Ian has asperger. Explaining the past seventeen years with Ian takes a book. Born without a manual, we wrote it as we went along. It includes quite a number of success stories. Equally, looking back, there are things we could have done better. I assume many parents feel that way. He is a most precious child, extremely creative. The attic has many boxes filled with his drawings. I can endlessly marvel at the stories that developed as he was drawing. I used to be his big hero, and we spent an absolutely wonderful time together when he was a child. Yet, since he reached the age of fourteen, I have faced moments of deep dispair, feeling I was failing to make his restless soul happy. He is eternally seeking to belong, not necessarily reading the signs. His default position is to reject my advice. After the rocky years of adolescence, it does seem things may gradually be turning for the better. I want him to truly know that Aidan and I are there for him, that we love him. Yet, I have come to accept that this gem stone will make his own journey through life, wherever it will take him. As our horse coach in Ireland told us when talking about her adult sons: “Boys can’t be told.” I agree.
For Ian, interactions with children at school proved to be tough, especially in primary school with parents meddling in on who should be friends with who. Ian was rarely invited to children’s birthday parties. Equally, aside from a few exceptions, throughout primary school, teachers generally found Ian to be a difficult child. And so, from the age of ten, Aidan and I created a parallel world for him: we picked up horse riding as a family. Ian connects really well with animals, and horses were no exception to this. We became a member of a small scale stable that is family oriented. It had a warm group of children of the same age, sharing this same passion. Both Lise and Ian spent a great part of their childhood there. Summer camps were numerous and joyful. And for Ian, it certainly made up for the lack of interactions with his school mates.
As Ian became a teenager, he wanted to get more out of the horse riding. He wanted to learn jumping, and take part in competitions. As the stable didn’t offer that level of support, and as we all had come to a platform when it came to learning how to ride dressage, we moved our horses to a new place. As a result, we could now take private lessons, and Ian could start taking part in competitions with his big friend Daydream. I thought we had made him happy, but I had to realize I was very wrong. Ian always aims for higher, instead of capitalizing on what is already achievable. As a result of his ambition, combined with his lack of fear, his learning curve is steep. Yet, the more he learned, the more frustrated he got. Competitions became a sequence of failures, because he didn’t have the patience to first acquire the skills and then subscribe for the lower level jumps, which Daydream masters perfectly well.
This is very similar to Ian picking up skiing. I remember him skiing ahead of me down the slope, way faster than his skills allowed him, falling, me holding my breath. Just to see him get back up, and do it again. This is how Ian learns, the hard way. With this safe and forgiving Daydream, it has not been any different.
In May, after eighteen months of practice, to end his growing frustration about Daydream, we bought him a new horse, Kesh. Lise’s legs have grown so long by now that her pony became too small for her. She will gradually transition to Daydream in the coming months. Both of our children are kind with their animals. Yet what each of them seeks is very different. Lise rides horses because she loves the interaction with them, they are not a medium for her to shine. That’s also how I interact with Desert, so I can relate to it more. I admit that I’m secretly happy for our friendly Daydream to be put under the care of our patient Lise. Kesh has more potential than Daydream, and Ian is ready for this level. Aidan and I judged it wise to continue to board Kesh where Kesh’s coach is based. The fact that she also works as a teacher with children with autism was an extra we learned about after we had taken our decision. She demands Ian’s respect, doesn’t go along with any unrealistic goals, and her lessons are top. For the past couple of weeks, Ian has been thriving under her watch. His progress as to cultivating fine riding skills, not imposing oneself on the horse, is impressive. The only drawback of our decision on the boarding location is that Kesh is at a one-hour drive from our house. This means lots of time is spent in the car. But those drives prove to be an ideal moment to bond with Ian. We have many valuable conversations, and we listen to music, both of us singing along, wiggling in our seats to the rhythm of the songs. It’s fun, fun that had somewhat gone missing.
Tonight Ian and I are picking up Kesh to drive her to a three-day competition. This means more than two hours in the car, and tons of material and a horse to load and unload. After a sleepless night following yesterday’s revelations, I don’t know where I will find the energy.