And Then There is This…

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For those of you in the trenches with littles, where you still have to get up at night, still don’t get enough sleep, still are changing diapers, and trying to keep everything in the house from being ruined and broken every damn day…

I’ve had my kids tell me they hate me, take out their sorrow and grief on my body, and do every other typical thing, along with all the autism things that I wouldn’t wish on anyone. And yet today, when they are 16, 14 and 12, the world is different.

My 14 year-old son with autism tenderly checks in on me and makes sure I’ve taken my vitamins and fills my water bottle and brings me books. My 12 year-old packs her siblings lunches and cares for the dog and volunteers in the neighborhood. My 16 year-old drives me to appointments and takes me to lunch with money he earned himself.

Over lunch today (it’s a school holiday) we were talking about the upcoming prom and all that accompanies the occasion and he said to me, “Most people hope they can do a better job than their parents, but I think I’ll be doing great to do as good as you did.

I may have started crying in the diner.

So when you feel it doesn’t matter, and the poop and laundry and yogurt smashed into the carpet will never end, take heart. It does. And they will likely be amazing human beings when you’re on the other side.

A dear friend told me that there is a place in the Quran that teaches every negative thing you do is fleeting, but every positive thing you do returns you 1,000 blessings because of the power of love and kindness to multiply upon itself and change the world.

I dont know much, I do believe that that is True.

(Irrational?) Anger

It starts out simple enough. You have some things to check off your chore-list and a wide, warm Saturday before you. You send your partner to the store with a list of things to pick up, and get started on the items on your to-do list. The kids are all occupied doing their own stuff around the house, and the first few things go off without a hitch.

Your partner texts you half a dozen times from the store, while you’re up on a ladder trying to reach something, because they cant find something on your list. After the 6th time your phone dings, you finally tell them never mind, just get what they can find, and you climb back up on your ladder. Deep breaths, reach, and done.

It’s the first nice weekend day this year, so your partner has their own list of outside chores, while you are tackling things inside. Your muscles are sore from the yard work you did the day before, but you stretch, and then drag the ladder upstairs to replace the second of three light fixtures. The first is installed and you’re happy with it, but your partner bought the wrong bulbs and has to head back to the store, so you don’t know if you wired it properly yet.

Removing the broken light fixture from the ceiling over the stairwell proves to be a bigger hassle than the first one—the ceiling box is old, and one of the screws is stripped out. When you try and remove it, the entire housing breaks off in your hands. You spend the next two hours trying to figure out how to either remove the box and replace it, or fix the missing housing with a patch.

Your partner is in the backyard shoving dog crap, so even though you’re frustrated with your electrical issues, you are grateful they are outside and not you. You pull up a YouTube video of different electricians fixing problems like yours.

Texting a friend who knows electrical, you find out they are out of town, so you move on to fixture number three. When you remove the old light—which had been loose for years—the entire box falls out of the ceiling. That explains why the old light was crooked. Your shoulders hurt from being overhead for hours now, and sweat is dripping in your eyes.

You may start to cry, because what should have taken 30 minutes has now taken you into late afternoon. You go downstairs to find a tool, and end up crying in the basement because the utility room is a mess and you spend the next hour filling trash bags with old stuff to donate or toss. It’s a relief from being up on the ladder upstairs in the heat.

Your partner comes inside and doesn’t realize he tracked dog poo in on his shoe.

You cry some more, and go find the Clorox wipes.

You can’t find the vacuum. Someone left it upstairs in your office, behind a curtain. It was probably you. The canister is full and it stinks like dog hair. When you pick it up, the handle breaks off in your hand, and you look at it, bemused, toss it on the ground, and vacuum anyway. Your partner takes the canister out to empty the dog hair, and someone lets the dog in. He’s hot, too, and leaves a giant puddle of dog slobber when you just cleaned. You might yell, and you might send him to the basement with the kids.

Your partner is outside spraying the north side of the house and roof for moss—because in Virginia, the summer humidity will literally cause your home and car to mold. (It’s so gross.) The kids take out the bags of crap from the basement, and one of them wipes up the dog mess while you finish vacuuming.

