Ben has always shown a fascination with crying. I first wrote about it in “Cry Daddy”:
I can’t help but wonder why Ben is drawn to the anguished sound of a crying baby. Is he being empathetic or is he simply curious? Does he attach meaning to the tears or just hear the sound? And then there’s Ben’s threshold for pain. When he falls, he usually registers no signs of pain. Rarely are there tears – and when there are, I oddly find myself quietly celebrating, as tears indicate he is feeling something, breaking through, thawing.
This weekend the tables were turned. Instead of observing a crying child, Ben was the one doing the crying. Not a drop or two, but something of a downpour. It was sad and, for a while there, frightening for me to witness it. It happened while Ryan was throwing Ben down on the trampoline — which, admittedly, I have sanctioned and even encouraged in the past. It just seemed that wrestling with your brother is part of growing up, and I didn’t want to deny Ryan or shield Ben excessively.
But this time Ryan went too far. Out of the corner of my eye I saw him launch Ben into the air, throwing him across the trampoline and causing Ben to smack his chin against the metal frame. Ryan felt my rage building; I picked him up and threw him into time-out.
I grabbed some tissues to stop Ben’s bleeding. His eyes were red and moist. Ben moved to the other side of the trampoline, turning away. I thought to myself, Maybe I should let him have his space. Instead, I did the opposite. I opened my arms wide:
Ben, come to Daddy.
To my surprise, he came. Standing on the trampoline, he matched my height. I hugged him, but felt I was fumbling for words. What he really needs, I thought to myself, is his mother. He needs her smell, her smile, her voice, the comfort that only she can bring. Teresa, of course, I could not deliver. So I held Ben closer and relied on instinct:
Cry to Daddy. It’s okay Benny, just cry.
The floodgates opened, at first just a crack. I could feel Ben inch closer to me and tighten his grasp. Then the tears really started to fall.
You must be so scared, Benny. Cry to Daddy.
It was maybe the third time I’d seen him cry in his 7-1/2 years, but never like this. And never in my arms.
I wiped each and every tear and kissed Ben’s sad, scared face. Minutes later, he was again soaring through the air, as if the whole episode had never happened. That’s the way Ben’s autistic mind works. He moves freely moment to moment, and doesn’t hold on to memories for very long.
Me on the other hand? I will be holding on to this memory–this rare emotional connection with Ben–for a lifetime.
Next my attention turned to Ryan. I released him from time-out with a stern but supportive lecture.
I know you didn’t mean to hurt your brother. But this must never happen again.
I don’t normally yell at my boys, and I was worried that my anger would push Ryan away, or that he would respond with a feeling-sorry-for-himself crying fit. Instead, Ryan apologized to his older brother and gave him a hug. And best of all, he stopped pushing Ben around. The rage that Ryan brought out in me quickly turned to respect:
Ryan, back off Ben. But hey you can push me around all you want.
Soon after I felt a left jab to my stomach. Playful but painful 🙂
Over the next years, I will need to endure many jabs and blows. It’s not Ryan’s I’m concerned about, but rather, the blows delivered by our fellow “human beings,” like the old man who yelled at Ben in a restaurant this weekend, because he didn’t like the way Ben was looking at him. Those are small jabs, ugly and obnoxious but tolerable.
As long as I can avoid the knock-out punch, I’ll be okay.
Read Cry Daddy, Part 1:
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