Category - Motherhood

The toughest job I’ve ever had but also the sweetest

1
The Tale of the Trump Apple
2
The Hardest Thing
3
The Boulders of Memory
4
It’s YOUR Story. Own It.
5
Fresh Start
6
Traveling and Unraveling
7
Beach Day
8
Words Like Nets
9
Weather Extremes
10
Spaces Between Us

The Tale of the Trump Apple

After a day when the Democrats sweep elections in Virginia and New Jersey, Sam says thoughtfully: “Trump is like an apple. Think of a RIPE apple.”

Not sure where this is going, I wait.

“Like the ripest apple that’s ready for picking.”

His mop of straggly hair has its own zip code, it’s so unruly. I am distracted for a moment and reach over in the car to comb it with my fingers. He leans away, as he does these days — 13 and growing ever more apart from Mom and ever more into Sam.

“Okay. Trump is an apple, a RIPE apple.” Glancing at the clock, I tell him his bus is about to pull up.

“America was waiting for a long time for this apple to ripen — it promised to be sweet, juicy, good for you. And when the apple was at its most ripe, America picked it, picked Trump.”

“Indeed,” I sigh. “They did.”

“But after they picked it, because it was so ripe, the Trump apple started to rot from the inside out. And now Trump is a rotten apple.”

Huh. For a boy who had to learn every metaphor was not literal, to understand that “raining cats and dogs” does not mean they are falling paws-first from the sky, he has come a long, long way.

“What happens next?” I ask.

(Because now I really want to know.)

“A bird comes along,” he says, “and takes it away.”

The Mueller Bird? The Bird of Freedom? Big Bird?

But his bus has pulled up and he’s out the door, backpack askew, headphones in place.

 

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The Hardest Thing

Today, the day the world sits up and dresses in blue, I will sit up too. I will sit up and give you a glimpse: I am a single mom to two amazing beings who confound and astound. It is hard, but Autism is not the hardest thing.

The hardest thing is being both for them: mother, father; sweet and soft; sharp and strong; all of the angles their geometry requires. Hardest is staying calm when the tide comes in with a rush — a skinned knee, a tantrum of protest in the post office line and I am sinking — as alone with this responsibility as a sea stone swept out to drown.

They run and zing, darting like human triangles keening to their own music. Their music is one, although they are each themselves, two sides of a happy sing-song, my sons.

But as a single mom, I bear witness alone.

The hardest thing is letting them be who they are meant to be. The hardest thing is letting them go and hoping that they’ve memorized the soft and sweet, the sharp and strong, and forgive me for not filling in all the empty spaces in between.

The Boulders of Memory

autismtwins.comA Prayer for Owen Meany is one of my favorite novels of all time, I read it shortly after it was published twenty-four years ago and it has moved from place to place with me ever since. It sits on the bookshelf near my bed between Alice in Wonderland and the poetry of E.E. Cummings. When I shed my old life I also shed a lifetime of books, but a select few changed me in ways that I can still recall and, as such, are like family.

“I am doomed to remember a boy with a wrecked voice.”

Memories are funny things. This morning I was on the hunt for winter coats. I remember washing them in the Spring but I can’t remember where I stored them. Dear god, they are somewhere. Oh, of course, I must have stashed them at the top of the stairs. And so at 6:30 a.m. I start pushing and pulling boxes in the dark, muttering to myself, The boys need them today, it’s COLD…

…and in an instant, I’ve lost my balance.

It happens in slow motion, slo-ow like it’s happening to someone else, when the uppermost bin that I’ve been trying to open tumbles down over and around my head. I can do nothing but hold my arms out and feel the contents crash around me on the stairs. The sound of shattering glass makes me gulp but I don’t move. No winter coats, just a million pictures some ten, twenty, thirty years old, some older. Albums, a picture under glass, my high school diploma, a charm bracelet from when I was seven. My memories literally rain down on my noggin and I spend the better part of an hour picking them up, looking, remembering. Pushing them away, then peering at them in surprise.

“Your memory is a monster; you forget—it doesn’t. It simply files things away. It keeps things for you, or hides things from you—and summons them to your recall with a will of its own. You think you have a memory; but it has you!” —John Irving

So much unorganized chaos, my memories. There I am at 13 spiking a volleyball. Here I am with my fellow 20-somethings in my first job. Here I am in my 30s, single and tan drinking on the beach. Here we are, a family of four, then a family of six. I don’t write about them, my other sons, but in my old life I had four boys — two by birth, two by step. Seeing them at age four and seven, why do they still feel like my family? Well of course it’s because they are in the ways that count most, but things change when you divorce. Here we are painting Easter eggs and cutting down a Christmas tree. Little boys, now grown men. The memories pool in my chest and yep, it still hurts, but if it hurts then we are alive.

