Don’t let them become “THEM”

“THEM” was a 1954 movie, in which nuclear tests created giant ants that menaced the world. It was scary when I was a little kid, but now the primitive special effects, over-the-top music and ham acting make it humorous.

I sometimes cut the tension of care giving with science fiction humor. A friend who is raising several autistic kids gets a kick out of emails in which I ask, “What are the space invaders up to now?” When folks look perplexed by my son’s behaviors, I say, “That’s a sign of friendship on his planet.”

Friends let us use a time share in the resort town of Branson, Missouri one summer. There was record heat that year, and we spent many hours in the shady part of a water park.

My wife and I were buying some cold drinks, when I realized that our son wasn’t with us. I spun around to discover that he had gone out to the pool deck, which was full of sunbathers, and there decided he was uncomfortable in wet shorts. So he took them off. That might have been a cute photo op with a toddler, but it was excruciating for the parents of a teenager. I rushed over, covered him with a towel, and led him away from the mortified sun worshippers. I tried to lighten the mood by lamenting the lack of dress code on his home planet, but I wasn’t getting any laughs. Tough crowd.

When we think about the ones who receive our care, and all the ways their needs can overwhelm our abilities and resources, it can really mess with our capacity to love them. They become “THEM,” beings who are so different that they become “aliens” – confusing and frightening intruders in our world.

It is important to plan down time into our days. Yes, respite for ourselves to find refreshment, but also hours with those in our care that don’t include an agenda that can be frustrated and tasks that must be done. Time to just be around those in our care, chit chatting if that’s available, “Uh-huh”-ing and “Mmm-hmm”-ing at their private language if that’s all the connection we can make.

Heck, spouses, friends and lovers have times where they just sit in proximity and don’t say or accomplish much. It is part of loving. It can help us maintain those in our care as “them, not ‘THEM,'” and shield us from burnout.

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