There still isn’t any light upstairs now, with the junction boxes both broken, and you cannot stomach another trip to the hardware store today. You might let that one go.

“What’s for dinner, mom?”

You’ve been trying for days to make a pecan pie, and you realize you’re missing an ingredient. You decided to run to McDonanlds because you’re too tired to cook, and you can stop at the market and grab the missing thing. At the light, you can see the McDonalds like is ridiculously long, but you turn in anyway. It’s a weird design; you must drive around the store and order from the far side, and then loop all the way back around to get your food. Once you are in line, several cars pull in behind you and suddenly the line is so long that the cars with their food cannot pull around to leave. It’s gridlock, and no one can move forward or backward, a complete circle of cars around the McDonalds. An employee comes out to help the cars nearest the exit back up and maneuver the other cars trying to leave around them. It’s a nightmare.

Then they got Bean’s order wrong. Twice.

You get home, and the bag with $23 worth of McDonalds rips, and your teenager comes on the porch, “What took so long, mom?” and you glower. The kids come to grab bags and help with the groceries you picked up before the McD fiasco, and you head inside.

Everyone else eats, but you forgot to get yourself anything in the stress and anger of sitting in a drive-thru for half an hour. Whatever, you grab a few fries and a Powerade. You’re finally ready to make the pie. You get everything out and start…

Your other teen comes on the kitchen, right behind you, and you bump into them and wrench your back. You grit your teeth and feel your head pounding, and you try and joke but your head cant decide if it’s going to cry or explode. The kid opens the fridge to get some milk and knocked a full can of wet dog food all over the freshly cleaned kitchen floor. You toss them the now-almost-empty Clorox wipes and try to breathe.

The kid smears dog food all around the floor and you discover the straw that broke the camel’s back is actually made of wet natural chicken dog food with organic carrots.

Things to south from there, and I yelled. Maybe a lot.

I hate when I lose my cool. I hate when I yell at my kids. I hate when irrational anger boils over and the breaking point is reached. It was a shitty day. A whole lot of stuff went wrong, and every direction was hassle and delay.  But every single thing was also a minor non-thing in the grand scheme of things. I feel bad, and I really wish I was better at remembering in the moment that I just need a moment to cool down and regain my perspective. I never stay mad long, but man, I hate it.

My kids will have no shortage of examples of parental apologies. I know the good days far outweigh the bad days, but still. There is a partially started pie on the kitchen counter, and I am taking a time-out in my room. I’m wondering if I dare to even give it a go again, or if I should just call it a day and try again tomorrow.

Generational

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“What did she look like?” he asks, eyes flicking over the humming road, his chin set with concentration on the wrong things.

I pause. My eyes linger briefly on the blurred white line of the shoulder and the shadows marching rapidly cast by the straight rows of something planted.

“What did she look like?”

She looked like poverty.
She looked like a lifetime of food insecurity
and pink Zingers shoved in a pocket.
She looked like blurry blue tattoos, meant to establish autonomy
but instead served as brands and judgement.
She looked like a lifetime of purloined drug-store medications
taken in desperation, and swallowed with a furtive prayer
that nothing worse happen.
She looked like the second owner of
clothes always meant to be disposable.
She looked like underfunded schools and budget cuts
and bureaucrats finding ways to shave benefits and pocket the rest.
She looked like abandoned neighborhoods
with liquor stores and no polling places or parks.
She looked like generations of no way out.
She looked like she needed the love of a foster family
as much as the other children the state took from her.
I wanted to hug her, to take her home, to feed her and
to fix everything, but I cannot—
so instead I will vote and riot and march
and never forget her face.

“She was young. She looked sad and tired.”

Happy Birthday, David

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Dear David,

You’ve been on my mind a lot lately. Well, you’re never far from me. I see your face in the countenance of our sons as they grow, and in the sensitive and intuitive spirit of our daughter. I put on John McLaughlin Al Di Meola, and Paco De Lucia’s compilation Passion, Grace & Fire to welcome the Pisces sun into my office and lit a candle. Then I proceeded to do everything I could imagine to avoid sitting down to write, even though I knew this was my ultimate destination today. I could hear you laughing at me, procrastinating.

