“But he looks so ‘normal’..”.

You’re right, he does.

His eyes are a deep greenish-hazel colour and are huge on his soft, heart shaped face. They’re perfectly spaced, and look into you rather than at you. His auburn hair is ruffly, and sits neatly above his smoothly pressed eyebrows. His skin is olive toned, and he carries a year-round glow. He has these wonderfully sparse freckles, delicately dotted across his cheeks and over the bridge of his button nose. He was gifted from his father plump, cupid bow lips, an endearing tooth-gap and a wide, open smile.

Physically, Eddie is just about perfect and that within itself is a large part of the problem. He is different. I know it, anyone who knows him, knows it, and within a few minutes of meeting him most strangers do, too. Eddie totters on the edge of the Autistic spectrum, he’s never formally been diagnosed, but as a mother I don’t need a piece of paper with a word on to know my own son.

Raising Eddie has been no cake-walk.  It has been a most difficult task, and still is. Me and his father are separated, and there in itself is a massive contribution to the difficulties I have experienced. We parent differently, and that leaves room for inconsistencies and mixed messages – a huge no,no with Autism. But then you’d need both parties to accept that Eddie is autistic, for co-parenting to work well, wouldnt you? Yea…

So there he was, wrapped in a blanket. It was February 2010, a cold winter afternoon and Eddie comes into the world via emergency c-section. A bouncing, big, baby boy. Bruised from a lengthy and fruitless attempt at natural labour, but beautiful none-the-less. He took his first mucousy breath and my world was changed forever.

He was never an easy baby, never.  Right from the get-go, to get Eddie to sleep more than an hour or just settle, was impossible. He had this ultra-high demand for physical attention but seemingly rejected it when I obliged. It was that which drove me absolutely mad and I was so young, and so tired and stupidly unprepared. Right there, in the whirlwind of those first few days even, is where our problematic attempt at bonding with one-another began. He would scream, and scream, and scream and I would cry. Oh, I would wail. I’d stand staring at this red-faced thrashing ball of flesh and wonder what on earth I had done wrong.. What exactly was he crying for?  Why couldn’t I just get him settled? Everyone else seemed to be experiencing a different, happier version of parenthood-  they plastered it all over my social media feed and with each scroll I felt jealous bile bubble and burn at the pit of my throat. I was at a loss, I was sad, I was afraid.

He hit six-months old, he was crawling. I felt pride, but I’ll be real – his naps and the television were my saviour. He’d sit and chew his fists and make humming noises to himself while engrossed in a cartoon, and I would thank the lord above every day for CBeebies. I’d have a cup of tea, perched anxiously on the edge of the sofa cushion. Waiting with bated breath, dreading the credit scenes, dreading the noise. Once the TV programme ended, I knew that the feed and scream and scream and scream until he dropped would begin, again. I felt sick with dread waking up every morning, and I felt ridiculous that I just couldn’t bond with him. I simply didn’t feel there was anything to love about him, even as beautiful as he was. I couldn’t tell anyone that, back then, not even my own mother. I was terrified of him, and of how he made me feel so far from connected with myself, with anything. I stayed silent.

I remember one particular day, the cycle had begun and I snapped. I walked back from the kitchen where I’d slammed my cup into the sink and he was there, in his bouncer. I’d only been gone ten seconds, but already he was crimson, hysterical. I leaned forward into the doorway and I could feel the saliva gathering in the corners of my mouth, the sweat on my brow and then, it spewed out:

SHUT THE FUCK UP, WILL YOU?  JUST FUCKING SHUT UP, EDDIE. SHUT FUCKING-UP. I CANT TAKE IT, SHUT THE FUCK FUCKING UP

I was screaming and panting, hunched over, like an animal. My hands were white at the knuckle, gripping with ferocity the baby gate that separated me from my baby. My arms and legs shaking with adrenaline. I slumped to the floor. I was thankful for that baby gate, and I was sad when I realised Eddie had stopped crying. He was silent. I had absolutely terrified my son, I felt ashamed.

I cried the whole day and the one after that, and if I recall properly, the one after that. It never happened again. After the release, I held my baby, I let him cry and thrash and we got through it, hour by hour, day by day. It transpired Eddie had merciless colic/silent reflux, but the diagnosis brought me no relief, just knowledge and extra things to Google in hopes of helping with his discomfort. Some days I can’t help but look back now at those long days, as I care for Eryn with such happiness and contentment. I am sometimes overwhelmed by waves of sadness and guilt, but also I feel pride, I survived a bastard of a time, without hurting Eddie and without hurting myself.

