Someday, I hope my children think of me as their North Star - the person that shines just a little bit brighter than all the other people in their life. If I'm lucky, I'll be the person they think about when they get to a tough spot. I'll be the one they relive funny stories with and call when they find out they or their partner are pregnant. I'll be the one who shines a light, when all the other lights still leave the world dark. Because it's just a little bit too much to ask that they never encounter darkness.
Connor and Helen each have their own qualities - some of them are easily understood by the world, others a little more difficult. Take, for example, that glazed look Connor gets. He's probably not ignoring you. He's probably trying to digest something you just said, or he's living so inside himself that he just can't break out. He's not trying to make you crazy, I promise. Or the way Helen will adamantly insist it is noon, even as the sun descends. She's just trying to tell you what time she wishes it were. The past is last Friday and the future is tomorrow. The rest of time is just irrelevant.
To be a North Star for someone, you have to recognize that you're at least a little bit like each other. That you're made of the same stuff, even if the stuff doesn't seem to be put together in the right way for both of you. Even if the stuff is really hard to understand. That thing that makes Connor try something a second time even when it makes no sense to do so? That's Ed. That thing that makes Helen refuse to budge because everyone is looking at the little guy to give? That's me.
But I'm also the one standing in the corner and I swear, every time I see one of them figure out something on their own, a little part of gets lifted up. I try not to instantly react with a "good job". I try, instead, to smile and let them feel their own pride, not borrow mine. These are the moments when they don't so much need a North Star, but it's hopefully nice to see a smile of confirmation. But the moment when the pine car fails to win first, when the beads fall off the necklace and scatter on the ground, and when that last task seems impossible - that's when you need a North Star.
And if you look over your shoulder just a little bit, I'm trying so hard to be where you can see me out of the corner out of your eye.
This post was inspired by Raising Cubby: A Father and Son’s Adventures with Asperger’s, Trains, Tractors, and High Explosives by John Elder Robison. Parenting is a challenging job, but what challenges does a parent with Asperger's face? Join From Left to Write on March 12 as we discuss Raising Cubby. As a member, I received a copy of the book for review purposes.