Last year on your birthday, I was neck-deep in writing part of our story. You always told me to write and damn the people who didn’t want me to say what I had to say. I hope you still feel that way; I’m not there yet. I was truthful, but I admit to handling you with kid-gloves. My goal was to preserve memories, so that the kids would understand why we loved each other, and why that love remained even after the fires and sorrow. I wanted them to know forever some of the funny shining rivulets of memory that would disappear were I not to collect them into pages of words. It’s incomplete, only a fragment of the whole, but it’s something. It seems to have had a powerful effect on some folks. It came out last July, Maybe I should have planned that better…

I’m not sure what’s comes next. I know there are several more books, but I’m contemplating something more academic first, though I’m wavering. What a surprise, right? I’m still distrustful of the season of quiet calm that has settled over my life. I know some people live all their lives so securely, but I am still…startled by it, like the falling-reflex in early sleep. Eventually my compass will find its direction.

Jeffrey just filled out the paperwork for his driver’s license this week. It’s surreal. He looks so much like you, only bigger. He’s at least two inches taller than you, but his muscular, freckled forearms are all you. He plays football every day, lifts weights after school, and he’s called Big Red. It’s almost a given that when Bean starts football this summer he’ll be Little Red. They are so clearly brothers it’s uncanny.

All three kids are excelling academically. All three of them got your love for math, analytics, geometry, and they all love Algebra. I love watching how Bean makes sense of math in ways literature and art will never matter to him. Abby has a creative vein running through her analytical math center, and it blows me away. She’s a gifted artist, working in whatever medium she can find. Her spatial skills are phenomenal. She’s shifted from wanting to be a geologist to a veterinarian, to a computer engineer. She’s also picked up the ukulele recently. It remains to be seen what path she’ll ultimately land on, but she’s laden with talent and will be able to choose freely.

Bean now towers over me, and even so, it’s hard for me to think of him as anything but our tiny Bean. He was complaining over the holidays that his back hurt. It turned out his feet had grown two sizes in as many months, and once I bought him new shoes, his pain was gone. I felt like a terrible mother. Two sizes in two months? Good grief!

Tonight we’re continuing our tradition of celebrating your birthday with a dinner you loved- Papa’s Pappas from Hobbee’s and Red White & Blue power smoothies. Then we’re going to walk to 7-Eleven and get a Blue Thing, while we tell stories about you. It’s turned into a bit of a tradition, and the kids really seem to hold onto it.  I hope keeping you a normal part of our lives will help the kids as they continue to process your death.

In my office I have a small table set to the side where I have your brass singing bowl, a small Buddha, and mala beads. The kids love to tap the brass bowl with the mallet. It’s a way we bring around, and I hope you don’t mind. Tucked on my bookshelf behind a few things is your obsidian obelisk and the moonstone egg that came from your dad. All of these things belong to the kids, and I am only the steward for now. It still hurts my heart that I wasn’t able to recover your gohozon or butusan.  Instead, Jeffrey has your football, a gift from your sister last summer. To him, I think it’s almost as good.

We miss you. Every day. Happy Birthday, dear one.

Tracy

The Ides of Idleness

Screen Shot 2018-03-06 at 12.47.24 PMHey y’all. I’ve been cocooning to make it through the dregs of winter, and haven’t had much to say about anything, but life has carried on as it usually does. There’s been a lot of watching Star Trek, a lot of hot Moroccan mint tea, a lot of big dog sitting on my feet to comfort both of us, and a few movie nights with the family. (Wakanda forever!)

For some reason, I’ve been fainting. Doctors are involved, tests are being conducted, the Big Scary Things have been mostly ruled out, and it’s looking like anemia is playing a part, dancing with my inherited low blood pressure. Turns out, while low blood pressure is great, *too* low ain’t so great. Hence, passing out and bonking my head on the bathtub, floor, etc. Jon is making me eat all my food cooked in his cast iron pan in an effort to bring those HGB numbers up. I wonder if there’s something to the old trope about ice-chewing after all?

