Ian has never been afraid. Of anything. He would climb the Eiffel Tower the hard way if he was given half a chance. Height was something he desired, not something he was wary of, and as a toddler, he would climb on anything. Yes, I know, all children love to climb and jump; it was just the lengths to which Ian took his obsession that were extraordinary. He would climb the door frame, right to the very top, and stay there as if it were the easiest thing in the world. It terrified guests when he would run – run! – along the back of the couch, a surface only two inches wide and more than three feet off the ground. Or climb onto the head of his rocking horse and stand there, rocking, whilst reading a book… He had the balance of a cat, and like a cat, he would want to be up there, on top of something.
But when Ian was a toddler, once he had achieved his height-of-the-day – preferably at least five feet off the ground – he would look for me. And the minute he had my attention, he would launch himself, totally trusting, completely unafraid, straight into my arms. Sometimes across yards of empty space. I was strong then. I caught him easily, hugged him tightly, and spun around, swinging his legs through the air. He loved it.
Once Ian started to speak, he was quick to fix a phrase on this favourite activity. “Catch me!” became part and parcel of our days. I had to be prepared, always. He was good, he would wait for me to put my arms out to catch him, but sometimes he was in a hurry and I had to be quick. Every time I caught him I would hug him tightly, and say “I’ve got you!”, and we would laugh together.
Then, of course, time passed, and Ian grew. “Catch me!” became harder as he became bigger and heavier. Instead of catching him in my arms and hugging him tightly, the catch had to become more of a controlled swing, guiding him towards a safe landing on the ground. An assisted jump, with me protecting my fractious spine.
Then he got even bigger, and I could no longer catch him in the air. The game had to be stopped. If Ian climbed up onto something and called “Catch me!”, I would walk away, and he was quick to climb down again. Autistic, not stupid.
Over time, the game morphed into something a little calmer, more to do with connecting, with making contact, than with actually being ‘caught’.
When I walked into Ian’s bedroom this morning, he greeted me with a very cheerful “Good morning, Mummy”, quickly followed by “Catch me!” and he threw his arms around my neck and gave me a big hug.
I responded with the required “I’ve got you!” and hugged him back with a tightness in my throat because it was a good morning, this morning, when Ian was bright and his eyes were clear. When the greeting came from him before it came from me. With eye-contact, and a smile. How changeable he is.
Later, Ian was sitting at the kitchen table eating his breakfast toast and I was on the other side, writing in his daily notebook. Suddenly, he flung his arms across the table and said “Catch me!” again, and I gripped his hands tightly and responded “I’ve got you, my boy!”, and we shared a smile.
After Ian had left for his day placement and I was walking the dog through the gnarled trees in the forest, I found myself thinking about this strange sequence.
Catch me! – I’ve got you!
Ian is nineteen now. Long gone are his days of flying through the air into my arms. For him, it is enough that I catch his hands and squeeze them tightly, and smile at him, and say “I’ve got you”.
But on a special day, “Catch me!” is the signal for hugs.
Today is a special day indeed.