The school called today
Andre didn’t turn in his homework
He said he burned his book
I don’t think so but…
I eat chocolate cake while I contemplate the situation.
The other school called about Paul
The teacher tells me there is a group issue
Paul is missing assignments
I will check and let you know….but first
I eat chocolate cake before digging around in his room
I go to the school to discuss the situation
I let all involved know
That Andre will be staying after school in the tutoring room
Everyday until all the assignments are done
He clings and claws at me
He baby talks and pouts
I escape and walk around campus
And eat that emergency piece…
Of chocolate cake
That I tucked in my purse
Really this is getting too much to manage
Maybe I should turn to booze
And give up the chocolate cake
We get home
Paul is upset because I insist that he does his chore
That he did not do before he went to school
Man, that chocolate cake looks good…tastes better than it looks
Two boys with autism
One deep dark chocolate cake
Autism makes you fat!
“Mom,” says Gracie. “I have an orchestra competition and I need black shoes with heels.”
Heels? I think. She can’t be old enough for heels, can she? There is no way. Just yesterday I was rocking her to sleep, picking out her clothes and teaching her to ride a bike. Heels? I am not ready for this! Heels means makeup, makeup means proms, and proms mean BOYS. Crap…not boys! Not yet! Not EVER!
An hour later we are headed for the store doing the joint mother/daughter thing to pick out her first pair of heels. As I drive a feel a pull in my gut warning me that I should just turn around and go home.
” I like these,” she says as she holds up a pair of 5-inch stilettos that any good hooker would covet.
OH HELL NO! explodes like white lightning throughout my feeble brain. My mother’s words of “No daughter of mine…” come flooding back to me and trip over my tongue on the way out of my mouth.
I feel compelled right here and now, in the middle of the shoe department, to the have “the talk” about what is appropriate and what is not at her age. As I drone on she grimaces, “oh moms” and rolls her eyes more times than I care to count but I think my point has been well taken until she whines…
“I’m not a little girl”
“You’re not twenty-five either nor do you have a job and you don’t earn your own money to buy the things that you want.”
“Of course I don’t have a job,” she shoots back. “I am only 12! But if I did I would be buying those shoes!” her hands gently caressing the soft black velvet.
I take this as a cue to hold up a pair of ballet flats figuring if I show her THESE, knowing she likes THOSE, perhaps we can find a compromise somewhere in this warehouse of shoes.
Gracie holds up a different pair with four-inch heels that climb up her legs like a vine on a tree.
“How about these?” she says with a smile that looks more like a dare.
“How about not.”
And so it goes until she shows me the 10th pair with heels that shoot you up towards the sky.
“Honey,” I ask. “Why is it that you are drawn to shoes with such high heels?”
“Come on mom, think about it. I am the shortest one in my class and on the diving team. No one sees me. Just once I want to look up at someone instead of them looking down on me.”
Finally, I get it. Her need for height is a need for being seen. For being like everyone else, in a world where Asians are often not seen nor heard. For being “looked at” instead of being invisible.
I give her a squeeze and suggest we find something that will give her lift but not up to the clouds. We finally settle on a two-inch inch wedge that gives her a little extra notice but not in that over-the-top teenage way.
As we drive home we talk about girl things. Things I once understood but don’t quite get now. Things I have forgotten as the years have rolled by. Big feelings that once threatened to overtake me when I was her age.
“Mom,” Gracie says. “I have a confession. I didn’t really want those big heels. I just wanted to see what you would let me get away with.”
“Really? Why would you do that?”
“Geez mom, I’m almost a teen. I have to start pushing the boundaries someday you know.”
I laugh and I know that she does, but I hope she will wait just a little bit longer before the boundaries are pushed all the way to Siberia. For the truth is it isn’t the boundaries that worry me it is the fact that she is my baby and there is a small part of me, in a world that moves too fast, that wants her to remain that way forever.
