13 And Counting

I remember the first time I saw Gracie. She was sitting on her foster mother’s lap, so tiny and delicate, that she looked like a doll. She was a preemie so everything about her seemed fragile and small. I fell in love with her right then and there as I stared at the tiny 3×4 inch photo in my computer screen; engraving her sweet face on my heart forever. Truly, it was love at first sight and I was bound and determined that she would become our daughter. I thank my lucky stars that my dream came true because everyday with Gracie has been a delightful dream with a mixture of happiness, joy, and a pinch of awe thrown in for good measure. She truly is amazing!

Today Gracie turns thirteen. It is hard to believe that I will never again be raising a mere child. Instead, I am guiding young adults towards the time when they leave the nest…hopefully for good.

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Since Gracie is a now an official teenager, it means I have four teens living in my house. Maybe I should say co-existing, as war could erupt any minute when you are stepping through emotional teenage land mines which are scattered, undetected, here and there. Gracie assures me that she will not act like a teen but she is already rolling her eyes and using THAT tone of voice which indicates that somehow I have become the absolute dumbest person ever to live on this planet. Forget the 55+ years of experience, the college degrees and my affable personality…I am soon to be regulated to the status of something below pond scum.

While I am excited about someday becoming an empty nester (finger crossed) I do have to admit I miss those times when my children thought I could do no wrong, when they believed I was smarter than G*D, and when the little things I did brought them such pleasure. Those were simpler times though I didn’t recognize them as such. I often viewed them as chaotic with all the meltdowns that two children with autism could bring. But now… well, even the meltdowns don’t seem quite as bad as when I was in the midst of them and I can look back and be proud of how I handled some situations that would tax the patience of a saint. Not to say I handled them all well but I did GOOD ENOUGH and that is just fine with me at this point in the game.

Today is one of those momentous days. Time and perceptions will shift for both Gracie and I as the label of TEEN is applied like a gooey sticker to her soul. May we each grant the other grace and dignity in the coming years as she grows wiser and my brain cells shrink in number. May we create memories that sustain us and may we see the best in each other instead of the worst. For the teenage years are upon us…may we both survive them with patience and our sense of humor intact! And may Gracie happily survive the impact that autism has on a family and a sibling..she has done a remarkable job thus far.

Happy Birthday My Sweet, Talented, Gracious, Fun-Loving And Hard-Working Baby Girl! You are my Superhero!

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Dance

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Tonight I chaperoned a high school dance. The girls were glitzed and glammed, each out doing one another in the hair, makeup, and dress department.  The boys….well they were typical  teenage boys…nerdy, sweet, and 100 years behind the girls in just about every way imaginable. Most of them sat together and played video games while the girls stood around whispering to each other, laughing, and talking the talk. Meanwhile the boys who weren’t gaming, looked somewhat green around the gills, as if they were in intense pain trying to outdo one another to impress the girls with puffy-chest macho displays. Frankly, it’s a wonder that the two sexes ever come together at all.

After spending the first half of the evening checking the kids in (what do you mean you forgot your parental permission slip) I decided to head over to the dance floor in hopes picking up some new steps. Unfortunately, watching teenage boys move to the grove is like watching an elephant attempt to play the kazoo while dancing the lead in Swan Lake…there is NOTHING that can make it look pretty. Hips go one way while butts go another and I swear I saw a couple of heads do a 360 while sitting squarely on their shoulders. But the worst thing was the fact that not one of them could keep tempo to the music. It was like watching a little old man crossing the street using a walker…one speed only… with head bent and body stooped their bellies almost dragging on the ground. The ones still moving upright were sweating like Trump’s Communication Director when the President is in front of a microphone… never sure what ungodly thing might happen to destroy all their carefully laid plans.

Yet, with all the hormones on high alert things stayed sweaty but calm and everyone was having a good time, chaperones included. Something about the unchanging ways of nervous teens brings you back to your own school dance and you realize just how far you have come!

Of course, there is always some sort of drama. At our school dance this is the End Of The Night Song. It is the one and only slow dance that the deejay plays the entire night. Stomachs tense and butterflies alight and the girls begin to giggle as the time draws near. If the truth be told no one wants to dance the last dance and everyone is crushed if they don’t. As the first notes of Fade Into You began, I was surprised to feel a tap on my shoulder. When I turned around Paul was standing there.

“Would you like to dance, Mom?” he asked strong and sure in his choice.

“Me?” I asked.

“Sure. You’re the prettiest girl here.”

And as I stepped into his arms I knew without a doubt that all those years of hard work raising two children with autism had paid off.  I was obviously doing something right in this life and was finally reeping the rewards.

 

 

Eat Chocolate Cake

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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

Almost gone…

Autism makes you fat!

Stilettos

“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.

Pitter Patter of Little Feet

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

Busan

Today we took the bullet train south. I love the train system here and wish that in the States we had a great train system like they do all over Asia.  In 2 1/2 hours we were down at the opposite end of the country and it was a great ride. Smooth, fast and comfy and in a blink of an eye we were there.

I love Busan, South Korea. It is a very special town to me because one of my children was born here. I first visited it about 15 years ago and I have to say it has changed. No longer the sleepy port city it once was, it is now a vibrant, racy place with a touch of its past tucked within its alleys.

