Holding on to ‘Himaat’ in Autism Land

In Urdu there is a word called himaat, and the best I can explain it in English is to have courage, strength or fortitude — to have the wherewithal to do something otherwise difficult. Or simply put, to have himaat means to have nerve.

Himaat is a popular Urdu word, used by elder women and tragic Bollywood heroines alike – meri himaat toot gai. (My courage is broken.) Or, meri ku himaat nay hai. (I don’t have the strength to do …) As they have aged, I’ve watched both my mom and mother-in-law – pillars of strength with can-do attitudes in their own respects, bow to a lack of himaat in certain areas of life while pushing to maintain it in others.

I was thinking about all this on Monday as I drove three hours to visit my parents with Amal and Lil D in tow. We have been trying to find a weekend to visit my folks for a while, and this terrible cold/flu/stomach flu season ruined every plan we had made. Husband, kids and myself were all going to go on Monday to spend the day, but Hamza came down with a cold and fever Sunday night, so my husband, who had Monday off, told me to take Amal and go by myself.

I’m taking Lil D, too, I told him.

Leave him at home, my husband said. It’ll be easier. I’m home. I can care for him and Hamza.

Bless that man, yes he can. He can take care of all three kids by himself, even overnight. He’s done it before, even once during last year’s “Year of Autism Hell.”

But I knew my mom and dad would love to see him, and given that Lil D has been in a fairly good place of late, my himaat was strong. Oh, the thanks I give for that.

Himaat has rarely been a problem for me. You can’t raise a child like Lil D plus two other rambunctious kids like Amal and Hamza and be faint of heart. This kind of parenting requires one to search the depths of their soul, stretch oneself beyond the kind of all-consuming parenting we all do, abandon comfort zones, give up so many expectations and plans while replacing them with new goals and standards of living. This is the kind of parenting that brings you to your knees each and every day, that makes you do things you never dreamed you would do or could do.

This is the kind of parenting that goes beyond himaat. Strength? Nerve? Fortitude? Wherewithal? Oh, I got this.

But none of us are invincible, and I’ve lost my way, my himaat, several times over the years. Those are days, weeks or even months that are the worst of times around here, because when a mother is on the precipice of cliff, when she loses her grip on her faith, her strength, her ability to manage it all and find solutions, well those are the darkest of days.

Last year I stood on that cliff. My husband and I were talking about it on Monday, when I told him that I would take Lil D and Amal with me for trip to my parents’ house, knowing that I would turn around in the evening and drive home again.  I got this. We’ll be fine. Let me do this. Lil D, Amal and I have to get back in the habit of doing things like this.

Last year, when things were so bad with Lil D’s self-injurious behaviors, aggressions, and horrible meltdowns, when I was incessantly searching for answers, I had removed him from the bus due to his unpredictable behaviors and was driving him to and fro school. Every drive home was fraught with danger, and I do not exaggerate when I write this.

We would start the drive home with uneasy calm. Then, without warning, the screaming and crying and hitting would begin. He would wrestle out of his locked seatbelt in the back of our van and lunge forward, trying to pinch or hit me from behind, often grabbing my scarf as I drove. It was a mere 15 minute drive home from school, but my heart was in my throat the entire time, and I feared we would have an accident.

During that time, my in-laws took a trip to Toronto, and I had to bring Hamza with me to pick up Lil D from school. I prayed so hard for Hamza’s safety, and for reasons I do not know, Lil D continued to direct his rage towards himself or me, not once towards his younger brother strapped in his booster seat.

Once, driving home with Lil D from a doctor’s appointment ,I was forced to pull over on the side of the highway and wait out one of his meltdowns, as I knew I was in danger if I attempted to drive with him in that state. Police troopers pulled up behind me and a cop came up to the car to inquire why I was stopped, telling me it was illegal to stop where I was.

I explained the situation, and he parked his car behind me, lights flashing, and told me to take my time until I felt it was safe to drive. When Lil D calmed down, I continued on my way, and he gave me a police escort until I reached my exit.

Those were the days that my himaat teetered on the brink of extinction. Those were the days that I prayed as much for myself as I did for Lil D. I prayed for strength. I prayed for endurance. I prayed for forgiveness. I prayed to be shown the way. I prayed for answers. I prayed for health, peace and happiness – for Lil D, for myself, for my husband, for Amal and for Hamza.

This past weekend two extraordinary things happened. On Sunday we hosted a party at the same hall where we had Hamza’s Bismillah last June. When we had the Bismillah, my husband and I knew from the get go that Lil D was in no position to attend. He was a different kid back then – extremely anti-social and given to extreme mood swings, anxiety and SiBs.  He stayed home with a trusted therapist during that party.

But this past weekend’s party was special. Lil D was in a different place — better, healthier, more stable than he had been in months. He attended the party for 1.5 hours and had a good time. The next day I took a trip to Maryland — a total of five hours of driving on the highway – just me, him and Amal.

And no police escort.

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