Today after a wonderful day in the Florida Keys I arrived back at the hotel and saw my sweet grand babies. My daughter, Noele, drove 10 hours with a three-year-old and an almost two-year-old in the back of her car. She endured much crying, fighting, and a MAJOR puking incident just so she could see us again. Somehow, with all the mistakes we made as parents she turned out just right despite our good intentions. How that happened I will never know.
From the time she was a tween this mother/daughter team could always find something to argue about. Things like… which side of the toast is the correct side to butter, whether being a strict vegan was taking things to the extreme, and if boys were allowed to be in her room. Much to my dismay while I knew I loved her deeply, I didn’t like her much and our relationship didn’t match the Brady Bunch ideal swimming around in my head. I would see mothers (Carol) and daughters (Marcia) walking the malls together and it would pull at my heart. Seeing teens and their mothers enjoying a movie together hurt like hell. And those mothers who ran the Booster Club with their kids helping along side them…I knew it was never going to happen.
B hunkered down. As a man who avoids conflict at all costs, having two of the women he loved most in the world living in a war zone with him serving as a NATO soldier trying to broker a peace deal was not an easy task. He never could understand all the slammed doors and word grenades being flung from one side of the house to the other and he visibly cringed when skirmishes erupted.
When Noele was fifteen I never envisioned that we would have any sort of relationship until she kicked my casket into the ground. In fact, my biggest hope was that she would graduate early so she could move out of the house sooner and after a year away as an international exchange student, she returned home more stubborn and determined to ignore anything thing we had to say. And who could blame her? She tasted freedom for a year and wanted even more. The parental role I once relished became a nightmare and a battle of wills ensued in which both of us suffered heavy losses. Recovery seemed remote.
But then it happened. One day she grew up and into her own woman. It took a while and a first child for that to happen. The birth of my granddaughter brought several miracles along with her. No longer at odds with each other our commonalities soon surfaced and within those we found mutual respect and a deep well filled with love that was once bone dry.
These days we live at opposite ends of the country. We SKYPE almost daily so we can share tidbits of our daily lives and so that her kids “know” their Grammy and Papa. Noele willingly comes and takes care of her own children plus her brothers and sister so B and I can travel to far-flung places. I can’t imagine someone I would rather invest in a friendship with than my daughter. She values family, is generous with her time and is a good all-around person who has made me proud.
Tomorrow I will wake up with little ones running into my arms again. Squishy hugs and wet kisses will fill my day. We will squirm together, laugh together, and make real- life memories together. And its all because of her…my daughter…a once formidable foe who is now one of my best friends.
This is my sixth trip to South Korea. The first three were blinded by tears as we picked up our children when they were infants. Those days were short but sweet after waiting a half-a-year to finally meet them.
The last time we came to Korea as a family was seven years ago. Those were trying times. The boys were in the midst of autism and there was a real fear we would lose them on the subway. In fact, I remember that Paul decided to play hide-and-seek in the subway and scooted away into a telephone booth while we were racked with panic trying to find him. He was one of those kids who really needed to be on a leash because he would take off if given the chance. It is wonderful to see him this time…so excited to be discovering his culture. I have never seen him as happy as he was today.
On the other hand, Andre was struggling. All the walking. All the newness. All the change wasn’t doing him any favors. He didn’t want to come because change is so difficult for him. But to our credit we make him vacation with our family even though at times it would be easier for him just to stay home. There are just some memories that must be made and I will confess serenity was easy to come by in The Secret Garden.
We have never visited Seoul in the fall before. That was a mistake because the beauty of the place, the slow cool breezes make this experience memorable. The colors are vivid and more intense than I have ever seen. The scenery is amazing. But instead of telling you I will just show you…Korea in her glory.
Yesterday, we had a Marriage Encounter meeting at our home. It was fantastic and the people who came were interesting and good, kind folks. One of the questions that we shared in our circle was: When I first met you did I know what it was to love someone fully?