Eddie got to around I’d say, 14 months and I found I was at such a different place to a lot of my friends, none of them really had kids, or wanted them just yet..I couldn’t really relate to them anymore. It wasn’t anything they’d done, I just knew they couldn’t be what I needed to get through life with this child. I needed mother-and-baby groups if I were to have any social life at all. That’s when I met the women from NetMums and they would bring me to a time that would prove to be both the best and worst of places for me and Eddie during his toddler years.

I met Clare, (she hopefully won’t mind me mentioning her here, as she’s an integral part to this part of the post) and a few other local mums. Clare had a toddler, who I will only name as J, the same age as Eddie. I liked him. J wasn’t a patch on the unruly toddler Eddie was proving to be, but he had character, spunk, and Clare went about parenting in a way I could appreciate and relate to when shit went down. We would go on day trips, her house, to mine, and just let the kids basically destroy everything, during which time we sat and had a cup of tea, talked about the never-ending struggle of losing/gaining weight, how our clothes smelled of damp and/or cat piss and probably bitched about the other mums we hung around with (Sorry, guys, it’s true!).

I felt some relief when I was with the group, but particularly Clare. She got me, and I got her, we just clicked. I felt I had met someone who accepted her children were not perfect and could be shitheads, but that it was okay. She, like me, knew her kids were not always wonderfully behaved, and would eat their own faces in fury if you said the word ‘no’ just one time too many that day, but we could whine to one another, and we’d get through it.

It was about this age I noticed that Eddie was definitely different to other kids. He seemed unable to respond to/react to facial and social cues, and it was when I had my first suspicions he was on the spectrum. He didn’t react to me the way I had seen any of my siblings do (I’m the eldest of 6), bar one, who had always been a bit different. He didnt behave the way other children did, or play as they did with one another. His behaviour was off and he was just…unusual.

We were one day, I recall, at a play area.. It was quite a small, loud and ridiculously over priced place but the kids liked it, and we got ten minutes to chat. Eddie was playing in the ball-pit when in walks this woman, carrying a car seat. Eddie had this unfathomable obsession with newborns and I had no idea (still don’t to this day) where it came from or why he felt that way, he didn’t even know any babies, really. I spotted him, but not before he had spotted the car-seat and frantically bolted towards it, my chair scraped hard against the floor as it flew back and I rushed to grab him, but I was too slow.

This brand new baby, no more than a month old, now had claw marks all around the eye where Eddie had ‘touched’ him. Big, red indentations and an absolutely horrified (and I expect secretly disgusted) mother, fussing and consoling her now hysterical child. I apologised until my lips felt numb, and my mouth was dry then slinked away. My bladder pinched at me and I felt like I was going to piss myself with embarrassment .I  breathed in deep and dragged a kicking and screaming Eddie away. I got home that day and I sobbed, everything felt so ridiculous. What was wrong with him, and why didn’t he behave like everyone else? I had absolutely f&cked up this parenting game, as far as I was concerned, and I was shit, so shit at being any kind of mother.

Every meeting I went to went similar to this one, and if Eddie managed to fit in and appear ‘normal’ for the afternoon, then I’d leave relieved when the session came to an end. I’d smile and think that things could get better, that he was getting easier. Similarly, If he acted up, I knew they wouldn’t reject me from the next meeting. The women seemed to genuinely think I was a good mum, and it was beyond my control. If Eddie grabbed J’s face, me and Clare put it down to toddler-hormones and if J smacked Eddie, we just laughed it off (we both know this happened, constantly..!). I was finally able to semi-relax, it was good for me and Eds. I never formally thanked Clare (and her now-husband Matt) for having me there, and getting me through those rough weeks. But I am now, if they’re reading – thank you guys, for everything.

