Thursday, June 20, 2013

Landing the Helicopter

According to Wikipedia:  A helicopter parent is a parent who pays extremely close attention to a child's or children's experiences and problems, particularly at educational institutions.

That’s not me. 

I mean…not really. 
Well, not all the time. 
Okay SOME times. 
That is me…word for every mother-lovin’ word.

Not so much with the two older kids.  I’d say with them I’m a solid “Stage 3-Momma Bear” but I’ve never hit “Stage 4 Chopper” with them.  I don’t know that I’ve ever felt as though I’ve had to.  Fortunately for both of them they are very relatable, likable, social, athletic, healthy kids.  They talk to me and tell me more than I necessarily want to know on any given day.  I don’t have to interpret for anyone.  I don’t have to defend.  I don’t have to take note of every single aspect of their behavior.  I don’t have to preface every sports season with a coach 1-on-1.  I don’t have to keep copious notes of convos with teachers.  I don’t have a separate folder for each of them with anything and everything health-related. 

So why do I feel the need to be hyper-vigilant with Ben?  Some would say, and many often do, that it comes with the territory when parenting an ASD child.  But Ben is high functioning and if you saw him playing in his room you wouldn’t think he was any different than my other two kids. 

Am I waiting for the other shoe to drop?  Am I that fearful of the horror stories I hear from other parents that I hover too closely hoping to intercept?  Or am I pouring myself into his world, into protecting him, into advocating for him to avoid everything I feel like I’m failing at in life?  Is this really about Ben?  I would like to think it is.  The very thought of someone hurting Ben feels so imminent, and is enough to keep me up at night.  Most nights.   And maybe…just maybe…if I can win at keeping him safe and avoiding hurt then I am not a complete and utter failure.  In at least one thing.  And God, I need to know I’m not failing him. 
I’ve mentioned before that I struggle with depression and it comes and goes in waves.  And in recent months…there have been waves repeatedly leaping over my head, the undertow grabbing hold of me and teasing as it allows for a brief moment of sunlight at the surface before enveloping me again.  And again.  If I consume my days with researching health concerns and educational resources and therapies and (I could go on and on)…then I’m silencing that voice that tells me I’m not doing enough.  I’m not good enough.  I’m not living up to my potential.   That phrase epitomizes my life.  I’ve heard it for years.  It resonates to this day.
And in my efforts to NOT fail at this one thing…this one very important, delicate, vulnerable thing…my Ben…I’m isolating myself.  In my attempt to block my own inner voice, I’m also blocking out my friends, my husband and God forbid, my other two children.  What kind of friend, wife and mom does that? 

It is taking serious effort on my part to pull myself from this tenacious undercurrent.  I’ve started attending Church again.  Oftentimes alone.  And I’m listening…listening like I’ve never listened before.  I leave with a take-away every single time.  And it’s helping. 

The Gentleman, of course, has been patient…I realize I am not an easy person to endure.  And somehow he is still here.  With a gentle redirection every now and then.  And thank God he knows when not to be so subtle.  With an invitation to reality and the events going on around me that I clearly am not acknowledging. 
But sometimes I need tangible evidence that it’s okay to give Ben some space and focus on something else.  I’m hard-headed that way.

This Spring Ben decided he wanted to play baseball.  As you can imagine my insides literally began crocheting themselves in intricate knots. 
He has ADHD…there is no way in HELL he’ll be able to withstand an entire inning in the outfield without touching the ball. 

He hates when people look at him.  How will he handle being on display while up to bat? 
What if he doesn’t make friends?

What if the coach isn’t nice to him?

What if nobody GETS him???  Because they won’t…I just know it.

The Gentleman listened.  And he rubbed my back.  And he told me that Ben would be fine. 
But what does he know?  I mean I WANT him to be fine.   But I just don’t know if baseball is his sport.

Then the season started.  And ya know what?  He played WELL.  The coach?  He was fantastic.  Did Ben meltdown every single time he struck out?  You bet he did.  In the beginning of the season I never sat far from the dugout because I knew that I would need to be nearby to help him through or at least prevent his teammates from intensifying said meltdowns.  As the season went on, though, the coaches started doing more of the comforting with Ben and I tried ever so hard to keep my butt in my seat.  (MOST of the time.)  Some of you know how hard that was.  SO DAMN HARD.  Excruciating. 