Of course, for me, the answer was no. When you marry young, I don’t think anyone knows what it is to love fully. I think we try, God bless us, but until you have lived with someone for quite a while I don’t think it is possible to even fathom what loving someone fully means because it often means different things to different people. I think having experienced a history together is necessary for this type of love to come into sharp focus.
I can say that for a very long time I was selfish (maybe still am) because I was demanding to get my needs met by B because they had not been met as a child. I should have been wise enough and mature enough to meet my needs myself but I did not understand the complexity of what that entailed and the depths you have to plumb within your own soul to accomplish that. I also tried to make B love me in ways that were comfortable to me instead of ways that were comfortable for him because I was unwilling to change. I clung to ways I was familiar with instead of having faith in the love B had for me and that his way of showing it was also valuable.
And so yesterday, when I answered the question, I replied that I still did not think that I knew what loving B fully means. But today, after much contemplation, I want a re-do because I think I may have been wrong. Why? Because:
- If I am fighting to preserve my marriage through the worst of times and on those days where it seems impossible to keep putting one foot in front of the other but I do it anyway; then I know what loving someone fully means.
- If I eliminate major flaws within my own personality by reducing anger and increasing peace in order to save my marriage; then I know what loving someone fully means.
- If going to painfully sad counseling sessions to learn about myself and to try to learn to look at things from my loved one’s point of view, while listening to the pain and hurt I have caused them, and actively attempt try to remedy that hurt; then I know what loving someone fully means.
- If I am actively looking for reasons to be grateful for everything wonderful and wondrous about my spouse; then I know what loving someone fully means.
- If I am working hard to see the good in my spouse and I have faith that he has my best interests at heart; then I know what loving someone fully means.
- If I step out of my comfort zone to do the things that make my spouse happy without expecting anything in return; then I know what loving someone fully means.
- If I work hard to improve communication between us in order to reduce misunderstandings; then I know what loving someone fully means
- If I take responsibility for my own actions instead of blaming; then I know what loving someone fully means.
- If I make the conscious choice to find ways to love my husband each and every day event though he may not be at his best; then I know what loving someone fully means.
- If I provide my spouse with gentle encouragement; then I know what loving someone fully means.
- If I talk to my man in the way I would talk to my best friend; then I know what loving someone fully means.
- If I decide that I will do whatever it takes to make things work between us; then I know what loving someone fully means.
- If I am actively working to keep that sense of aloneness between us at bay by finding opportunities for connection; then I know what loving someone fully means.
- If I let go and decide to trust my heart to B completely, then I know what loving someone fully means.
- If I work to put my spouse first… above work, committees and all the other countless things that need our attention; then I know what loving someone fully means.
- Being with my lover through the daily grind is easy but if I choose to be with him during the hardest of times; then I know what loving someone fully means.
- If I practice just listening instead of fixing or giving unwanted opinions; then I know what loving someone fully means.
- If I work on being fully present and in the moment; then I know what loving someone fully means.
- If I share my feelings in a kind and appropriate manner; then I know what loving someone fully means.
Let me say, that I think it is important that you do not lose yourself or what you value in order to love someone fully or have them love you back; for that is not what love is about. And let me also convey that this list is not meant to imply that I do these things perfectly or even well. But I can state that I think I am much closer to knowing what loving someone fully means because I am actively practicing what it takes to show that love everyday, instead of acting as if these things will take care of themselves. It means that although there are times that I fail and disappoint both of us; that at least now I am now mindful and aware of what loving B fully might mean and I try to act accordingly. It means that these are things I want to do of my own accord instead of doing them out of some sort of obligation or expectation. And it also means that although I will continue to have to practice the art of loving B fully each and everyday; that I have faith that because of my love for him, that I will get it right eventually, and that I will be kind enough to grant myself some grace until I do.
This morning I had a long overdue coffee date with a wonderful woman. We are about the same age and are both on the road of discovery about ourselves while deciding what we want the second half of our lives to look like. We have a lot in common in many regards and I hope she is on the way to becoming a good friend.
