Monday, 10 April 2017
When your three year old daughter plays the mother
No one plans to be the mother to autistic children. It's almost impossible to do so. But no one plans to have a daughter playing the role of mother when she is just three years old either. I've been trying to work out if this is a happy post or a sad post.. and I'm still not sure.
Jane has two older brothers. David is six and Anthony is nearly nine and both her brothers are autistic. Whilst she over took David in developmental terms when she was probably about two years old, I usually think of Anthony as being the eldest in the family.
Anthony is keeping up in a regular school mostly (with a great deal of additional support) and he enjoys many age appropriate activities like playing on games consoles, going to the cinema and watching sports on TV. But Anthony's general levels of awareness of danger and/or understanding are sometimes now surpassed by his younger sister. Yes this means they argue like siblings of a much closer age, but it also recently brought me to tears.
I had taken the three kids to a local park to feed the ducks. As they can be a handful, I took the car so that I would only have a short distance to walk with the kids, could feed the ducks, and then return to the car. This tiny outing gives me and the kids a sense of having done something with the day sometimes.
I let Anthony hold the tiny bits of bread we had in a small bag. It's this kind of thing that helps him understand responsibility and he takes it very seriously. And I held Jane and David's hands as we approached the water.
Despite being glorious weather on the day, it had been raining a few days ago and part of the bank had sort of collapsed into the water. Not ideal. The wind also appeared to have picked up a bit and sometimes this can put the boys on edge as their heightened senses can make a bracing wind feel painful against their faces.
But the wind wasn't too cold, it was warm. I held onto Jane and David as Anthony opened the bag of bread.
"Ok, so let's share the bread so everyone can give some to the ducks." I said.
Anthony couldn't quite hear me. He turned, and as he did so, the wind whipped the bag out of his hands. The broken bread fell onto floor and the bag was whipped up into the air and towards the water.
David, who can't cope with spills of any kind, threw himself to the floor and started gathering the bits of bread in his hands in a complete frenzy. Anthony dropped down to help, very worried that this might be his fault.
"It's ok Anthony, don't worry, I can help David." I said, for fear that David would think Anthony was preventing him picking the pieces up.
"David, calm down. Mummy help." I directed to my other son.
And then I looked up and Anthony wasn't there.
He'd gone after the plastic bag.... which was precariously hanging on a wet, muddy looking twig down by the collapsed bank.
"Anthony, come back. Get away from the water."
"I'm OK mum, I can get it."
As I stepped towards him, the bread blew out of David's hands and he started going into a meltdown as the bread scattered across the sandy but rocky bank. If he smacked his legs or head on a rock it could be a trip to A&E (again).
"Anthony, step away, it's not safe. I'll get the bag."
I saw him step forward again.
And that's when Jane stepped up.
"Anthony. Anthony, can you hear me. If you come away from the water, we can go home and play on the computer."
And Anthony stood up right and came away.
"Oh, Ok then." he said.
I stood, holding my middle flailing child and watched as Jane took Anthony's hand and led him just the few meters back off the wet bank. I was stunned.
Eventually we all calmed down, actually managed to feed the sodding ducks, returned to the car and came home. But since the incident, I've been thinking about Jane's actions.
Jane will turn four years old this weekend. Four.
And she's already being much more than perhaps a four year old should be.
I can take so many positives away from the near disaster that aren't to do with Jane.
Anthony's determination to be responsible for the bag of bread; David allowing me to help him with a task when it's gone wrong; Jane's wonderful understanding of the situation and her brother's needs - except this is possible the bit that I'm most torn about.
Jane has learnt things a little differently to most kids her age and its undoubtedly because her brothers are autistic. Sharing for Jane has mostly meant giving her toys to her brothers. Communicating has meant not just talking but learning makaton sign language too.
Sometimes I worry about what being part of our family may mean for her future. Will she lead the life she wants to? And a can feel my eyes get wet.
I'm concerned about if she is growing up too quickly? It's true, I didn't plan to be a mother to disabled kids. Like it or not, I wouldn't change them, and that's what my boys are. And Jane didn't ask to have autistic brothers either. But I do believe she chose to step up. She chose to help her brother. And she imitated me perfectly and was able to come up with an idea on the spur of the moment that appealed to her brother. She chose to be like his mother for a moment. Chose to keep her brother safe.
And though she may not always choose this, I'm both relieved and saddened that my glorious little girl looks out for her older siblings. And maybe if she does.. others will follow? Will Jane be the trend setter, the example for others? I can but hope so? As that would turn this 'not so sure' post into a happy one for definite. And then my wet eyes are accompanied by a smile.