LIFE IS A SPECTRUM / A hundred minutes of heaven


When I first heard the “A-word,” I was devastated because I thought my child was going to turn into some kind of robot. That he would refuse to hug me, become incapable of laughter, never have friends, never know love. That's what I thought autism meant. Because at the time, I had no idea what life on the spectrum would really be like ...



Billy is tucked into bed. My hand is on the light switch when he starts whimpering.

Me: Billy, why are you crying?

Billy: I’m crying because, because… because Mama is leaving.

Me: I’m just going to my room. I’m not going very far.

Billy: Can you hug me?

Me: Of course I can hug you.

And I jump up on his bed next to him and give him a big bear hug.

Billy: (muffled, into my shoulder) Can you hug me for a hundred minutes?


We didn’t hug for a hundred minutes, but we hugged for a long time, long enough for me to remember how afraid I’d been that he would lose this, long enough for a tiny little spark of fear to tickle at the back of my mind: Would a day come when he wouldn’t want to hug for a hundred minutes?

Of course it will. And most mothers fear that day.

If anything, Billy's autism is more about a surplus of emotion, and how to deal with it, rather than a lack of emotion. Most of the autistic kids I know seem to be that way. Billy's emotional maturity is closer to that of his 2 1/2 year old sister than his kindergarten peers. He can go from zero to sixty -- happy to to miserable -- in about three seconds flat. But he usually gets over it just as quickly.

And he’s becoming more independent every day. This new wave of separation anxiety is caused in part, I think, by the fact I’ve been working more. I'm a working mom now, and there are a couple of afternoons each week that I’m not the one to pick him up at school. I put in a full work day each Friday now, and a wonderful grad student in the speech pathology program at FSU walks him home and plays with him for a couple of hours.

I worry about being away from him. I stress that he stresses. I debate about the cost-benefit of having more money to put into therapy and extracurricular activities vs. being home with him full-time.

I’ll be honest: Working is good for my sanity. When I stayed at home full-time with both kids – which I did until fairly recently – I was a crazy person. I am not cut out for that job, because I got steadily crazier with each passing day. I never felt like I was doing a good job, never felt like I finished anything … before it got covered in something sticky and I had to wash it or glue it back together or throw it away when no one was looking. Anybody who thinks stay-at-home parents have an easy job needs a punch in the face ... and a week spent as a stay-at-home parent.

Unlike parenting, at the office, each project has a beginning, middle and end. Even the hardest job just seems so ... easy. Occasionally, I get told, “That’s really good work!” instead of having a small, running, naked person scream, “I don’t want to poo-poo!!” at me. To date, no one at my office has screamed at me because they didn’t want to poo-poo.

Of course, none of them want to hug me for a hundred minutes either.

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I just found your blog (thank you Twitter! Thank you FSU Film!). This is a very heartening recount of your "hug" time and it made me feel like I was right there experiencing that wonderful moment with you. Will send supportive thoughts as you continue on your "working mom" journey. I still struggle with it every. single. day. (And my kids are 12 and 15). We all just have to help each other out!!

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