Before I knew it, that urge began to subside.  I was witnessing Ben gain a little more control over his behavior, his response to loss.  I watched the coaches learn Ben…and choose their battles.  When Ben struck out, which wasn’t often, he was allowed a turn to “rest” in the dugout while the rest of the team hit the outfield.  They were “getting” him.  Holy shit.  Getting him!  When the coach realized that Ben didn’t understand the concept of an RBI and was taking his inability to make it across home plate as a personal failure, he knelt down and eye to eye explained it to Ben.  When they realized he made it through a game with no meltdowns they rewarded him by having him lead the team in counting down in the huddle afterward.   By the end of the season it wasn’t just the coaches taking him in…it was the other parents too.  Every single time Ben was on deck to bat, the parents began cheering for him, clapping, screaming his name in encouragement.  And if he didn’t do as well as he wanted to, those same parents were still cheering him on the way back to the bench…as he dragged his bat in the dirt, head hanging low.  They knew that just because he didn’t chant in the field like the rest of the kids, it didn’t mean he wasn’t engaged in the game.  They knew that just because he didn’t cheer on his teammates from the dugout, it didn’t mean he didn’t care…Ben was always the first to run to a teammate when they got hurt.  They know he has heart.  Sometimes nothing but.
And in the second to last game of the season…as the coach had the boys huddled on the empty diamond congratulating them on a season well played, prepping them for the championship game ahead it was then that the coach recognized Ben in front of his team.  He announced that although they don’t typically give away a game ball, they would in fact be giving THAT game’s ball to Ben.  For hitting every time he batted.  For running four players in.  For not melting down.  For contributing to such a big win.  For being Ben.  And while attempting to take some pictures of the boys in their after-win glow, I swiftly slid my sunglasses back down over my eyes to hide the tears.  And they were a-streamin’, you guys. 
The Gentleman was right.  Dammit.  Ben was fine…and he had fun.  Hear me?  He HAD FUN.  Worth it in my book any damn day.  And no one was out to get him, or see him fail, or treat him unfairly, or make him feel inadequate.  Quite the opposite.  It renewed my belief that I don’t have to build him up by myself.  That I can have faith in people…in his peers…in the leaders in his life.  It’s not Ben and me against the world.  Sometimes I forget that. 
Getting through that season, watching him grow, watching myself let go, I realized that if I never let him experience these things, if I never feel the risk is worth the reward, then my boy will never ever feel complete accomplishment.  And he needs to feel that.  He needs to be proud of himself.  He needs to see the looks in our faces when he endures something we didn’t think he could withstand.
And I need to re-balance my energy.  I need to focus more on my husband, on ALL of my kids, on my friends.  I need to land the helicopter.  I can’t unrealistically say that the chopper is out of commission.  We don’t know what challenges are awaiting us ahead.  But for now, the motor is off.  And it’s time to just let Ben be Ben. 


  1. Wow. Just. Wow. First time reading your blog & am crying happy, happy tears. Flying my freak helicopter all too often, this hit home & am so thrilled for you and Ben for this victory! Good stuff here :0)

  2. What an amazing post, young lady. Thank you for sharing it with all of us. Very inspirational.

    Jordan @Find My Eyes

  3. You amaze me with your writing - I can't read it fast enough. I've loved reading updates on Ben all season - and seeing the photos and the joy on his face.
    You are just so beautiful - inside and out.
    love you.

  4. "For hitting every time he batted. For running four players in. For not melting down. For contributing to such a big win. For being Ben."
    Wow, thank you for sharing this with all of us. You are amazing. <3

  5. I could not love you two any more. So proud of Ben...and you!

  6. I could not love you two any more. So proud of Ben...and you!

  7. Wow just wow! Tears were flowing as I read this. What an beautiful story. Ben seems like a remarkable young man and kudos to you, mama for being a remarkable mom!

  8. Wow just wow! Tears were flowing as I read this. What an beautiful story. Ben seems like a remarkable young man and kudos to you, mama for being a remarkable mom!

  9. I LOVED this post. I struggle with this myself. It was nice seeing I am not the only one. Thanks for sharing your story.