We all laughed last week when Virginia (oh, Virginia…) canceled school because of WIND. Not enough canceled days due to “snow”? Now we’re canceling for wind. Well, I laughed, Jon may have thrown things–he’d taken the day off and suddenly we found ourselves with a house full of kids instead of enjoying a quiet romantic lunch. It was all funny until the WIND actually started, and the siding began to peel off our house, the dog fence blew over, and our back gate was torn from it’s hinges. That’s some WIND. Jon was on the roof with a rope tied around his belt, screwing siding back on in 80pmh gusts, while Jeff anchored him from inside Abby’s room. There are no picture of this event, as I was hiding under a blanket in my room, too afraid to watch my husband and son being super heroes. So here’s a picture of Jeff deadlifting Tiberius:

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Kelsey turned fifteen. We spent the morning of her birthday with her, celebrating with presents, chocolate cake, sombreros, and huevos rancheros. She’s a remarkable young woman. I won’t embarrass her by bragging about her, but she had the amazing grace to ask for records for her birthday. Like, actual vinyl LPs; Jon and I had fun finding a record store and shopping. We gave her a copy of the Beatles’ Abby Road, and Bruce Springsteen’s Born in the USA.

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For Lent, I quit Facebook. I took it off my phone, and removed all notifications. I checked back in after a couple of weeks, and I had a few messages, but since I didn’t make a big announcement, I’m pretty certain almost no one has noticed my absence. That’s a weird, yet oddly validating feeling.  I need to find another way to connect with local friends; I missed a few events and I don’t want to miss real-world interactions, but I just cannot deal with the…unendingness…of social media right now. I don’t know what else to call it. Life is hard, winter is long, and things are scary right now. I’ve been moderating my news consumption, and trying to take better care of myself, doing what I can when I can. It’s hard, because part of me wants to withdraw, but the propensity to become an introverted hermit is strong. I think spring will naturally help.

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Jeffrey is getting his driver’s license this month. He’s finally completed all the requirements and hours behind the wheel, and I finally had to admit that it was time to let go. It’s really hard transitioning from the intensity of parenting younger kids, with navigating them naturally starting to have more independence. There are bumpy days, of course, but I know the best thing I can do is to help him continue to trust me as he figures out more and more how to do things on his own. Parenting continues to be the best, hardest work.

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Abby has taken up the ukulele, and she’s actually really good at it. It’s fun hearing her and Kelsey play together. That makes a tuba, a trumpet, a cello, a guitar, a ukulele, a piano, and a set of bagpipes in the house. And I can’t play a damn thing. But I can make pavlova! Which I have, much to everyone’s delight, practically perfected.

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Bean is Bean. Peanut butter was on sale for 75 cents a jar at the grand opening of a new grocery store, so I bought six cases. He took a sharpie and numbered all 72 jars. Then Jeffrey dared to use one out of order. 500 pounds of boy was suddenly tussling on my kitchen floor. My kitchen cannot handle that level of tussle.

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There are crocus and tulips pushing aside the frost-damaged mulch from last year, and I am hopeful for spring coming soon. Because honestly, I’m going to do something drastic to my hair if it doesn’t warm up. As it is, I watched a YouTube tutorial and balyaged it myself. Judge for yourself, kittens…

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Philosopher Bean and the Evolution of Motherhood

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This kid. Lately we call him Philosopher Bean. I kick around ideas with him, and he bats them back to me, with questions tacked on and insights I had not considered. He’s got way more of his dad in him than I ever expected—and they’re the very best parts. I see beautiful pieces of David developing and rising to the top.

He’s a deep thinker. And his deep thoughts are on big—sometimes metaphysical—vast spiritual and scientific ideas. He grasps abstract concepts and mathematics in ways that take my breath away, and these quantum leaps in growth have happened seemingly overnight. It leaves me trying to catch my balance as his mom.

I had been kicking around the idea of writing my next book on raising a gifted child with autism. But, as he’s grown, I have pushed that idea further and further back. If I do write this book, I believe it will be with him. I am aware of and support the movement away from parents controlling the narrative about their children with disabilities. Bean will have his own voice, his own memories, his own perspective on his upbringing, and it will be his to tell, should he want to. I don’t anticipate this potential project being easy or painless, but I think it might be worthwhile. Someday.

