Saturday, December 02, 2006

Something Fierce

Not long ago I heard an Asperger's mom to the second power — that is, a mom who has an Asperger's diagnosis and is parenting a child with an Asperger's diagnosis — talk about the rage she felt toward incompetent teachers and educational bureaucrats who were not addressing her son's needs in any appropriate, let alone adequate, ways. An articulate woman, she described in some detail the Columbine-esque fantasy that she entertained, only in her fantasy it was she, and not her son, who was finally pushed over the edge.

I know how she feels. Of late, as I have oscillated between despair and rage over the paucity of options for Sweet M, I felt as though our family is under siege. My fantasy life — which usually runs toward snorkeling in tropical locales or digging into rare materials in some far-off library or archive — was suddenly filled with annihilating rage.

Images of Kali — the Hindu goddess with many arms and a belt decorated with skulls she's collected — came to mind as a line from the Bhagavad Gita rolled over again and again in my mind: "I am death, the mighty destroyer of the world, out to destroy."

I found this distressing, and deeply so, as I have been quite attached to my fantasy of myself as a "reasonable creature" — as a person who can be counted on to come to sensible and deliberate decisions, as someone who can always let cooler heads prevail, even when I'm not so cool myself. The recognition of this rather fantastical violence within me was excruciating. Taken with the rage I felt at the situation we've been facing — at how Sweet M has been treated — I was all but inconsolable.

Kristina Chew, my friend and fellow traveler in Autismland and a scholar of classical Greek, directed me to a post she'd written on anger, autism, and Achilles when she'd been at a similar point with her son Charlie's school. She points out that the first word in the Illiad, the ancient Greek epic of warfare, is menis, which translates rather uninterestingly, as "rage." Kristina notes that a more apt translation is "child-avenging rage."

And with that language I realized what had happened: I'd come to a moment in my life where my attachment to my sweet girl, and my child-avenging rage, so far outweighs my attachment to my fantasy of myself as reasonable as to render the latter incredible. As they have feralized my sweet daughter — saying the children treat her like a pet, and other things that I won't recount here — they have unleashed in me an animal force so fierce that I could barely recognize myself in all of this.

There are good reasons that zoologists take care not to stand between a wolf and her pup, or a bear and her cub. And as reasonable as we may imagine ourselves to be, at the end of the day, we're card-carrying members of mammalian society, subject to some mighty powerful instincts.

Autism moms, something fierce.


Larry Arnold PhD FRSA said...

Ah the eumenides.

Well as the Greek tailor said to the clumsy customer

Euripides, Eumenides :)

Anonymous said...

To protect my children, I would rend a person with my bare hands. I would burn to death, and my only regret would be that I would then not be around to protect my children any further. There are not limits to what I would do. But such things are not required of me: patience, kindness when I would be uncivil, diligence, attention to detail, slavish adherence to endless drudgery and routine -- THESE are the trials to which I'm subjected. Perhaps I'm better suited to the Iliad, I got 21st Century rural America. Goody.