Troubled son prompts maternal reflection
Boomer & Me: A Memoir of Motherhood, and Asperger’s
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.