Tag - epiphany

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The Hardest Thing
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The Boulders of Memory
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Weather Extremes
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Deja View
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Days Creep
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The Difference Is…
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The Paintbrush
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The Artist
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The Order of Things
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Growing Boys

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.

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

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.

Days Creep

When your marriage ends you look within. You struggle, you grieve, you mourn what you thought you had and then you mourn that you never did. Days creep, creep by — every minute drips with heaviness. Once there was never enough time — now the days are long, the nights longer and sleep is something that happens for other people. You awake at 3 a.m., 4 a.m., rise and pad through the rooms of your home. You stop in your boys’ bedroom doorway and listen to their gentle snores.

You cry a lot and often.

You stop eating. You lose an unbelievable 20 pounds without even trying. You can’t even cheer the silver lining of misery. The long days stretch to weeks and then months. You are in the thick of it and it is crazy time. CRAZY time.

Then one morning, so many months later (eleven!), you wake up and the clock says 7:10. You are sleeping again and the first thought that assaults you is not the shock, not the sadness, not the pain — finally. Instead you think about the day ahead, lunch you’ll have with a dear friend, a walk in the park. And even though you are still in the thick of it and will be in the thick of it until you are pronounced Done, you get on with it and you thank your lucky stars that at least you are alone, at least you are no longer a bit player on the stage of a lie.

You are done being a puppet in his drama. You are like a bird with a broken wing — you can’t yet fly, but at least you are intact.

Surely the end of every marriage that ends is unique. Obviously none of it is pain-free. Holy fuck, is there pain. But some people drift apart, some people are on the same page, some people see it coming.

You were blindsided. The truth you uncover is unfathomable, impossible, and flies in the face of every I love you. You remember the day you took vows in front of everyone you loved and while marriage is hard, no doubt, you worked at it and assumed the man you chose, who chose you, would work at it too. You assumed because you trusted. You did not know, how could you? — that your trust was simply his carte blanche.

Along the way to this morning — this morning when you awake to sun pouring in your window at 7:10 — you will learn many things, not the least of which is that some people deserve an Academy Award. They’ve charmed their way through life; taking, always taking, because it’s easy and they can.

You vow never ever to trust like that again. More than a decade of deceit, of platitudes and false moments. How you loathe the fact that this will always be part of your story. You are hurt and you are mad and you ache for your kids whose lives will forever be altered by these events.

But most of all, you are strong. You always were. And in the way that counts most, you are free.

The Difference Is…

The lights off, I tuck you in. Your eyes, heavy with sleep, struggle to stay open. You ask me in your sleepy voice, “Why am I different from other kids?” I ask what you mean and you say, “You know how I get frustrated easily and I can’t catch a ball… and sometimes I talk different?” I explain that everyone is unique and everyone has things that are difficult. Some things are because of autism and there are wonderful, awesome things about you too. You ask me to please enumerate them (and you say “enumerate” in such a way that I laugh and immediately oblige).

“Well,” I say, “You have such empathy, Sam. You are so aware of feelings — you might say you’ve been an A+ student in feelings.” And I remind you how starting at age two you studied the faces of all the Thomas the Tank engines and named their expressions and spent hours drawing pictures of feelings: Happy, Sad, Excited, Scared, Nervous.

“What else?” you ask.

I tell you that I’ve never known anyone who has a memory like yours. Your memory is astounding. You nod, “My brain is full of many facts.” Indeed. I tell you how I don’t know one single person who can draw our U.S. map from memory and tell me with absolute accuracy which state borders which state. Or who can tell me, when asked, who the 7th president was and whether he was Republican or Democrat and if he liked to eat cheese.

You mention your latest subject: Evolution. And you rattle off hominae and homini and homo erectus and tell me how neanderthals became extinct 30,000 years ago and we are part of the Great Apes, one big homini family. Ho.

“You see?” I say and touch your face. “Your memory is something special.” You smile but ask for more.

“Okay,” I say, “your enthusiasm is contagious.” And you ask me (of course you do), “Like a disease?” and I say no, no, no. “I mean your enthusiasm is SO great that other people sometimes “catch it”.

“You mean like a disease,” you say — not a question. I sigh, we are trapped in your literal mind. “Yes,” I tell you, “but a GOOD disease — it’s not a disease, but if it were a disease, it’s something everyone would like to catch.”

“Is stress like a disease?” you ask out of the blue. I tell you that it is, kind of, and you tell me that when I’m stressed that I should practice your techniques. “Oh?” I ask, bracing myself. “First you must count slowly to 4 — like this: ‘1…2….3….4….’ You should also smile more because this will trick your body into not being stressed. People like being with people who smile lots.” I ask if people includes you and you tell me it does.

“You are very wise, Sam,” and I tell you that you are more grown-up than most adults.

“Thank you,” you say, pleased.

I think how time is like a rubber band: it stretches from the past to the present, from what I knew to what I know…until eventually it snaps, and in breaking releases me. Today might be my 12th wedding anniversary but I feel a strange release. I feel free, at least more free than yesterday.

The difference is my boys, everything real and true and honest in my life.

