Conversation with my son before he fell asleep.

My daughter is autistic and has no speech. Because of this, I can't explain to her why she should stay in her bed or even her room after we turn off all the lights in the house and she and her brother are tucked into their respective beds. My son usually falls deeply asleep fairly quickly, but since my girl sees no good reason not to go ahead and get back up and go play, I have to sit in their room with them until she goes to sleep.

So each night I typically listen to podcasts on my iPhone and foil my daughter's escape attempts until she finally winds down enough to go to sleep. Tonight, however, I ended up having a long conversation with my son, instead.

Sadly, my constant occupation with keeping his sister out of dangerous or even merely difficult situations means we don't really leave the house much. She's non-verbal, but she's amazingly bright. She knows when to make a successful break for it, and she's
very fast to find trouble so she requires constant vigilance. That means that restaurants or the movies or swimming - instead of being relaxing - are merely long nightmarish marathons of keeping a step ahead of her and hoping that whichever relative had enough clout to talk us into being there would soon be satisfied enough to allow us to head home before I collapse. As a consequence my poor son hasn't had as much social experience as most kids his age. (Also I haven't really had a chance to teach him how to swim.) Mostly this summer he watches loads of star trek and proclaims loudly that someday he's going to invent impulse and warp drives and build starships.

Well, today he went to a pool party for his friend's birthday, and I was nearly having an anxiety attack over it.

There was no way I could take his sister to the pool so I'd have to leave him there for the two whole hours of the party. I suppose it's post-traumatic stress after already been through losing his mother, but the thought of leaving him there without my watchful eye scared the
shit out of me. Rationally, I knew he'd be safe and it would be monstrously unfair not to allow him to go, but even up to 15 minutes before the party time I was seriously considering calling his friend's mom and canceling. I was just terrified that I'd once again win the tragedy-lottery and I was actually making myself ill with worry.

I explained to my son what was going on and that I wanted him to go but I was afraid. He's only 9, poor kid, but he acted very mature. He was calm and just kept promising me he'd be very careful, but he really did want to go so could we just go already, please?

He went, and he had fun and was perfectly fine. Tonight, though, before he fell asleep, he started asking me questions:

"Did you really think I was going to die at the pool?"

I explained that I didn't really think he was going to die at the party, but that when Momma died it made me very scared of the idea of losing either him or his sister. I knew it wasn't going to happen, but I was still scared a little.

"Can I hire my cousin as a lifeguard so I can go swimming again?"

I had to tell him that his cousin was already pretty busy this summer, and that the pool already had hired people to be lifeguards. But since his sister would either poop in the pool or drink gallons of heavily chlorinated water (or both) that meant that it wasn't likely we'd be going back.

"Did your heart break when Mom died?"

This caught me off guard and immediately brought tears to my eyes. I wanted to make sure he wasn't being literal, though, so I explained that a broken heart just meant being really, really sad. And, yes, I was very sad for a long time after his mom died. I grieved for almost three years before I started to feel like myself, again.

What he said next, though, really started me crying because I instantly knew what he meant.

"Someday, I'm going to invent a time machine and save Mom."

Of course it's a fantasy that often crosses my mind though I never let it linger for too long. It's seductive yet completely impossible. Go back in time and prevent the accident that claimed his mother and brother. Rescue our family before it's shattered forever. Preempt the scars and prevent the hole left in our lives by their absence. Nothing could be simpler and nothing could be less possible.

It wasn't easy, but I explained that time travel is just fiction and that you can't bring back somebody you've lost. I told him that the best we can do is try to live good lives and be people she would have been proud of. It was a lame answer, but that doesn't change it's truth.

It was enough. Soon he was asleep, and I was drying my eyes and gently nudging my girl back into bed each time she tried to sneak past me.

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