(Amen.)

Here then, strewn on the dusty stairs, are the banished relics of my life. Poor forgotten memories, unbidden, pushed away.

And now the bin is re-packed and again placed high on a shelf at the top of the stairs, but this time the memories expand, filling memories with more memories like a damn inflatable air mattress. This morning’s fateful intervention of box and noggin has dislodged a torrent of tears, and so I sit with them and write. It’s not so easy to sit in the chair but how else will it get done. I am getting it all down, it’s been a long time coming, but the words begin to trickle and now flow, flow and stop, slow against the boulders of memory then make their way around.

Memories are tough to wrestle to the page, especially when Memory wants to hide things from you, when Memory is a cold, stark bitch…

…sometimes.

Sometimes, too, she is your conscience, your guide, the friend you call in the middle of the night when you can’t sleep.

Sometimes she is warm and full of laughter and reminds you of who you once were and who you might still be.

“It’s a no-win argument — that business of what we’re born with and what our environment does to us. And it’s a boring argument, because it simplifies the mysteries that attend both our birth and our growth.” –John Irving

Well, then. What if you were to just accept this one-and-only life AS-IS and be grateful for it all: And I mean the diagnosis of course, because under all of it, all of THIS, autism is alive and well here; the grief, the grievances, the betrayals tiny and large, that time when you were 14 and she hurt you, he hurt you, the world hurt you and you thought you’d never get over it. Try, and while you’re at it, give thanks for a the box that hit you on the head to remind you of your texture, the mystery that is you. Be grateful for a book on a shelf that made you see the world or yourself differently, the tattered pages of a life, a time, a love. Be grateful and write.

It’s YOUR Story. Own It.

autismtwins.comFor a long time, longer than I care to admit, I’ve been pushing the past away — like a coat that no longer fits. I awake in the morning and in those moments when my eyes are still closed, buried in half-dream, I imagine it is someone else’s coat, someone else’s story.

I’ve been trying to tell it, this story, for so long and am stuck. Each time I sit down to write I am pulling rabbits out of hats, performing sleight of hand in order to avoid putting that coat on and owning it. That coat is a coat full of regrets and a past that puts all I thought I knew about my life into question.

I can’t believe that this will always be a part of my storya condemnation, an indictment, a judgement — all self-imposed. This: that I trusted. This: that I was conned. This: that I loved. This: that I was a chump.

Just this morning I sat with my son who berated himself: I’m a loser, he said. All because I told him to stop dawdling and get his shoes on. All because I was impatient and lost my temper after the, ahem, fourth request. His self-flagellation irritated me more than the fact he dawdled.

As we waited for his bus and after the umpteenth time of telling him that Mommy was upset with his behavior and not with his inherent goodness as a human being, I said, “Child, the more you say ‘I’m a loser,‘ the more others will believe you. Even worse, the more you say ‘I’m a loser,’ the more YOU will believe it.’

He quieted and listened.

“Fake it until you make it.” I said. Instead of ‘I’m a loser’ try ‘I’m a winner!’. Instead of ‘I’m bad’ tell yourself, ‘I’m good!'”

Negative self-talk vs. positive self-talk. Fake it until you believe the good.

If I’m going to deliver life lessons like this to my son, I should at the very least practice what I preach. Put on that coat, own it like I’ve never owned it before. Wear it with pride. It’s my story, after all.

I can’t believe that this will always be a part of my storya congratulations, a celebration, a fact. This: I am trusting. This: I am loyal. This: two boys, twin owners of my heart. This: the past only illuminates my path — it is not my future.

xo

autismtwins.com

Fresh Start

Each day after I drop the boys off at their bus, I return home on a one-lane dirt road. The early morning sun chases me to this one spot where literally, I am unable to see and the light bleeds through the trees like a stain.

This lightness is heavy and it momentarily blinds me.

I keep my foot on the gas, and it’s only for five seconds but it’s five seconds of pure faith. Faith that if autismtwins.comI move slowly enough I will repeat yesterday’s safe journey home and avoid the calamity of the unexpected: a head-on collision with an oncoming vehicle. he one with the barking Lab and a racing Land Rover). (Perhaps the neighbor, the one with the errant cows or t

Out here in the country this is not out of the question.