After coffee was over it occurred to me how much I miss having close female friends. Sometimes I miss it so much it feels like a piece of me has been ripped away and left abandoned out on an isolated road. Alone.
Don’t get me wrong I have some wonderful friends. But due to our constant moving or their moving; these women that I cherish and love are scattered throughout the United States. There is N… my been with me forever friend who has seen me through my youthful indiscretions and has nursed me through the past year. There is C who knew me as a teen and with whom I share a birthday. There is L who makes life something to laugh at and enjoy to the fullest even when I am whining like a baby. And there are several other special ladies who I know would be there for me if I picked up the phone. But what I need at this juncture of my life, and what I miss most, are a couple of good girlfriends to go to coffee with every Thursday to catch up on each others lives.
It is hard making friends at my age. It’s an art really. The type of art I have really never possessed in sufficient quantities… because I don’t do acquaintances. I do… “I’ll save your life if you’re in a raging river”… types of friends. I would do anything for them and they would do just about anything for me. These are the plunging off a cliff, Thelma and Louise, kinds of friends. Frankly, there are not a lot of people I want to risk my life for or go down with at my age. But I am still willing to try to find those kinds of inspiring and fun people and offer them all that I have to give… which is quite a lot.
There are other reasons I find making friends difficult. Sometimes when you have special needs children with challenges it makes it difficult to make friends. Most people have no clue of all the things you have to do to make your life work. They don’t understand when you have to cancel at the last-minute because of a major meltdown that is occurring ten minutes before you are supposed to meet. And being around others whose children also have challenges can be draining for both people because it seems as if too often you are both drowning at once and just holding on by the thinnest of branches. While things have improved in my household sometimes I feel like past behaviors hold me back because I am unsure when those issues will rear their ugly heads again. It makes me afraid to risk “those” looks and “those” whispers from someone I thought was special only to find that they really aren’t. Sometimes I wonder if that isn’t how my sons with autism feel.
There is also the issue that most women’s lives are so full that they barely have time for the friends they currently have much less making time for someone new in their lives. With old friends you know what you have and how to relate. Most people just don’t have the energy to figure out the quirks of a stranger. And I get all of this. I truly do. But damn, it just means that so many of us are missing out on something that is so good.
But really, I don’t want a lot of friends. I just want a small group of coffee klatching Thursday morning women to hang with. Some 40-60 something gals who won’t try to convert me. Won’t try to change me. And will love me despite all my idiosyncracies.
With all the lonely people out there you would think it wouldn’t be that hard to find but it is. Which makes me thankful for all that I do have in my life. Yet, I am greedy and I want more. Much, much more.
Sometimes my house is pure 100% chaos. Sometimes it is as quiet as a lamb. Most of the time it is somewhere in between. But then there THOSE TIMES; the times when Andre digs in and NOTHING I can do will change the trajectory that we are about to embark on.
Change for Andre is difficult. It often is for those on the autistic spectrum. Sometimes that change is as small as using grape jelly as opposed to strawberry on Andre’s PB&J. But more often it is something along the lines of telling him to do his chore.
“Andre you need to empty the dishwasher!” (for the third time)
“I dun’t want to”
“There are lots of things I don’t want to do either but they must be done so empty the dishwasher. NOW”
“I dun’t want to”
This I dun’t want to would go on 100 times if I permitted it. Usually at this point the conversation will escalate to one more warning. Then I head upstairs (with him trying to stop me…pulling on me or poking at me) and take all of his electronics and tell him that he can have them back when his chore is done. This is followed by ten minutes of attempted manipulation, threats (I’ll put your phone in the sink if you don’t give me back my stuff) and flat out increased defiance. Finally, Andre will realize that he has gone too far and then resorts to such things as:
“Tell me you love me mom”
“I need love. Give me a hug NOW.”
I want a kiss NOW”
Along with all the demands he begins hanging all over me DEMANDING a hug or a kiss by clawing at me.
