a vacation in which I was constantly explaining to waitresses: he won't eat ravioli unless it has no sauce and he won't eat burgers with sesame seed buns so could you make it with two bottom buns please and I know you're not supposed to but can you make it as rare as possible because if it's even a little burned he won't...etc., etc.
    But honestly I don't let it bother me too much. I suppose I see myself in the role of defender?

  5. Hi Laura - it is such a relief to know someone else who has the same problems. My favourite is trying to explain why we cannot "Buy one:Get one free" when we only went shopping for the one.
    I'm a Bodyguard, too. I see my self as a Translator - not of language, but of behaviour.

  6. I didn't know we shared the pain of mothering an autistic child. Mine's almost 12. And because he's still such a little boy in so many ways, I often (in deepest frustration) call him by my brother's name. Though my bro is 40 years old, my subconscious memories of him are of how he taunted me in his youth. Strange, eh?

  7. Hi Wendy
    I didn't realise that we shared that experience either. We describe Sonshine as being very big for three. I have been considering if he has actually hit four, developmentally, although he is technically adult.
    I had so many brothers to choose from, if I ended up calling Sonshine one, in a subconscious trip down memory lane, it would sound like I was calling the register. ;)
    The funniest thing for me is when my daughter - the Minnow - is so frustrating that I end up calling her by her brother's name!

    The statistics, on the number of children born with autism, are climbing annually. It is very worrying.