The light this time of year crackles and makes me feel slightly off-balance, like I’ve been missing something. If I knew what the something was I wouldn’t be missing it, but this is exactly how blogging has been for me. Missing it and dreading it and needing it. I’ve let so much of my life fly away with the wind, free and undocumented.

There is both so much and so little to say. I am still catching my breath. ♥

Traveling and Unraveling

Iam three-and-a-half weeks into a month without my boys. This is what happens when you are divorced: you are a child-less mother for periods of the year. Once, when I was going through the throes of my dying marriage I told an acquaintance about our separation. Used to stricken faces and sympathy, her response took me off guard. I think that would be the best of both worlds, she said. You’d have built-in time off.

(Huh. Not my first choice, but Word.)

Four weeks solo yawned with possibilities but it scared me too. My boys are my anchors — what would it be like to be unmoored? Travel and unravel by degrees I suppose, all necessary and good: my first vacation in 10 years! Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, Chicago. Sunsets, sunrises, long walks alone interspersed with visits from friends. You figure things out, you get some clarity, you listen to the silence and hear echoes of yourself, a self you once knew. You try to sleep past 6 a.m. but fail each day, your body has memorized the routine whether they are here or not. You whisper good morning to the air and to the fur-monster sitting on your pillow waiting to be fed. (He misses them too).

This is not the way it’s supposed to be, of course, this month alone without kids. The flip side: I solo parent the other 11 months, weekends included — fair trade? My boys would say not. This is not the way it was supposed to be but it’s the way it is.

“Bottom line is, even if you see ’em coming, you’re not ready for the big moments. No one asks for their life to change, not really. But it does. So what are we, helpless? Puppets? No. The big moments are gonna come. You can’t help that. It’s what you do afterwards that counts. That’s when you find out who you are.” —Joss Whedon

I do love that Joss. The moments, dear god, the moments. Good thing they come in all sizes and that my favorite moments will be home soon.

Beach Day

We are excited, we are nervous. We are headed to the beach with the entire 3rd grade. How lucky that field trips here are decidedly un-school-like. It is easy to be with you, even though you are antsy and talking non-stop.

You are anxious. Truth? Me too.

IMG_bday2We are finding our way. We’re from the land of Target and neighborhood pools and McDonald’s happy meals. What do we know of crabbing and swimming in icy waters, where kids are born running barefoot over rocks and chowda is better than oatmeal.

What do we know of living with less, with breathing in the salt and sea? Of feeling less, yes, but here the less is bountiful and filling — like a song. Well, we know not, but we sing and are better for it each day.

A friend reminded me today: I left a village behind. Every kid needs one, every mom too. It is hard to be a single mom without a village. Well, we start anew.

You make friends, you falter. I do too. We are compatriots, buddy, singing the same tune.

One day you’ll look up and there it will be: you are a child running to something instead of away.

Love, Mommy

Words Like Nets

This. This at the end of a long, tiring day. This, when you simply want to put a period on it, as in, THE DAY IS DONE.

This, when the goal is to slide into the evening with your thoughts and a glass of wine, your children at last asleep. Let’s be honest, looking forward to these moments is what keeps you going some days.

So when one of your children refuses to cooperate and instead keeps getting out of bed after lights out and you see no discernible reason other than he quite possibly does not want you to have alone time, you will sigh heavily and say “Alright, then. Come here. Sit on the couch with me.”

The truth is you are just too tired to keep walking him back to bed.

You ask him, of course you do: “John, what is it? Why can’t you sleep?” You ask him, knowing that it’s futile, knowing that answering requires too much and tools he does not have. And then you spot your laptop. You open a blank word doc and you type:

John, why are you sad? Because… ?

You don’t expect an answer, you don’t expect much, which is why when he leans forward you still don’t realize.

a take to bed

“Take you back to bed?” You tell him you still don’t understand. You try again.

WHY is John sad? 
no sad
Okay. Is something bothering John?
Yes or no?
yes

And you tell him you want to help, can he please tell you more, can he type more?

neat mom sat on bed
sleep mom sad wake up mom
back ward school

What does it mean? Backward school? Go back to school? And he continues:

dad grandma house train
dad number 012345
dad grow plant
home mom
dinner
movie popcorn
bath time
bed time
brekfest
dad no hi
dad air up
dad chikfil a
the muppet show season 3
sesame street surprise watch
moo bow elmo puppet
fair boat
hot air balloon
lunch
fair boat home
dinner movie bed
back to school
lost home ant jt
go home
nose
watch to baby da vinci
jelly fish

This. All of this. You need to de-code and you need to alert the press. This is the longest conversation you’ve ever had.