Eddie is around twenty months old in my next vivid memory of his very young , difficult years. We are in the car, we are going to my dads in Hornsea. We are met with an unexpected diversion, it’s the Mayors parade and that means our usual route of through the town-centre has to be adjusted. My stomach sinks, I do not want to turn around. I count to ten and it begins. Eddie simply cannot handle it. He goes bright red, rigid, within the second he figures out that we are not going the pre-agreed route. His mind tells him I can only assume that we aren’t going at all, and he protests, with ferocity. He is thrashing, screaming, he’s now purple and his legs and arms are perfectly straight in his car seat, his back arched and his brow furrowed and covered in sweat. He is inconsolable. It’s during this interval I realise not only is he different, but that his memory is f&*cking fantastic. 

For the rest of Eddies toddler-years, I did the best I could to get through the days. Fresh out of what I consider to have been a mentally abusive relationship (that’s a post for another day) I was alone. I took to drinking..a lot, I threw myself into college and, if I’m honest, tried to avoid spending time with my confusing, exhausting, autistic child.

By now I was leaving Eddie for up to eight hours a day in day-care, and I loved it. I feel guilty admitting it now, but I so desperately needed that break from him and he from me. Our relationship was still so strained, so abnormal, and I found relating to him as a friend, a parent, anyone, so hard. He was beautiful, he always has been, but his attitude and behaviour were so variable and punishing at times, I was exhausted and he knew it.

Every morning as we got ready, if I didn’t do my hair before my make-up as had been done the first time he had seen me get ready, even at three and approaching four years old, the melt-down would commence. The rocking would start, back and forth, and the incessant chatter. He would ask a million questions, anything to fill the silence as he swayed back and forth, nervously waiting for my next move. Was I going to fulfil his expectations and do my hair next or throw him a curveball and do the dishes? My chest ached for him some mornings when he cried so hopelessly trying to understand why I couldn’t just do things the way I did yesterday, why didn’t I, his mother, understand that this unpredictability even in its simplest form, was so terrible?

I still get emotional when I think about how frustrating and scary it must have been for him and must still be at times. From so very young, he was irrationally afraid of change and yet it was an inevitability of every day, with no escape and just one option – scream it out. How it must have been so tiring to be bombarded by words that sound so different from how they might to you and me. How maddening it must sometimes be when you spend each day failing to read and interpret social cues correctly, if you don’t miss them all together.  I expect he felt alone as a turbulent toddler, alone and afraid in his exhausted little mind.

Jump to present day, to Eddie being six, throughout all his troubled years he has never made me more proud than he has in the last six months. He has moved country, he has moved school within that country – twice. He has moved house three times, watched his mother cry, wail, sob, vomit and sway with anxiety. Powerless to change her situation, powerless to change his own. He has seen me at my worst, and when he could have flaked, he could have let his insecurity drive him and his behaviour wild – he kept it together. He went to school, he behaved and adjusted, he did not melt down. We switched our positions, I was no longer the inspiration or routine to him – he was mine. He gave me strength, he gave me hope and he gave me the positive perspective I so badly needed after the birth of his sister.

I am forever complimented on Eddies behaviour, and that I never thought would happen. He is described as friendly, pleasant and happy. He has friends, my son has friends. Eddie  can now make meaningful connections with people outside of the home, he is slowly learning how to socialise without my constant guidance and correction. He has a personality of his very own developing, he is funny, he is kind and he is full of joy.  He is the happiest version of himself I have ever seen, and it fills me with such pride and selfishly, relief. He is not the troubled tear away I envisioned those grey afternoons when I stared into the buggy as he slept. He is amazing.

It has taken a long time, but I can for the first time say as he approaches seven years old, I love him, and he loves me too. Not in an obligatory ‘we are connected by blood and I birthed you’ way, that love and protection you provide is inherent, its instinctive. But to fall in love with your child, as a being, a person? Now that is different, and is something not every mother is honest about . The troubled bond we have experienced still exposes itself from time to time, but my son is now my friend and we communicate – we are on the same team.

He still likes all the doors shut to goto sleep. He still has to ask the same question fifty times to make sure he has properly heard and had confirmed the answer. He still sways in doorways apprehensively, particularly when he gets tired. He still unhealthily obsesses over things and can drive me in-fucking-sane with his fixations (Minecraft, three years running..urrrgghh). He still acts awkwardly and out of whack around other kids sometimes and I have to correct his behaviour so he doesn’t scare people. He still cries and panics if things change beyond his comfort zone, and he still gets hysterical if you do not meet pre-existing conditions of an agreement. And do you know what? I wouldn’t change him for the world.

Over and out,

Expatting Pom.

 

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