1
Beach Day
2
Looking Up (And Moving On)
3
Words Like Nets
4
Weather Extremes
5
Spaces Between Us
6
When the World is Small
7
Deja View
8
Movie Date
9
One Year
10
Acting Boy

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

Looking Up (And Moving On)

Signs are everywhere, did you know? They are on houses and in stores, they are on TV and in school — and of course they dot roads and highways. They are part of the landscape but you don’t really notice them, do you? You just accept that they are there, all with messages we’ve heard before: No u-turn, slow down, curved road ahead.

Hexagons and triangles, like STOP and YIELD, are John’s favorites. From the time he could walk, he’d race towards the tall and towering: his gaze up, his feet fast. Strapped in a stroller, he’d lean forward and flap with excitement at the sight of the 2-hour parking signs that lined our road. At each one, he’d turn and follow it as we passed, like they were having a conversation.

signs1 copy I’m not sure when he began counting the signs as we drove past them, but maybe he was all along.

“ONE sign,” he says as we drive to the library, passing a YIELD.

“TWO sign,” as the SPEED LIMIT 35 MPH appears.

“THREE signs,” he says, U-turn ahead.

He counts not just the ones on our side of the street, but the ones with their backs to us on the other side too (so that now even I’m craning my neck to see what they say).

He is my backseat tour guide.

IMG_7603

After school we drive down our long dirt road and here? Here there are signs posted on trees. So many trees, so many signs — mostly with warnings about not going too fast. I don’t see them anymore. Why? Because I am gripping the wheel over potholes and bumps. I KNOW the speed limit is 10mph, thankyouverymuch. The talking from the backseat goes up and down with the car’s movement. At first I think it’s Elmo’s World, He’s scripting a video. It sounds like Wansinitry, tasinitry, thrasinitry — Elmo talk.

And suddenly I understand he is saying:

“ONE sign on tree… TWO sign on tree… THREE sign on tree.”

When we get to the last one before the driveway, he proclaims, “SEVEN SIGN ON TREE! WE’VE EARNED A STICKER!” and he waves Elmo high, triumphant. Now he does it every day and each time I smile. His face is so happy.

IMG_7608

The comfort of these symbols nailed to trees and on posts — that at the end of a long road you are home. You struggle with disappointments big (we already know those) and small (the clouds for the beach, the Teletubbies CD already checked out at the library) — but at least the signs are there, if you’re looking and listening for them. Signs to point you home.

I suppose we all do the same, marking off touchstones one by one: The morning alarm clock, the coffee brewing, the cat rubbing against a leg to be fed. Meals made, lunches packed, work at the computer. Time passes and you trust in the familiar signs you’ve come to recognize as yours.

And if all the signs, ALL the signs were there all along? What else is to be done but to forgive and move on? Not the ones who hurt you (although they say that is necessary to your survival and you know it and you’re working on it but it’s not easy and not imminent). You stopped looking up, you see. Signs all the way back to the very beginning had you known to look. Like magic, you believed in the trick and ignored the sleight of hand.

No —forgive yourself. It’s time.

January 2007

January 2007

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.

When the World is Small

It’s World Autism Awareness Day, and it feels like I should blog. In our old life, we would have replaced the lights with blue bulbs and waved as the neighbors drove by: Light it up blue! I’m sure it made people more autism aware but did it make them more accepting?

In our new life, we live in the country and neighbors are few and far between. No one can see the soft blue emanating from our doors — just us and we are already quite aware. We’ve been out and about in our new world, and our new world is small — it’s safe to say that many people are now aware of us — we have a way of making an impression. They see that there is something about you two, something special, something different… different, not less.

Some people take a moment and ask. Like the woman who works at the grocery store, behind the deli. She saw you, John, when you dropped to the floor right there in front of her meat counter. Your protest was epic, alarming, coming from a boy your size. You desperately wanted the Paas Easter Egg dyeing kit and I said Absolutely not, because we already had several from earlier outings.

Mommy has to draw the line somewhere.

She had kind eyes and smiled when she said hello. And even though you couldn’t have cared less as you screamed from the floor (you REALLY wanted that Paas kit), I felt her wanting to know, wanting to understand how she could help, wanting to know you. I said, “He has trouble with disappointment.” She nodded.

