Memory Lane: The Window Wars
Updated: May 25, 2019
Occasionally on this blog I will share a personal experience from my childhood or college years, which has taken on new light with the recent discovery of my ASD.
For this first one I naturally gravitated to a memory that is particularly strong, because it was one of only two things that ever caused anything close to the stereotypical parent-teenage strife in my adolescence. Both of the two things, now that I look back, had very much to do with my individual manifestations of ASD as a child.
This particular source of strife emanated from a seemingly innocuous source: my bedroom window.
There came a soft knock on my door, and I knew it was Mom. The only other person in the house was my sister, and she never knocked.
The door was open before I finished my noncommittal, “Come in...” I was absorbed in a book on my bed, and did not look up.
“Hi Honey,” Mom started saying, then, in a jarringly different tone, “Brrrrr! Why is it so cold in here??? Aren’t you freezing??”
I looked up then, carefully marking my place in my book. She had a point. It was cold. But it was nice.
She took in my 3 sweaters, my position bundled up under the covers of my bed, and strode straight over to my bedroom window.
“Why is your window wide open??” she asked.
“I like my window open.” I said simply.
She shook her head and, as any sane parent would do, no doubt fearing the death of her first-born by pneumonia, she closed my window. “Sarah, you cannot keep your window open like that. It’s the middle of winter!”
I could see her logic. And I tried to comply - but the air in my room quickly became solid and stale. It was stifling. I couldn’t breathe. With my window closed, I was cut off. Cut off from the sky, from the clouds, from the life-giving wind.
My acquiescence lasted all of 24 hours before my window was wide open again. I just loved the way my room felt when the window had been open all day, no matter the weather. It was like coming home to a tiny secret sanctuary after a hectic day at school - a separate world, all my own. I kept my bedroom door closed so that my room would maintain its own unique temperature control. And not mess up the temperature of the rest of the house.
A day or two later, I came home from school to find that my window had been closed, without my consent or prior knowledge. I was angry. My secret sanctuary space was ruined - desecrated. It had turned back into that stale, dead space.
I confronted my mother - the only possible culprit.
“Sarah,” she countered reasonably, stirring that night's ravioli dinner on the stove. “There was an ice cold blast of air shooting out from under your door this morning - you can’t keep your window open all day in the wintertime - it’s too cold - all of the windows in the house stay closed.”
That night, I opened my window again, and stuffed a towel into the gap between my door and the floor.
Now, I was a fairly easy-going child. I rarely argued. I very rarely disobeyed. Even as a teenager, I never acted out or rebelled. I knew this about myself. But for some reason, I just could not bear having my bedroom window shut. Snow, rain, ice, heat - nothing kept me from my open window.
Especially rain. Rain was my favorite.
The fresh, crisp smell of the earth after it rained... It filled me and my room with peace and tranquility and satisfaction and wonder.**
Summer came. And with it came the baking hot sun, the smell of leaves manufacturing chlorophyl, and the sound of buzzing bees.
"You are letting all the air conditioning out of the house!" came my mother's justifiably exasperated complaint.
I knew that logically couldn't be true. My room was just my room, and with my door closed and stuffed, the rest of the house was relatively safe. But, this particular argument of my mother's stung me, because I had learned recently in school that the chemicals used in air conditioning could harm the ozone layer. Mother Nature lover that I was, that day I closed the air vent in my room, preventing our central air system from ventilating into my space and, subsequently, out my window.
Over the course of four seasons, my ceaseless, silent campaign to address each of the obstacles my mother put in the way of my unorthodox window habits finally laid the argument to rest. Mom recognized defeat against my relentless need for total climate control of my room - where normally I was a relatively docile and positive teenager, in this I was unmovable.
Looking back, I realize now how much this had to do with my sensory needs at the time, and was related, if not completely, at least very heavily, to my ASD. Adolescence was tumultuous for me (as it is for many, both on and off the spectrum), though nobody seeing me then would have known it. Social anxieties - my weakest point - were at their height, and having my own private space to come home to every day gave me the mental fortitude to refresh, reset, and recenter for another day at the zoo of chaos and hormones called High School. I communed with the breeze and the quiet sounds and smells of nature. I imagined, laying there in my room, that I was on my back in a green field of soft grass, gazing up at billowy white clouds in a clear blue sky. I maintained complete control over my environment in that room - a place where I could truly relax and unplug and be me. The quirk of keeping my window open at all times in all seasons made the space truly mine, and gave me the sensory escape that I needed.
Thanks, Mom, for understanding, in the end. =) As a Mom myself now, I can tell you, I would react the same way you did. Let's see what your grandson can teach me over the years, the way that we taught each other...
**As an adult I have since learned that there is in fact a word to describe that exact smell - the smell of the earth after it rains. Petrichor. Learning that made me think maybe there are other people in the world who love that exact scent as much as I do, to have created a word just for that!