Busan is a town that reminds me of another…San Francisco. Hilly, temperate and scenic this city is a place I could spend a lot of time at. One of my favorite things about it is the food. I love Changseondong Meokja Golmok food alley. Here you will find live eels, octopi and other sea creatures ready for the grill…or not. One of the delicacies here are live octopi swallowed whole which I am told tickles when it slides down your throat. I do not think I will be that brave but I wish I was.

But rather than tell you about Busan, here are some pictures to show you what a great food town this is. Bon Appetite!

 

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Sit Still

It’s Sunday. B is out hiking in the mountains with Paul while I put on 8,500 steps talking and walking around the block. Gracie is sitting here whining at me, “I’m bored. There is nothing to do!” while Andre keeps raiding the refrigerator.

Me? Working on a puzzle and refusing to go anywhere at all. I don’t want to move after being on the go constantly last week . I want to sit in the stillness of the day and observe, ask questions and just enjoy what we have created together. But pressure is being put on me by the kids to leave the house…go food shopping or somewhere fun. You are wasting your time trying to convince me for its not happening today unless you are losing blood in vast quantities. And maybe not even then.

I have no idea how this generation of kids is going to survive when they are adults. Without 24/7 entertainment I suspect they will perish should the time come when there is a power outage that lasts over one hour. Having to always be entertained is a great burden and trying to fill it will be an exhausting never-ending effort when they are adults. In addition, they will have to make a ton of money to pay for their entertainment addiction. Frankly, illegal drugs would cost them less.

And so my sweet kidlets , I just want you to know I am doing you a favor by trying to break this chain of constant on-demand entertainment. Let’s relax… do nothing… or lets try some mediation. Let’s just zen out together doing something together that costs nothing. Believe it or not, we can just sit in the stillness with one another and we will be just fine. Who knows, you may just learn to appreciate the qualities that make us…us. And that would be mighty fine entertainment.

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Mother’s Day

Back-to-School

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!

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Holes… Or When I Am Gone

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Me: I am going to miss you when I am gone (B and I are going to SLC this weekend)

Andre: I’ll miss you too

Me: Why will you miss me

Andre: You do my laundry, you cook for me, You make my lunch

Me: Is the only reason you’ll miss me is because of all the things I do for you

Andre: Well, to be honest it helps
Me: So what are you going to do when I am not able to do those things for you
Andre: Well, I guess I will get married

 

I love my son. Truly I do. But because of his autism everything to him is from a “what are you going to do for me” perspective and very rarely a “what can I do for you” thought even occurs to him. The one daily chore he is expected to do is often a battlefield and it doesn’t matter to him that everyone else is doing their part. This lack of reciprocal interaction or loving behavior on his part often makes me feel hollow inside.

With most children you have some sort of back and forth relationship. A relationship in which the child wants to please the adult in their life and vice versa. Usually it’s a fairly balanced equation. We get something and we give something back. Even if that something is just a touch or a smile. That just isn’t really important to Andre. He spends more time figuring out how to get his way at all costs than ever considering the fact that sometimes people need a hug or a kind word to keep them going. This “I give to you and you give to me” thought process never occurs to him and sometimes it gets very old. Sometimes it feels like I am doing all the giving and getting little to nothing in return. When this happens it feels like a day spent outdoors in the hot sun just digging hole after hole after hole.

For me, this is one of the hardest parts about autism; this “I don’t give a shit about anyone else but me” thought process. Give me a monster tantrum anytime. Give me nonsense talk too. Give me the messy room, the sneaking food upstairs and the snarky comments. I can take all those and more. But sometimes what I long for is just a genuine back and forth dialogue lasting over 5 minutes followed by an Andre initiated hug at the end of our time together.

If I could change how autism looks in regards to my son this is what I would change. And who knows maybe this will click into place for him someday. Until then, I will sit here and wait knowing in my heart of hearts that even though he rarely shows it that my son really does love me. For that is all I have to sustain me at the present time.

 

 

 

The First Rose

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As parents we are always doubting ourselves when it comes to our kids. There are no manuals and every child is so completely different from the other especially when they have issues that other children never have to face. I know of what I speak. With six children I have learned much and each one has taught me in a completely different way. Yet, I also know about those deep, dark, slippery wells that you sometimes feel like you cannot climb out of  when things are tough which often seems to be the case when your children have life impacting disabilities. It makes you question yourself and all you are doing to an even greater extent than ever before.

Paul struggles. He has autism and several other medical issues but his social skills are pretty much on track. Until you are around him for awhile you would probably never guess the extent of his issues and how they impact him everyday. But impact him they do. And our family too. Constantly.

Sometimes parents whose children have a disability find it hard to let go. Sending them to the store alone, even though it is just down the block, is terrifying when you know that your child is somewhat gullible and naive. But when the older teen years hit you realize that holding on too tight is a hinderance and not a help so you start loosening the strings. So recently Paul has been walking to the store by himself which gives him a sense of freedom that any 15 yo boy needs.

On Sunday Paul asked to go to the store. He had earned some money and wanted to buy himself a special snack… so off he went, hands deep in his pocket holding on to his hard-earned cash.

About 15 minutes later he returned with a perfect red rose in his hand which he shyly gave to me.

“I know I haven’t been treating you very well lately so I bought you a rose to show you how much I love and appreciate you”

I cried. He smiled and I think he knew that in giving me that beautiful rose he actually gave me so much more than just a flower. He let me know, that despite my mistakes and frailties as a parent, I really am doing something right by my kids. And even more importantly, I see him growing into a lovely young man who is doing good things like every decent and wonderful human being does on his own and without my help.

God, I love that kid!