The Paintbrush

Oh, John. After years of making Mommy spell words for you, of pulling my hand and insisting that I draw pictures for you (in crayon, in pencil, on paper, on the computer, once in the sand), after an eternity of my being Chief Scribe — now you’re ready to do it yourself?

balloon1The watercolor paints are new — we have not cracked them open since Christmas — so when you brought them to me with a paintbrush and said “Open Blue?” I took in the situation and your earnest face and thought, Well? Let’s give it a shot.

Of course I hoped that you would paint yourself but I wasn’t optimistic. I mean there’s precedent and it usually ends up being me. But still, I got a cup of water and showed you the basics: dip brush

in water, mix brush in color, paint on paper. I waited for the inevitable “Mommy paint?” but instead you pushed me away and started coloring in a hot air balloon. Like I was in your way! (I was, I hovered.)

How did I not figure it out sooner?

balloon2It’s the medium. It’s the amount of strength required of your little hands, of your fingers. Painting is fluid and smooth. Your body does not protest or resist or get in your way (like with the crayon or the pencil or even the marker). Painting allows you to execute one smooth movement after another.

It’s not (as I sometimes wondered) the repetitive nature of having us draw picture after picture for you. It’s that YOU want to be able to draw yourself. And we’re as close as you’re able to get.

And then it dawns on me that this must be what it’s like when you try to talk. I see how you struggle to find words when it’s so plain that you want to communicate something — your body doesn’t have a paintbrush to help it find expression. And just like when you make Mommy draw for you (i.e., be your hands), you stop in your tracks and cry. Or flap with frustration. I see how frustrating it must be.

What if the answer to both is… painting? So I’ve decided: No more crayons or markers. We are filling this house with paint and easels and smocks. Let’s see what you’re trying to say, baby.

The Artist

Well my child? You sure have been busy. We were running out the door and I yelled “John, where is my phone, honey?” because truth be told, you use it more than I do. You stopped in your tracks and disappeared downstairs. When you returned and gave it to me, I was incredibly proud that you listened, followed a direction and brought it to me.

Then I looked at my phone. I scrolled and scrolled…Seven hundred and twenty photos of the TV screen? Seven hundred and twenty?

I’m thrilled you mastered changing the DVDs without breaking them — we did lose a few to your learning curve. I was curious why you kept changing the disks over and over and why you’d fast forward to a scene and pause it on a specific frame.

When I showed you how to take a photo with the iphone, 720 pictures is not what I envisioned, but wow. I see how you experimented and took photos from afar and then how you focused in on the details that you most love. Beautiful, just like you.

The Order of Things

He says, “Mom? You’re number one.” I’m curious, mostly because he has an uncanny way of remembering the order of things.

So I reply, “You mean like you’re number six at school?” Because in second grade, that’s how they do it — each child lines up for lunch, recess, specials — all by a special number assigned alphabetically by the teacher.

A week in to the school year, when Sam is able to recite who is what number, I’m fascinated. When I point out that the order is done alphabetically, he says “No, it’s not. Number one is Maddie, number two is Alex.” I explain that the order is by last name and his eyes get bigger as he rattles off their names again with this new information.

I’m amazed that he ordered everyone by number and not alphabetically.

When he starts checking out books at the library on the U.S. presidents, I am relieved he’s moved on to a new topic, because let’s face it — how much more could he possibly learn about geography? Or cloud formations?

Pair a new interest with his current Animaniacs obsession and now my son knows every U.S. president in chronological order. (Sam, who is number 15? “James Buchanan, Mom.”) This song is in heavy, heavy rotation around our house. He sings it non-stop. It’s quite something to hear these lyrics explode from his mouth:

Tom Jefferson stayed up to write
The Constitution late at night
So he and his wife had a great big fight
And she made him sleep on the couch all night

James Madison never had a son
And he fought the War of 1812
James Monroe’s colossal nose
Was bigger than Pinocchio’s

What a skill — my brain has no such ability.

What I do have is a new appreciation for the way Sam orders his world. There is much comfort to be found in predictable, unalterable facts. It’s the other stuff — it’s the people in our lives. It’s the emotional, the messy, the unpredictable that makes him anxious. Me too. I guess you just hold on and trust that order will eventually arise from chaos.

Growing Boys

Last spring, after a lifetime of zero garden know-how, I decided to plant a flower garden. I adore the bold sprays of blooms sold at farmer’s markets but can never justify spending the money. So in March I bought packets of seeds, did a little research and scattered them out in a patch of dirt. I was dubious, it couldn’t be this easy. As summer warmed the ground, little plants began to grow. And grow. Suddenly I have 5-foot zinnias in my backyard.

Zinnias are damn hardy — they require little more than extra water on dry days — and now my home has a bounty of blooms which I get to replenish regularly. 

Not unlike two hardy boys who are doing just fine, thank you. It’s not that I can just let them grow un-mothered, of course (with all the requisite worry), but I see they are going to be perfectly themselves no matter how much I fret about the world in which they grow.

They grow, faces to the sun — tall and happy. They are both so happy. And ultimately this is enough. Water, sunshine and love, that’s really all we need right now.

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