Owen and I are painting together in the Quarry Road Center, a special room in our house. We are “painting together” in the sense of dancing together, where one is the star and the other guy the prop. Being a good prop for Owen’s movements has been my study for three years now. The goal of the whole project is to work myself out of a job.
Owen has been claiming greater and greater control of his arm and fingers. When typing he now points his forefinger independently. And moves his arm forward with light resistive pressure under his elbow about 80% of the time.
But holding a brush for painting is another matter. Another neutral pathway? a much more complex set of movements? Or is it because he desperately wants to do it? His hand is limp, barely able to grasp the brush. The painting is interrupted by Owen’s random body movements, also by my grabbing up a painty communication card so he can spell the answers to my questions, so I can correctly understand what he is trying to make his body do. What color next? Where on the page? What kind of mark do you want? How wide a mark? A tedious process only better than not painting it all.
So around and around the room he eddies instead, trying to fight his way back to the paper tablet with his half finished painting on it. And I wait. He wraps and unwraps silky golden ribbon around a glass, around rock, plastic, wood, metal. His movements become only faster as my irritation with him grows.
Like Mozart’s father. Like every other sick parent out there. It doesn’t work. But it is real.
I am too invested, clearly. I want to see you paint, Owen. I want to see what color you will select. What direction you will take this new piece. I also want to feel that the sacrifice of my own time is justified by your production.
Yoga and deep breathing are my friends. Drop shoulders. Let go of control. Release the irritation. Live longer.
Regardless of his other issues Owen’s boundaries are too good to allow being guilted into anything. He will repel my physical “support” if I cross too far over the psychological space between us.
It is good, it is healthy, that Owen is irritated with me. Lately he is irritated all the time. He is lonely. He is constantly frustrated by his own impulsivity – by his lack of body control, his lack of autonomy, his lack of friendships. He is frustrated by his own frustration.
I am also slowly learning to recognize the boundaries between us. Owen is running Owens’ life, on the inside if not on the outside. If my son is unhappy, I don’t need to be unhappy. His life is his own. He is allowed to be eaten up by hated of it, or try to make of it the best he can.
When last we painted, something was different. Owen picked up the card because he had directions to give me. He picked up a tube of color because he really wanted to paint with it. And his grip on the brush was stronger. Purposeful moments. I hold my breath. A huge tiny step forward, as exciting as the painting he generated that afternoon.
A couple weeks later we are at an Art Museum. Owen’s body is full of dysregulated movement as we study massive canvasses by Salvador Dali. An average onlooker would never guess that he wants to be there. He pulls away, toward tiny scraps in the floor, as his dad and I grasp his backpack straps tightly to keep him standing still. The guards eyeball him, although kindly. They have been trained to be “autism friendly.” Still, it’s stressful.
Afterwards, as we sit all three exhausted at a cafe table, I check in. Did you like it? “Y” Which one did you like best? Owen grins. “Abe”. Ahhh.
“Gala Contemplating the Mediterranean Sea which at Twenty Meters Becomes the Portrait of Abraham Lincoln – Homage to Rothko.”
Never underestimate a young person with dysregulated body movement. I bet every one has an inner world painted in brilliant colors, that this world has yet to see.