She smiles every time we come in now.

And Sam, my all-too-aware boy. You want to push autism away and keep it buried. You called it your “deep dark secret” and I hurt for you to feel so, but I understand. In our old life you shared this part of yourself with friends and you were teased and made to feel less. In our new life you want to hide it,  you say you will not reveal it — and it is your choice, after all. It is your life, no matter how much I tell you that you are special, you are awesome, and autism is simply a part of that —neither good nor bad – because really in the end — it’s just a word. It doesn’t change your light, your amazing self. But you are learning that different sometimes feels like less and that is a travesty.

So on this day of Autism Awareness, all I have is this: differences should be celebrated. What makes us quirky should be admired not feared. Having autism makes you different, not less! My biggest challenge as your mom is getting you to see yourself the way I do, the way anyone who gets to know you sees you. You must learn that love and acceptance begin with you and that it will radiate out into the world.

No one ever said this motherhood gig would be easy and it’s even harder alone.

Awareness is good. Acceptance would be divine.

Deja View

The silence smacked me down this morning. The quiet of an empty house, my babies gone — it’s his weekend, you see. I stood at the kitchen sink and looked out the window, a mug of coffee like a hug. The memories come unbidden as we prepare to leave this place. I remember being a new mom and being scared of you both, so soft and precious and small. Before you were big enough to bathe in the pink tub upstairs, I’d bathe you here in this sink, then dry you atop a mountain of blankets on the countertop.

Of course that was like, three thousand baths ago.

I look out at the faded blooms of my garden and remember watching your father mow the lawn. Hot and sweaty and resolute because he hated chores like this, hated working in the yard, hated the ties that bind.

When we moved into this house, I was as big as one—seven months pregnant and ready to pop. The walls were peach and I thought it would kill me to be surrounded by the color of putrid fruit, so your father painted them white. Clean walls, a fresh beginning.

I don’t know how well you can ever really know someone and perhaps this is the lesson here. You must grow up and know yourselves best so that you have a compass. Count on each other.

I remember when the rhythm of our days included a 25-minute walk after lunch. The two of you would light up when I’d get the stroller ready. So many memories and although it is bittersweet to leave this place, this place we’ve called home for eight years, a place I’ve called home for 24 years — I am okay. More importantly, my dear sons, we are okay. Adventure awaits.

Movie Date

John still eats the same five things but lately has added popcorn. He loves popcorn. After school, he asks: “Watch movie in the basement and eat some popcorn?” I smile and oblige.

He gathers old friends together, a tall boy and his basket of buds from a wide swath of eras. This  boy, this boy who never really got pretend play, has lined them all up in front of the television to watch a movie and eat some popcorn.

You know, pretend play.

I am grateful. Day #2.

One Year

Five hundred twenty-five thousand
Six hundred minutes.
How do you measure, measure a year?
In truths that she learned,
Or in times that he cried.
In bridges he burned,
Or the way that she died.
—From Rent, Seasons of Love

One year. One long year measured by tears and anger, pain and sorrow and yes, love. You could not take that away — it blankets and comforts me when the chill of you blows in and I am stronger for it. Two boys, amazing beings I could never have imagined and will ever adore. Autism is nothing in the face of this. Divorce and the end of us is nothing in the face of this. This is pure and honest.

When one door closes, another opens. I’m so glad to close this door, this door on one year, one year without you.

Acting Boy

Dude! My son is an actor. He sports dark shades and a blazer with a button-down. When we first started searching for an outfit for his “fancy clothes” cast party, he sobbed. I was confused at first, what is so anxiety-provoking about getting dressed up? He confessed, finally, “Alright, Mom. I’ll tell you the truth.”

Pray tell.

“I’m not a fancy clothes type of guy.”

I laughed aloud and hugged him, because Dude? I’m not a fancy clothes type of gal either. How I understood him right then. I reassured him he could wear khakis and a nice shirt if he’d rather. Friends dropped by with a bag — a jacket and tie, which Sam refused to look at. As the day got closer, though, curiosity got the best of him. “Can I see the fancy clothes?”

His eyes big, he said “I’d like to try it on.”

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