Of course, by this time I am worn out and tired of the CRAP. I try to remember where this is coming from inside his head (fear of abandonment/fear of being unlovable/anxiety) and react accordingly. But there are times when giving him what he needs (a hug) feels so ugly and disingenuous after all the chaos and manipulation that I find it hard to wrap my arms around him. I find it hard to find a place in my heart to grant him the grace that he needs. Most of the time I manage to dig it up from G** knows where but there are times it is almost impossible to find and it is at those moments when I feel like I have been swallowed whole, the best parts of me ripped out and flung far and wide. It is at these times when I start crucifying myself for not being able to give my son what he needs because it is such a little thing that feels so big.
Luckily, most of the time I do not get to this place of self torture because as I start to fall down the rabbit hole; I get ensnarled in the tree roots and find a foot hold to make my way up again. But there are times that I would like to keep falling down that rabbit hole just to feel the impact upon landing. To feel the brokenness that results. And when that happens it makes me realize that is probably what Andre is feeling (the impact) and then I find I can go over and give him that hug. A hug that will ultimately mend us both. A hug that that tells him that I love him and he loves me and that we are in this thing called autism together. Forever.
Today is the first day of school and it is about as good as a man getting down on one knee and slipping a diamond on your finger. For moms all over the world this day sparkles and shines like no other.
I remember each of my children’s first day of Kindergarten. Everyone was excited and a bundle of nerves, parents included. Now it’s old hat as I go through the list that is burned into my brain like a branded cow.
“Do you have your…lunch, notebooks, backpack, pencils, school schedule?”
“Where are your shoes? Did you change your underwear? (yes, this question MUST be asked in my household) Go put on your socks! Hurry! or you will be late!!!”
” You didn’t brush your teeth. Go do it. Andre…the hair…brush your hair! Wait….you didn’t shower, Andre. Don’t argue…DO IT! Paul, go wash your face and put on your medicine. Make your beds!!! What do you mean you don’t like chicken salad…since when?”
And so it goes until all questions have been answered to my satisfaction and off we go, kids slightly nervous and me, the calmest I has been in months with a smile plastered on my face that is wide as the Grand Canyon and remains with me all day. Yes, this feeling is better than any happy pill that has ever been invented!
“You sure sound chipper,” remarks my dad.
“You look great,” another mom comments.
“You have a glow about you!” says the grocery clerk.
And they are right. After a summer of sibling arguments and hearing “I’m Bored;” I have the eau de parfum Ode To School #5 floating about me, the fog has lifted from my brain, and I am glowing more than I ever did when I was pregnant. For today is the first day of school and I happily refer to it as… Mother’s Day!
At 10:00 p.m. the first night I dropped her off at camp I received the call I had been dreading.
“I’m homesick,” sob, sobbing harder, and then louder.
“My roommates didn’t show up.” SOB, tears falling so hard and fast as they hit the phone it sounded like rain hitting the roof.
“You don’t have roommates?”
“Yes, I convinced two other girls to join me.”
“I hate it here!” WAAAAHHHHHHHHH
“Don’t you like the pool?”
“No, its horrible!” Sniff, sniff, sniff
“Are you learning any new skills?”
“N-o, I h-a-te it h-e-r-e” hicup, hicup, hyperventilate.
“Are you wanting me to pick you up?”
“Yes, come immediately!!!!”
“Honey, by the time I would get there it would be 3 a.m. and I just drove home from their today. I can’t do that and I won’t do that!”
And the longer we talked the worse it got until I finally realized I was in a no-win situation and she would keep this up until Sunday, the battery power on her phone died, or at the very least until the sun rose.
In exasperation I said to my littlest
“Honey, I have to go, so put on your big girl panties and tough it out. Here’s the thing, you have the ability to choose what this weekend will be for you. You can choose to be miserable or you can choose to be happy, to have a great time, learn lots and create a bunch of memories. It’s your choice. Personally, I would choose happy because that is the only REAL choice you have if you want to have a good life. Start practicing making good choices.”
And then I hung up the phone before it got wet as the salty drops started to splatter around me.