I always thought that taking responsibility was a learned skill. I didn't think it was something people did automatically and without life lessons. Or at least not without a lot of nagging. Mostly from their mom. I have had to remind my kids many many times that X, Y or Z didn't "make them do it" that "doing it" was their action alone and that is why they were the one being punished.
However, sometimes Joe surprises me. Sometimes he will come right our and accept responsibility for something he has done. He 'confesses'. I sometimes wonder if he is being super-smart and he knows the best way to defuse the mom-bomb is to disarm her first by admitting to the mayhem before she discovers it for herself. But although I would love to think that, I honestly don't reckon his social skills are up to that level.
I think he just can't help himself. That he just blurts it out. Maybe the guilt of keeping a secret is too much for him? Or maybe he can't stand the suspense involved in waiting for his "crime" to be discovered? I don't fully understand the mechanics of this process with Joe, but I do know that he often takes responsibility for stuff; and way more than he should. He has apologized when I slept in and made him late for school. "I'm sorry Mom. I should have woken up."
"But I'm the one with the alarm clock!"
My notion of reresponsibility and what it entails has been challenged to the extreme in the past few weeks by a small electronic device:
It became apparent after a few weeks of middle school that if we wanted to prolong my life, we would need to get Joe a cellphone. The point was that he could contact me if he got lost (which had happened several times). I decided to go with a pay-as-you go unit, so he had minute counts and other stuff to monitor, to remind him to be responsible and not go nuts texting everyone in the directory. This is quite an affluent town, and a lot of kids have fancy hardware and unlimited plans. However, I wanted to teach him the value of a minute, if not a dollar. You know, to be responsible. And we are not affluent, anyway.
Joe liked the phone, but not the responsibility of owning it. (I didn't realize just how much responsibility owning a cellphone entails.) Although I had assured him that the phone is insured, and no real harm will be done if anything happens to it, he is ridiculously protective of it. He keeps it switched off to preserve minutes and battery life, despite my telling him several times that this defeats a lot of the purpose of having it, as I cannot call him if I am running late, because then we have conversations like this:
Joe: "Mom, where are you? I've been waiting..." Me: "You only just turned your phone on now so you could call me, right? Joe: "yes" Joe: "But Mrs S. left already..." Me: ...(who knows that Mrs S only just left and am therefore too busy biting the inside of my cheek to utter anything intelligible, much less printable) Me: (takes a deep breath) Me: "I'm on my way. DON'T turn your phone off after you hang up." (because if I forget to tell him that, he will turn it off)
Me: "Well, I have been trying to call you for the past 10 minutes to tell you I am stuck in traffic and to catch a ride with Mrs S."
Joe: "Mom, where are you? I've been waiting..."
Me: "You only just turned your phone on now so you could call me, right?
Joe: "But Mrs S. left already..."
Me: ...(who knows that Mrs S only just left and am therefore too busy biting the inside of my cheek to utter anything intelligible, much less printable)
Me: (takes a deep breath)
Me: "I'm on my way. DON'T turn your phone off after you hang up." (because if I forget to tell him that, he will turn it off)Suffice to say, we have had a few Issues around the damn phone. It is about the responsibility of owning a phone. He hates having to remember to take it places, not lose it, turn it on, keep it charged, track his minutes, not get it lost/broken and generally take care of it. It is a lot of stress for him.
This leads to me trying to pro-actively anticipate everything that might go wrong the the fecking thing and try to prepare him for it.
On the night we had the biggest 'phone' Issue (to date), it occurred to me that I had forgotten to show Joe how to put the battery back in. We have all dropped our phones and had the battery go flying across the room/ restaurant/ airport/ train station, right? I figured (rightly) that if this happened to Joe he would freak out.
So I started to take out the battery.
Joe: "what are you doing, mom?"
Me: "I need to show you something"
Joe: "It looks like you are taking my phone apart"
Me: "well actually, I'm trying to"
Joe got very upset and walked into the adjoining room, out of my field of vision. I continued to remove the battery, struggling a little with bad fingers and a tight casing. When I finally got it open, I looked over my shoulder for Joe, only to see him standing right behind me with a heavy musical toy held aloft in two hands, about to smash it down hard.
On my head.
It is really hard to explain the emotions you feel when you realize your beloved firstborn child was about to smash your head in over a mobile phone. I was absolutely crushed. I wanted to scream my head off and smash the fuckin phone against the wall. But I didn't. I got cold and stern and told him to Put. That. Down. Right. Now. And he was in deep trouble. Then I told him to finish his homework while I went into another room to cry and try and figure out what I had done that was so wrong.
I'm still not 100% sure. I know that in Joe's mind, the phone was considered the most important thing at that time. There were Rules about the phone, first of which was don't lose or destroy it. I had put the fear of God into him about keeping it safe. When he saw me taking it apart, he didn't know what else to do, but attack me to "save" it. (no it didn't occur to him to ASK me why I was doing what I was doing. He is after all, autistic).
You can fool most of the people most of the time.
You can even fool your mother part of the time
But underneath it all you are still Autistic.
I'm so lucky he hesitated. I was home alone with the kids at the time. He probably would have knocked me out (at least) if he had followed through with his plan.
Later, after we had both calmed down, and I had demonstrated how to replace the battery ("Ohhhh!"), I spoke with Joe about the incident, starting with the question that was foremost in my mind:
"Were you really going to smash that thing down on my head, or was it just a threat?"
"No. I was really going to smash in down"
(sometimes Aspie honesty isn't all it's cracked up to be)
I then tried to explain to him that mobile phones are ten a penny, but his mother only has one head, which is unique and irreplaceable, but he didn't get it. He kept saying stuff like "But you told me to protect the phone. I didn't know what else to do!" Then I gently explained that he could have ASKED me what I was doing, instead of jumping to conclusions which could have led to pretty serious consequences.
(my thoughts exactly)
We talked some more, but the upshot is this: Joe still doesn't fully get where he was wrong. He is hyper-responsible in some areas, but oblivious in others. He doesn't have the ability (yet) to prioritize life over possessions, or that it is sometimes appropriate to break Rules.
I am hoping he will gain these skills in time, and without anyone getting seriously hurt.
ahhhh... Parenting is such fun!