Equal is not the Same

The siblings massage Lil D’s feet on the ride to his grandparents’ house

Don’t let the dictionary fool you. Equal does not mean same. At least not when it comes to parenting.

I’m sitting on the sofa helping my husband plan a special trip with our daughter for her spring break. A trip where just the two of them will go away to a cool city and spend four days enjoying each other’s company. He will leave the office and meetings and call schedules and family obligations behind, and get to know what is going on in her 10-year-old mind. And hopefully they’ll build some wonderful memories. The train tickets have been booked, and we are discussing what special activities they will be doing.

Two weeks ago he took a similar trip with our youngest son for an epic adventure across the country during his spring break, while I held down the fort with our other children. And on their last night there, he texted to me – thank you for giving me wonderful sons and daughter! Thoroughly enjoyed this trip.

And I was happy, so happy to hear that.

Just as happy as I am now to help plan his and our daughter’s special trip.

Just as unhappy I am that there is no epic Lil D-Baba adventure being planned.

Our children are equal to us in our love for them. They are equally loved and cherished and held dear in our hearts. But equal is not same, and it can never be.

We know for a fact that to plan an epic adventure, which may include plane rides, hotel stays, train rides and different adventures will not make Lil D very happy, at least not as he is now. Just going somewhere within a few hours radius with Lil D is a challenge of late.

Last weekend we went and visited my parents, who live about three hours away. We’ve been visiting them multiple times a year since we were married, so Lil D is as familiar with the routine of that trip and visiting their home as he can be.

And yet even those trips are hit or miss depending on how his autism is manifesting. It seems these days he just doesn’t want to leave the familiarity and comfort of his own home. We took a chance driving in the daytime (we tend to drive late at night, knowing that he’ll sleep in the car, which makes for a smoother car ride), even though for the past year he’s often gotten upset or been on edge in the car.

As it turns out, the drive there was great – smooth, mellow and filled with great moments when our three children laughed and goofed-off with one another. The rest of the weekend, however, was hit or miss for Lil D. Maybe he was overwhelmed with all the kids running amuck (all his maternal cousins were there). Maybe he missed his home environment. Maybe allergies were affecting him.

You would think that by now I’d be able to roll with it – ride the autism roller coaster up and down without feeling that sickly stomach feeling when we take a nose dive. But as many times as we’ve braced ourselves as a family to handle what comes our way and help Lil D get through whatever he is going through, my internal panic  switch always gets triggered, and the thoughts I push down resurface:

What if he can’t handle going to his Nanijan anymore? What if this becomes one more thing he refuses to do with us as a family? Why are car rides so difficult now? Am I doing the right thing by insisting that he come with us?What if he withdraws so much that he never wants to leave the house?

Because that is the ongoing challenge as his parent – when do I push him to do something that may be beyond his comfort level (while making as many accommodations as we can) and when do we pull back out of deference for what he can and cannot tolerate? Or, as I was saying to my in-laws, as Amal and Hamza grow become teens, I’m sure there will come a point when they will roll their eyes at me and not want to come when I say we’re going to visit their grandparents for the weekend. But they will have to come. The same goes for Lil D, but within the scope of his autism.

Or so I think. Equal is not the same, nor will it ever be. Not in “neurotypical” parenting, or even more so in autism parenting.

And thus there will be no epic spring break for Lil D and his dad. While we are trying to be equal in the time their Baba is carving out for special trips with each of our kids, we know that there is no point in trying to foist something like that upon Lil D. Well, my husband knew that, way before I did.

But me? I still struggle. I still have to remind myself that when it’s about doing something fun with the Lil D, if we really, truly want to do what he wants, then we need to let go of ourselves. That there is no point to mourning the fact that we can’t share with him the experience of a trip to Disney World or New York City or sightseeing in D.C. or going to an auto show or camping or what have you. It’s not me that matters.

It’s him.

And if that means lying in the hammock and massaging his feet, or getting him a bigger trampoline to jump on, or taking a day trip to the beach (so that he can be back in his own bed at night), then that’s what we’re going to do.

Because equal doesn’t mean same. No matter what the dictionary says.

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