In Their Own Words – Petting Cows and Skydiving
The boys and I were hanging out in Sean’s room, winding down from the day. Sean (my son who has autism) was getting into his covers and his brother was sitting at the end of his bed. I turned off the lights to get Sean ready for bed and he said sweetly, “Can you talk to me, Mommy?”
I sat down on his bed, the room dark, and he said quietly, “Sometimes I have good dreams.”
“You do?” I said, surprised. Most of the time, when I ask him what he dreams of he says quickly, “Nothing.”
“Yes,” he whispers.
His older brother, curious asked, “What do you dream about, Sean?”
He pulled the covers over his face and said happily, “Farms. And petting cows. And sometimes I am skydiving.”
His older brother laughed kindly and said, “Yes, Sean. Sometimes I dream that I can fly, too. It’s so awesome. Maybe you’ll have a dream that you are skydiving and you parachute down into a barn and you can pet the cows.”
“I love petting the cows in my dreams,” he said, his voice softened with the memory.
His brother said, “Yeah, I love the good dreams. I don’t like the bad ones. Sometimes I dream that someone is chasing me and I can’t scream for help. And one time I dreamed that a bad man took Sean and I couldn’t stop him.” his voice scared.
Sean said, “I have bad dreams about zombies.” his voice shaky. “I don’t like those dreams.”
I smoothed his hair and kissed him on the forehead, “No bad dreams tonight, pumpkin. Think of skydiving. Dream of the cows.”
I stood up and took his brother to his room, his hockey posters and medals hanging on his walls. I pulled back his NFL covers and tucked him in.
“What are your good dreams, mom?” he asks, burrowing his body into the blankets.
Do I dare tell him that everyday I dream that Sean will come to me, with promise and hope in his eyes, words like honey dripping from his lips, his conversations on-topic and his body free of the impulses and hopping and the strange noises that he often makes. That he will be the boy I have always dreamed of – a boy who can run and play easily with others, who can read books and comics, who doesn’t cry or scream when things don’t go his way and who can live in a world that doesn’t feel like it is swallowing him whole.
But I don’t. I tell him that my favorite dream is that I am flying, my arms stretched, scraping clouds and blue sky with my fingers, looking down over green hills and pastures of wheat below, and my heart beating electric.
And I don’t share with him the nightmares I have had either. The one where he and I are playing with Sean near a river, the water clear, cold and rushing with purpose. I look away for the briefest moment and when I turn back, Sean is falling into the river, his body disappearing, the river water turning muddy, almost black. I frantically reach my hands, my arms into the freezing water, searching for his little fingers, a shoulder, a hand but pull out only smooth rock and silt. I yell at my oldest to help me, his small arms, shaking and panicked, hot tears on his cheeks and his hands surface with nothing, nothing but river water and sticks and pebbles. And I cry, my fingernails digging into the earthy riverbed and yell until I am sitting up in my bed, a scream caught in my throat, my armpits damp and I finally wake. It’s not real. He is sleeping soundly in his bed. It is not real. I haven’t lost him.
But I cry anyway because this nightmare (and I have had it several times) seems too real to me. And because the metaphor of this dream, that I’m losing my child to autism, haunts me, not only during the daytime, during the tough moments, but also the fear stays with me at nighttime, penetrates my sleep and plays itself out in my dreams.
Sometimes this dream takes place at the ocean or a swimming pool, but it always ends the same, my oldest son and I are crying and searching for the little boy who has been stolen away from us, trying to touch his skin, hear his voice, trying so hard to keep him with us, in our arms, our relieved sighs against his sweet red hair.
I don‘t share this with my oldest. I am sad that he is even in this terrible dream, that he is standing next to me, frightened, doing his best to save his brother, doing all that he can to save me from such despair and not being able to do so.
Then I am reminded that my favorite dream is realized. It’s the luck of a good husband, of two little boys who teach us everyday that all we can do is just love them simply and kindly. So I try to push the bad dream out and replace it with the one where my beautiful boy is laying in the hay, the sun warming his shoulders, his cheeks and he is with his beloved cows, petting their soft, shiny coats. He is happy and he is laughing and he is safe. And yes, he dreams. My boy has dreams.
This week’s “In Their Own Words” is by Katie Bevins. You can read more of Katie’s writing at http://autism–tearsofaclown.blogspot.com.