Posted by: autismland | February 16, 2007

The Meanings of Mom (#606)

Charlie said Thursday night, lying on the couch with one hand under his head and the other pointed at his mouth and, more specifically, at his loose tooth. “Mahm, help.”

I have been many things to Charlie, but “dentist” is not on the list.


Charlie walked across the room, his eyes on me the whole way. “I want!” Pause, eyes still on me, lower lip pulled down to think. “Eat bread!”

(As I handed him the bread, I noticed two gaps on the bottom of his mouth—who knows where the teeth ended up…….)


Charlie turned back to fix that same gaze on me as he ran up the stairs. “Wait ten minutes for Mom to get ready,” I said.




“You can get your socks on” (meaning that Charlie went to get his socks, shoes, coat, hat, and gloves, ran into the bathroom, ready to go pick up Jim at the train station).


Charlie touched my right arm after the waitress had set down a bowl of steaming brown noodles, his request a vestigial trace of last summer’s bout of food throwing due to (I think) anxiety. I placed one finger on his bowl as he dug in (and attempted chopsticks with my left hand—-and quickly reached for a fork).


Charlie was rifling through one of my books and had pulled out a post-it note I had used to mark a page. He crumbled the note and then held it out to me: “Giff!”

“Mahm. Mahm, Mahm, Mahm!”

10.45pm and Charlie was still rolling around in his bed. Jim went down to talk to him and called me down; Charlie was crouched on the floor looking under his bed. “Mahm, Mahm.”

I crouched down too and saw that his photo calendar had gotten stuck between the wall and the bed. I fished it out, and realized that I had forgotten to give Charlie his melatonin, and promptly did.

(Guess this mom had a few other things on her mind…….)

“Mom” means a little more than apple pie around here.


  1. Why do you write even words like “mom” (which is as far as I know always pronounced “mahm”) differently than they’re ordinarily spelled, when Charlie says them?

  2. I’ve been trying to catch a certain intonation in Charlie’s voice. When he says “Mahm,” he draws out the vowel. I used to write “Mom” and I think I may just go back to that—-thanks for noticing this.

  3. Yes Kristina, I think MOM is certainly in constant demand. And indispensable!

    With regards to using ” Mahm” I actually like that.

    I think you are conveying to your readers a picture of the quintessential Charlie. I think it is also more personal, and endearing.
    Like Charlie’s “bue blanket”

    Gotta go now. Marks’ calling out.
    “Mummy put on muuscic (sic)
    I want Carly Simon please!”

    Who can resist such a a polite request eh?

    PS He is mad on Carly Simon. However I think that I AM going mad, I’ve heard this particular cd over and over again. I’m sure you know the feeling Kristina! Lol

    C’est la vie!

  4. I had a lot of articulation problems growing up. I would not have liked it if someone had spelled everything I said phonetically because other people thought it was cute or personal.

  5. Ballastexistenz: I am very glad that you brought up this point. I have been thinking all day about how Charlie would convey what I say to him. My intention was not, indeed, to make him sound “cute” though I can see how that could well be seen in some (in much) of what I write about him. It is a point I need to keep working on.

    Kathy: I like to write down what Charlie says as it sounds to my ear (as you wrote of Mark) as a record, and to try to convey more precisely what his voice sounds like. Not an easy task!

    Charlie has yet to hear Carly Simon—-he has a preference to hear male singers, I’ve noted (this is one reason why he does not want to hear the music I like)—it is a good thing for us that we no longer listen to certain Barney songs “again and again.”

  6. ” I had a lot of articulation problems growing up. I would not have liked it if someone had spelled everything I said phonetically because other people thought it was cute or personal.”

    Fair enough Ballastexistenz point taken.
    But ……I do think you have to look at intent and the person in question.

    Someone with intent to ridicule or belittle should not be classified in the same category as one’s dear Mum.*(Australian spelling*)

    And if a Mum relates a biographical story about her child, telling it exactly how it is, phonetic spelling and all, I don’t think there is anything wrong with that. On the contrary it could be of benefit to parents in similar situations…..

    And anyway, all mothers think their kids are cute, even if others don’t.

    I remember when I was a kid and Mum would always put my hair up in pigtails cause she thought I looked so cute. I didn’t like it because I thought I had rather big ears, but put up with it for Mums sake.

    Unfortunately I have now long passed the ” cute” stage! *Sigh*

    cheers Amanda

  7. I’ve also been partial to writing Charlie saying “Mahm” because there’s a big of a Chinese pronunciation in that (I call my own mother—who may well be reading this—“Mah” as well as “Mom.”)

    It’s a great thing to have Charlie calling me, however he says it.

  8. I didn’t say anything about intent to ridicule. I find it more… something I call view-from-above (something that I see on this blog and many other places a lot, but find hard to describe) that someone else called “othering” when I tried to describe it.

  9. It’s not intentional othering, that’s for sure—perhaps, being the parent that I am, it’s something very hard for me to step out of. I try rather to be view-from-below or perhaps outside–me trying to understand Charlie, and never quite getting it right.

  10. Hmmm.. Well..
    Othering , really refers to proping up ones own ego.. I have not really encountered any mothers of autistic kids engaging in this..

    I don’t think that we should be too.. analytical here…
    But should defer to the maxim that Mother knows best!

  11. No, what I’m talking about doesn’t refer to propping up one’s ego: You keep bringing it back to motivations (ridicule, propping up one’s ego, etc), and I’m not talking about motivations, I’m talking about results.

    I’m finding this whole conversation disturbing, because you keep turning this into an attack on Kristina’s motivations (which it isn’t and never was), and because you are using a set of signals in this conversation that I have no access to as an autistic person and that leave no room for reasoned disagreement.

    Because that would be “too analytical” — regardless of whether it is or not (and somehow I think a professor can handle analytical better than I can even if it is analytical) — and I should presumably defer to a small cluster of words that have nothing to do with reality. I don’t have any interest in things that have nothing to do with reality, nor do I have the ability to suspend disbelief in the way you are asking me to. I hope that you do not routinely back autistic people into corners with words in this manner.

  12. What I am talking about (if I can be permitted to talk about it without accusations of attacking people’s motivations, being too analytical, or doing something wrong by failing to defer to small clusters of nice-sounding words that don’t actually mean anything):

    Maybe it’s the view from outside that I’m picking up on — that could very well contribute to the sense of “othering” (note that is a borrowed word, I don’t have words for this, language is not my strongest point on things like this, please do not act as if I am attributing motivations by using a word somebody else pointed out to me). Because I do not see you describe other people in your life from as far outside as you describe Charlie. Which gives the impression of extreme distance from him, and lack of distance from other people, on your part. Which in turn gives the impression that the people you are not distant from are part of a group that includes you, and Charlie is something different entirely — some other.

  13. I think I have described Charlie as you note, Ballastexistenz, in an attempt to respect how “different” Charlie is from me—-and I see that this strategy has its limitations. I never want to presume that I truly know what is going on in Charlie’s mind, more than I can in regard to any other person. It’s the reason we try our best to teach Charlie to self-advocate.

    It’s an issue of audience, to some extent—being a parent, I can’t help but write from a parental perspective and who knows but parents in general “other” their children in writing about them. Like you, Kathy, this mother certainly tries her best!

  14. Amanda, I think you misunderstand me dear.

    I am not trying to upset you or back you or anyone into a corner, nor accuse you of anything.

    I am just a mum of a beautiful little guy who happens to be autistic, just trying to do the best she can!

    Though I know many a time I fall short, and wonder if I am handling things the right way,it is heartening and helpful to read blogs like Kristina’s, and to read other peoples opinions.

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