The day you discovered Sesame Street’s “Divorce: Little Children, Big Challenges” downloaded on his ipad without any help you knew that he was taking it all in and processing. And today you see, god how you see, just how much he has to say.

Words

Weather Extremes

Nothing like a downpour to slow you down. The boys are at school and I sit here while the rain pounds. We are nearly six months in to our new life where there are extremes in weather: sunny skies so blue you are certain no color exists to do it justice. And then there are the days like today. If I close my eyes I really could go to sleep — no joke. The rain pounds but it’s also hypnotic. If Sam were home and not at school, he’d fret “It could flood! What about the wind? Those clouds are low, Mom!” He’d see menace in the benign.

That’s what happens when you absorb every book you can find on wild weather systems. I believe that it’s important to be prepared, but perhaps it’s possible to be too prepared. For some things.

I was not prepared to be a single mom even though I essentially was just that while married. The fact is I did 90% of everything from day one. It’s the little things that remind me how rough the road is solo. It’s their new fascination with their, ahem, bodies. And it’s how their little boy frames are filling out, their legs stretching impossibly towards their future height. It’s how each of them pushes back trying to redefine the lines between us, necessary to emerging into themselves — I know. But it’s rocky and terrain I neither know nor get — hey, I’m a girl.

Soon they will tower over me. I will be their little mama. John will bend down when he throws his arms around me each morning. That’s good, I think, I’ll be little by comparison — better than a diet.

IMG_rain1Yesterday, unlike today, was mild and breezy. All the windows were thrown open to catch it and along with it, perhaps possibility. Their weekly phone call over, Sam sat sprawled on the couch next to me and we talked again about the divorce. We do this from time to time — he wanted me to feel it from his point of view, he said.

“You think it affected you 100 times, well, it affected me a billion times!” and then explained how when IT first started (the fight that ended with his dad leaving) IT was like an asteroid hit his head and then IT (the separation) turned into a cyclone in his body where tornadoes and hurricanes flooded him, his heart, and then IT (the divorce) traveled down to his legs where earthquakes and fierce winds landed in his feet.

“It was tremendous,” he said. It felt like he was alone in a desert — did I know that?

“I did not,” I said, “but I suspected.” I thanked him for sharing how it was for him and asked if it’s hard to keep all of that extreme weather inside.

He admitted it is. “It’s hardest for the kids.”

This boy is 8 going on 30.

And then, “Mom, will you get married again and give me some more siblings? Please?” I explained how 1) that would require non-existent candidates and 2) someone who already has children (“A sister, I want a sister”), because my child-bearing years are finito.

I didn’t think it the right moment to say I can’t imagine ever wanting to do that again, so instead I took the easy path: “Who knows?” The way his face lit up, I would do just about anything for him. (Just about.)

There is no manual for this life, no guide for getting it right and it makes me sad that my boy can lay it out for me like this: he is prepared for the extremes: he knows firsthand the havoc that can be wreaked by that which is bigger than him. He did not see the low clouds heralding his parents’ divorce, he did not know he lived on a fault line, that the earth could move like that or tornadoes form out of thin air.

And now he does. He is prepared for the worst and I suppose I am now too.

IMG_rain3

Spaces Between Us

We are on our way to meet your dad and it is a trek. We’ve done all the prep: schedules and social stories for John and long talks about our feelings and careful treading through the what-ifs of divorce.

(“What if you see each other again and fall back in love? Those what-ifs, the ones that live large in your heart when you’re a child of eight, when your dreams are full of them. I know.)

You are excited.
And nervous too.

This morning you bound out of bed in your clothes, smiles on your sweet faces. It is easy getting out the door.

But on the way, John, you start to yell and I know something is not quite right. You ask for the bathroom so we head there and I am surprised when you pull me instead to a seat and hug me. I stroke your hair. “John, are you excited to see Daddy? Yes or no?” Yes, you say. “Are you sad too? Yes or no.” Yes.

I tell you I will call you and you can call me. “Yes or no?” Yes, you say.

We sit there for a time and then you softly sing, my for-so-long non-verbal boy, I love you, you love me, we’re best friends as friends can be… I stop breathing for a moment, listening to all that lives inside you come rise to the surface.

* * *

We say goodbye on the cold concrete. I hold your faces and kiss your cheeks, press each of you to my heart and say goodbye. I tell you to have a great time, I’ll see you next week.

And now?
You are there,
I am here.

My love for you lives in the spaces between us. It travels down Route 95 and knocks on your window. Are you awake too?

I am not me without you, I am this new me. We’re still getting to know each other.

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