Wednesday, May 26, 2010
Three of the most feared words in our home are "Upstairs, family meeting." Jeff came in Sunday morning after church, he goes-I don't-long story, and called a meeting. I swear that I heard the house itself take a deep breath. Family meetings have been going on in this house for twelve years. They usually mean that someone's in the hot seat and being called out for one thing or another.
Everyone upstairs got on their phones and called everyone downstairs, hey, it's a three story house, it's a long way down there. One by one they trickled in and jockeyed for a seat as far away from the usual hot seat as possible. I could see fear in every eye. Each person was looking around the room trying to discern who was in trouble and who was safe. No one said a word, breathing was shallow and beads of sweat were forming on each forehead. I knew that hearts were beating out of control, mine was.
Jeff pulled up a chair in front of the fireplace. Now everyone was confused. That's where the guilty were placed. He began to cry, catching everyone off guard. At the same time everyone was relieved they weren't the cause of the meeting, they were worried about their dad. Anna-Grace saw her Papa crying and sweetly climbed up into his lap. Then he began to speak.
"I'm afraid for my family." He went on, between sobs, to tell us his concerns which were mainly the typical kid things: sleeping too much, not being responsible, picking on each other, making life difficult for their mother, the list went on and we listened. He spoke of the lack of work that we've experienced these last two years and yet the kids want more and more. He spoke of laziness and leaving towels in the floor. After stating his concerns he asked a question. It's a question that I'm still thinking about. A question that will forever be seared into my memory.
"Who has enough guts to raise their hand and point to the one person that makes life in our home difficult?"
"Oh God" I thought "He's talking about me." The kids looked around as I thought about disappearing into the chair I was in. They all knew the answer but were afraid to point out the offending person. One hand went up and pointed, then another and another. One child's head dropped slightly before responding.
"It's me," said Joshua, "I know it is."
My heart broke. My autistic son realized that he caused the majority of conflict in the family.
Jeff continued "Right, it's Joshua. You all know that he has autism, you know that he has a problem, yet you treat him like dirt. He's the only one in the family that's trying to improve. You other kids are rude, selfish and don't seem to care about what happens around here as long as Joshua leaves you alone. I see the way you look at him with slit eyes. I hear the way you speak to him harshly. I see the contempt and the hatred and I see you ignore him. Joshua sees, and feels, it as well."
My heart felt like it had shattered into a million tiny pieces. The other kids were crying, they knew Dad was right. Joshua, the one that had the most valid reason to be called out, was the only one who was doing his best to change. We knew each one of us was guilty of treating Joshua as "less than." Yes he's irritating. Yes he's a pest. Yes he's argumentative and rigid. Joshua agreed with every word spoken, he was the only one who took responsibility for his actions.
I realized I was also guilty of treating my son badly. Oh I can come up with a million valid reasons, but they all revolved around me and how difficult he made my life. Somehow along the way, maybe it's because he's so high functioning that we expect him to behave as a typical child, but somehow we forgot he does have feelings, even though he can't express them well. He does have a disability that he has no control over and he does try.
Jeff's words as well as Joshua's acknowledgement pierced every heart in that room.
In the last couple of days I've seen a change. Jakob asked Joshua to play video games. Karli asked Joshua to go downstairs with her (she later told me that he was so happy he had tears in his eyes). Michael's been civil, Nikki's been stern but more friendly. And I, I have been trying to be a better mom. I've been reading his stories, I've been talking with him more instead of at him. How dare I demand that his teachers and classmates have more understanding and compassion if his own mother cannot?
Some of you know a few of the things that we've had to deal with him over, and they've not been pretty. Some have been down right scary. But none of that is an excuse to make a child feel like he's not wanted, that no one likes him. He gets that enough in school. Jeff made a point last Sunday, a point that I hope won't soon be forgotten.