Sword at the ready

My youngest sleeps with his sword. Not all the time. Just sometimes. After all, nighttime is when everything is quiet, but our minds can be alarmingly active. Especially when you have ASD and the day just spools through your head, on a rewind-replay loop.

Often there are many things to keep at bay. Even a wooden sword tucked under the doona can be a comfort, when you feel that you’re fighting things you can’t control and can’t express.

It’s hard to pack away your thoughts at night. They’re not like books that you can put on a shelf and forget. Or like an old T-shirt that you can shove to the back of the cupboard because you don’t really need it and you never liked it much anyway. Thoughts are more like the forgotten fruit at the bottom of your school bag. Stuff that you can only ignore for so long. Eventually, you’ll need to deal with a much messier situation than if you’d just dealt with it in the first place. How? Well – I guess sleeping with the sword is one way.

I’m not even sure I know all the things that my youngest tries to keep at bay with his sword, but I reckon like anyone, they’d range from teeny to terrifying:

  • Thinking about wanting to be with friends but feeling that he doesn’t know the right things to say to them, so recesses and lunchtimes get spent in the library.
  • Worrying about the work he hasn’t done, but won’t do, because he can’t put into words what he needs to do and won’t let Mum find out from a friend.
  • Worrying about wanting to explain something but feeling unable to. “Believe me, Mum, I really want to tell you but I just can’t.” Accompanied by increasing distress.
  • Sometimes things just make him sad, and who has time to be sad during the day? We do at night as the house quietens down and we’re lying there in the dark – still awake.
  • Fretting about lying there in the dark, still awake, but coming out to tell this to Mum doesn’t help him get back to sleep. Neither does the nutmeg milk, the extra toast, the hot water bottle or the lateness of the hour. So he also starts worrying about being tired.
  • Thinking about getting older which he doesn’t want to do, especially when he see the worry that his parents are carrying because of challenging circumstances for other siblings.
  • Trying to be brave and resilient in tough times.
  • Perhaps even worrying about how many birds he needs to pass on the way home – he is afraid of birds (except for owls).

So, if a sword helps him get to sleep, instead of lying awake with worries spinning around like washing in a machine, that’s great. Wouldn’t it be good if we all had a wooden sword that was effective in helping us through.

Putting those worries to rest for the night

Sure, it doesn’t necessarily make those worries or concerns go away. It doesn’t change the situations that he has to face. But if he feels a bit better armed, a bit more ready to deal with them, so much the better. And hopefully, in time, he will find more constructive ways to manage them.

I’ve been thinking about this quite a lot, lately. What are your own wooden swords? How do we put our worries to bed before we tuck down? Is it chocolate? A good book? A debrief with a close friend? Do we deal with them the same way during the day? Perhaps they evolve over time, as might our worries. We don’t want to overplay our kids’ concerns, but we mustn’t trivialise them. And let’s stand ready beside our kids with our own wooden swords – as their fierce friend, or even as their wooden sword – ready to fight alongside them and to defend them.