In the meantime, I am learning how to move away from the intense intervention that was needed from me when he was younger, into more of a supporting role as he moves to the forefront of his own advocacy.  It’s not always easy, but me getting out of the way is integral to him taking over his own growth. And he is more than capable.

When he needs me, I am still there—and I always will be. But stepping back at the appropriate time is a huge part of raising a child with a disability. It has been my job to protect him, to advocate for him, to insist on the services he was entitled to, to provide the scaffolding he needed to grow and learn; but the real goal has always been to someday not need those supports.

He had a bit of a rough patch this week, but in the days afterwards, he had insights into himself that he couldn’t have received any other way. Not only could he see that, but he was able to explain it to me, talk about it, and frame those insights into usable tools for himself for the future.

This kid. He has been a singular gift to this family since his birth. As I watch him get ready to move beyond his family, to flap and test his wings, and interact with the world, I wonder what gifts he has in store for the rest of us. Bear with me as I figure out how to navigate the changed mothering roles necessary in this new world. Respecting him, his wishes, his story, and if I can, still carve out a space for my own overflowing heart.

In the meantime, I will return to reading the crazy-dense article on particle physics he found about capturing light waves and freezing the light particles in crystalline form, and how this may solve the world’s energy problems.

February First!

We made it, people. January was 96 days long, and Christmas was six months ago, but we got to flip the calendar today. Do you still have a paper calendar? I do this year. I’m attempting to go analog, and I’m finding it to be super helpful. I’m more productive and more aware of what’s happening—though I admit I may have lost track of a few things in the labyrinthian 14 weeks of January.

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Pretty much.

So the California Hippie Girl is re-surfacing hard as I hit midlife. (What even constitutes midlife anymore? I don’t buy forty being the new twenty or whatever the kids are saying these days, but I kind of think falling down the stairs a few weeks ago (see: January 67th) gets me my Midlife© Card.

Anyway, I grew weary with the lack of recycling options in my neighborhood and went on the warpath (can I say that, or is it culturally insensitive? I am honestly asking.) It turns out our waste management company DOES offer recycling, but since almost no one uses it (seriously, if you drive around my neighborhood on trash day, there are NO recycle toters out at the curb) they don’t really advertise it. I have a shiny new blue recycle toter being delivered ASAP, and I am retooling the kitchen setup so I can teach my kids the glorious art of separating the trash!

I’ve also made the move from plastic food storage containers back to glass and 86’d paper plates or other disposable single-use products. I’ve had the same cloth grocery bags since 1991, so I’m good there. Seriously, it’s not that hard, just keep them in your car. It takes a week or two to get used to it, but once you do, it’s second nature. In the part of California where I’m from (and where most of my family lives) you can’t even get plastic bags anymore. People griped at first, but they got used to it. It’s amazing what our big brains can do! All of this used to be like breathing to me, but moving east sent parts of me into hibernation. I’m going to try and wake some stuff up.

I’m not quite ready to institute composting, but mostly that’s because I hate the outdoors in Virginia, and there is no way in hell I’m going to garden. Swamps are not meant to be lived in by this many people. While you can drain the water, the mosquitoes and humidity are eternal.

I don’t make new year’s resolutions per se, but in the 654 days of January, I had time to reflect on some stuff, and I realized we really don’t need any new stuff. I mean, seriously. We just don’t. I cut back on Christmas last year, and we focused on activities and going to NYC as our big family present. It was worth it. I am trying to make a genuine effort to examine any potential purchase and ask if we really need it. This might make me sound like a ton of fun (and January me wasn’t super awesome, I admit) but it’s actually exciting because less stuff will allow us to take more trips and go more places, and experience more life, and that’s a very good thing.

So, regardless of what happens with the damned Groundhog tomorrow, we will have six more weeks of winter, per the only calendar that matters: the moon. Spring equinox is at 4:15 in the afternoon on March 20, regardless of what a rodent and Bill Murray do. The days will be perfectly balanced for that moment, before we begin the tip towards peak summer sunlight. Equinoxes > Solstices. I know Solstices are fancier and get bigger parties, but I love that balance point, where you can feel the year tip.

Here’s to a mercifully accurate 28 days for February. So far, so good.