When I was travelling through the wilderness of New Zealand I developed a simple mantra: step, step, step. Soaked to the skin in never-ending rain, tramping uphill towards a mountain pass that didn’t get any closer, with nothing but a cold cabin & faulty gas burner waiting for me, it was too much to think of the end goal. Or the middle goal. Or even the next hundred yards. I could only focus on lifting my foot, moving it forward, placing it down, step, step, step.
Raising a baby is all about the steps. My partner Lizzie thinks it’s about getting through the day, but to me that’s far too long term. Don’t think of reaching bedtime, don’t think of the next three hours. Live in the moment.
As I write this, Izzie is cuddled in my arms with hiccups, looking at me in a confused, mesmerising fashion. When the hiccups finish, will I need to change a nappy, feed her, burp her, settle her to sleep? It doesn’t matter. Right now I’m holding her as she hiccups and that’s good enough.
When the authorities learned that two people with AS were expecting, they assigned the unborn baby a social worker and set about testing our capability to raise a child. How would we meet its social and emotional needs? What would we do if it was eight years old and being bullied, or twelve and struggling to make friends? What sort of things did we witness as children (a particularly leading question, I thought: I witnessed some truly awful McDonald’s adverts, but I’m not sure that counts)?
My answer was that no prospective parent can possibly know what they’ll do so far in the future. We were learning about breastfeeding, nappies, burping, not studying dating advice for teenagers. Like any parent we’ll sort out the baby thing first, then the toddler thing when it arrives, then each stage in turn. And when the baby is being bullied at eight, we’ll have eight years of parenting experience, and be better capable of answering that question than if I made something up now.
They ultimately discharged us, with a view to checking in every so often to make sure we’re hitting the social and emotional milestones, whatever those are. Sometimes I think we know too much, and put undue pressure on parents and children, Aspie or otherwise, to fit into a model of what is deemed ‘normal’. But right now, I’m just thinking of step, step, step.
(And the next step was a nappy change, in case you were wondering!)