Trou­bled son prompts ma­ter­nal re­flec­tion

Boomer & Me: A Mem­oir of Mother­hood, and Asperger’s

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Books - Joanne Fedler

By Jo Case Hardie Grant, 198pp, $24.95

JO Case’s mem­oir of mother­hood and Aperger’s be­gins with a de­scrip­tion of the author’s new dog scratch­ing at the back door. She tells us she doesn’t like dogs: ‘‘ This one be­wil­ders me with her as­sault of be­long­ing and her naked need. I can’t be­lieve she is mine.’’ What a per­fect de­scrip­tion of mother­hood, I think.

The book then eases us into Case’s story, mid-cookie bak­ing for the sixth birth­day of her son Leo (who calls him­self Boomer). And it’s as if we’ve al­ways been there, amid the or­di­nary tu­mult and bus­tle of her Melbourne life, watch­ing her lie on the couch, bat­tling with her in­se­cu­ri­ties. ‘‘ I know that Leo suf­fers from my in­abil­ity to be­friend other mums,’’ she writes. He rarely has play dates . . . At his age, play dates are ex­ten­sions of the mothers’ friend­ships: af­ter­noon cof­fees and week­end film out­ings. I’m about ten years younger than the other mums. I don’t own a house and I can’t feign an in­ter­est in choos­ing kitchen tiles or ne­go­ti­at­ing with trades­men. I have no recipes to swap and no in­ter­est in gourmet in­gre­di­ents. I know noth­ing about trans­port prob­lems given that I don’t drive a car. I’m not a proper grown-up.

But if there’s one thing worse than not fit­ting in, it’s be­ing the mother of some­one who doesn’t fit in. Case shares what it’s like when your kid is the one pulling his pants down at school, hit­ting other kids, los­ing it on the footy field; the one al­ways on the fringe of so­cial ac­cep­tance. She tus­sles be­tween not un­der­stand­ing Leo and res­onat­ing with him; from wish­ing he were ‘‘ nor­mal’’ to loving him just as he is.

Along the way she en­dures snubs, with­drawals and com­ments from mothers with per­fect chil­dren: ‘‘ I think the prob­lem is [Leo’s] per­son­al­ity.’’

Leo’s be­hav­iour sets Case and her ex­part­ner Mark (Leo’s dad) on an in­ves­ti­ga­tion to ‘‘ get to the bot­tom’’ of his dif­fi­cul­ties. It is a re­lief wrapped around a heartache to have a di­ag­no­sis of Asperger’s con­firmed. Case is un­sure whether the label will help oth­ers to un­der­stand Leo or mark him as ‘‘ de­fec­tive’’.

What par­ent­ing yields by way of lessons is that our kids will teach us things about our­selves we do not know or nec­es­sar­ily wish to learn. It takes hu­mil­ity and courage to meet this head-on. Case’s hu­mour and strength shine as she turns to­wards this con­fronta­tion.

Boomer & Me is filled with ex­am­ples of Case’s ec­cen­tric­i­ties as a mother, one who thinks noth­ing of wad­ing into the sea in the rain to get her son a starfish; loses it with an un­sym­pa­thetic teacher; in­ap­pro­pri­ately over­shares with strangers; and who feels awkward in so­cial sit­u­a­tions.

Learn­ing more about Asperger’s, Case be­gins to won­der whether she too has some of the char­ac­ter­is­tics. It dawns on her that in try­ing to un­der­stand her son, she’s look­ing in a mir­ror. It is as much a story of self-re­al­i­sa­tion and self-ac­cep­tance as it is about mother­hood: The one thing that breaks my heart is that he will al­ways have to work hard to con­nect with other peo­ple; it will never be easy for him. I hate the idea that he will be anx­ious all his life; al­ways ques­tion­ing him­self. Like me.

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