Some days are harder than most and some days have nothing to do with autism. If you’re really paying attention, you might notice signs that you’re headed into a black hole of a day, but who has time to actually pause like that. You just put one foot in front of the other and cling to your routines. Monday? Wake up. Get boys up. Feed cat, make mental note she walked away without eating again. Make lunches. Pack backpacks. Wipe one child’s nose, feel forehead, no fever. Bus driver calls, they are running late. Pace. Put one child on the bus, drive the other to school. Ignore car groans.
Race to meet a client. This is important, she is handing over a job and a check and the mortgage is due today. You’re grateful for the slow return of freelance and are racing the clock to meet her. You are already 20 minutes late and although you called her already, you are now five minutes later than you said you’d be.
At last you arrive and rush in spilling apologies. Job is handed over, so is the all-important payment. She needs to leave and you’re FINE with that. You congratulate yourself on arranging to meet at a coffee shop. You get your cup of joe, settle in a comfy couch. Now you will work, or write. Maybe gather your thoughts.
The cat. Hmm. Maybe you should call the vet. You call and say, She stopped eating yesterday, maybe a hairball is bothering her? Bring her in at noon, they say. That’s two hours from now — you can get so much done.
Phone rings and now it’s John’s school. What? A runny nose. But no fever. You want me to pick him up. Now? (Are you kidding me?)
As you pack up your stuff, you imagine the task ahead — keeping John from stomping around the house as you try to locate the cat. The cat who has disappeared out of fear of his stomping feet — the one with the uncanny ability to sense she is going to the vet. She will surely be somewhere in the far reaches of the basement.
Drive the 15 or so miles up to John’s school. Park at the curb, leave your hazards on — you know you’re not supposed to park here, but you’ll be in and out. He’s SO happy to see you and jumps into your arms, saying “Mommy’s car?” You smile, gather his things and say goodbye to his teacher. “Mommy’s car. Mommy’s car.” he repeats, bouncing down the corridor and out to the curb where your car sits, flashing hazards.
Strap him in, get behind the wheel. Breathe. Look at watch: 45 minutes until you have to get cat to vet. You think, I can do this. Turn key in ignition and stare dumbfounded when it doesn’t turn over. Try again. Nope, nada. An ominous clicking sound too. Hmm. Who can you call to deal with this? Try husband at work. Not there. Call husband’s cell. Not on! Go back and forth between the two until you realize you’re not getting anywhere. Try Emergency Roadside Assistance number, cringe to hear 2-3 hour delay due to weather conditions in your area.
Look back at John in his seat and realize Major Meltdown is about to occur. Breathe. Call teacher. Hi, we’re still in front of the school, car broke down. Um, can you come get John?
At the sight of his teacher, John starts to scream, cry, body drop as we walk him back into the school. You hold his hand, reassure him, I’m coming too. He won’t quiet until you take off your coat. Still alternating between husband at work, husband’s cell, tow truck. Add in vet now since you realize you are not going to make your appointment. Ask if they can see you later, yes after 6.
Stare at John’s team of women: 1 teacher, 4 paras. One, you’ve always liked her, says It sounds like the battery. I have jumper cables, let’s try that. Cool, you think, remembering a time long ago when you used to travel with your own cables. Of course, that was before you drove a minivan and felt all untouchable sitting there in your high leather seats.
Ignore John’s cries as you put on coat again. Know that he will stop once you’ve left and they’ve given him computer time. Bright spot: the jump works and Mom’s Minivan is running. A call is made, John’s teacher brings him outside, runny nose and all.
Finally you are home. Breathe. Let him clop-clop around the house, your appointment with the vet is later. Finally get in touch with husband, make him promise to be home early so you can get to vet. Drag John down to pick up his brother at school, remember too late that Sam has a play date. At your house. You never got the chance to clean up the mess that was already there. Sigh.
Play starts off well, but Sam’s friend is scared of the cat “Zoey is danger,” Sam tells him, and the boy’s eyes open wide. “She hisses and is mean.” You tell them that she is just old and she is not feeling well, and furthermore, he should not scare his friend like that, he won’t want to come back. “Is she sick and old and then she’ll die?” he asks. She’s old, but Mommy’s taking her to the vet to feel better. He is still obsessing on his life cycles.
Play date over, you’ve fed your children and husband arrives home just in time. You go searching for the cat, find her on the rug upstairs. She doesn’t normally lie there, she prefers your bed. Her kitty sense doesn’t seem to be working because she eyes the carrier and doesn’t move. So you are easily able to get her in it although the howling starts immediately.
Arrive at vet, they pull her out, listen to her heart, notice her panting, listen to your story about the eating, the lethargy. You ask Could it be a cold? Vet asks assistant to take her to another room, says she needs to talk to you. You hear Respiratory Failure and Congestive Heart Failure. You hear Possible tumors and Humane decision and suddenly you are sobbing.
The vet is kind and forceful and probably 15 years younger than you. You want to say My day! My life! and Autism and Twins and Oh. My. God. I keep it all together. Every. Single. Freakin’ Day. You will not send me over the edge because my 14-year-old cat is dying tonight.
But of course I didn’t say that, I told you instead. And I did lose it, and she did die and I decided it should be peaceful. I thought my grief would swallow me — and maybe it’s a grief built on bigger things, I’m not sure. But today I decided, Slow down. Pay attention to the details.
And maybe breathe a little more.