This is a repost from 2009. It’s apropos today, on what would have been my Grandma’s 97th birthday.

The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade is on the TV, as it is every Thanksgiving morning. My grandma was a firm believer in this Parade, and would even get up early to watch it live, sipping her Sanka and making me a grilled cheese sandwich and frozen red grapes. As an adult, I don’t particularly care for parades, let alone parades on tv that are spliced and diced- but it would not be Thanksgiving for me without Al Roker yelling at me and the Rockettes freezing their cute butts off while they slip around in the New York cold.

My grandma died ten years ago today. Tomorrow would have been her 92nd birthday. In my mind, this time of year has become a mash-up of traditions- Thanksgiving, family, illness, death and birthday cake. It’s bittersweet- and sometimes I have to step back and catch my breath.

When my grandma died, the phone call came that time was nigh, and I rushed from my job to the care-home where she was spending her final months. I broke several laws and ran several lights in the five-minute drive, but I still did not make it. My family was gathered outside her room in the hollow, echoing hallway and I knew I was too late.

With trepidation, I gingerly entered her room, and stood by her bed, looking at her quiet body. Gently, I bent down to kiss her soft, relaxed brow. I’ve heard it said the dead look as though they are peacefully sleeping; I don’t think so. Even without knowledge of eternal things, it was clear my grandma was gone, her spirit was no longer in her tabernacle of flesh, and I was reverently and tenderly acknowledging the remaining clay.

In the days following her death, I was swallowed in grief. When your grandma wishes for no services, no memorial of any kind, it makes processing your grief and loss difficult. For the first time, I understood that funerals are for the living, that ritual is a balm for those left behind.

The day her ashes were scattered at sea, my family walked out on the Golden Gate Bridge with flowers we had collected from my mother’s yard, and bid our goodbyes to the mighty Pacific Ocean. Watching those flowers fall forever down to the cold waves below was bittersweet. I knew my grandma was not gone, but I ached for a way to hold her close, to keep the fleeing memories from floating away like the tide.

The blessings of my faith are countless, but the one I am most grateful for is hope. Hope springs eternal. Not the waves of the Pacific nor the refiners fire can take our souls, and that family is eternal. All family. The family of man IS the family of God.

So today, while Al Roker yells at me and the Rockettes slip and slide, I feel my grandma close. My daughter, who bears her name, bounces around on the bed next to me, squealing with glee at the cartoon character balloons floating high over the streets of New York. I’m going to fix grilled cheese sandwiches and frozen grapes for my children for breakfast, and tell them stories about my grandma.

Happy Thanksgiving. And Happy Birthday, Grandma.

Autism: Little Victories

IMG_1723Bean is supposed to be on a charter bus right now, on his way, with the rest of the 5th grade, to the Baltimore Aquarium. He’s not. He’s laying on the couch next to me, reading a chapter book, and idly watching a small votive candle I let him light on the coffee table. When he’s off kilter, having a small candle lit seems to help him focus.

Yesterday was an Autism Sucks day. Sure, they’ve been a part of our lives for a long time, and it does seem like we have fewer and fewer as the years plow onward- so when one hits, it’s almost harder, because we are reminded, painfully some days, that Autism doesn’t go away, there is no cure, and it’s something he (and his family) will deal with forever. In light of that, here’s a bit of sunshine for those of you in the throes of a young diagnosis, or with children who are high-functioning but who are still struggling with basic skills: it get’s better. It does.

As Bean’s gotten older, with years of OT and PT and intervention strategies behind him, and despite days I felt bereft of hope, it has truly gotten better. Those painful early years of therapy, early-intervention, and hard work will pay off. How? It paid off for our family last night, and I have hope in ways I never could have seen when he was younger.

I spent the afternoon at the elementary school, in impromptu meetings with the principal and Bean’s SpEd team. Yesterday was a catastrophically bad autism day, and we were all meeting to dust ourselves off and figure out a plan to move forward. Bean’s team is imperfect, and there are people I would wish to swap out if I could, but as a whole, they work hard to help him and meet his genuine needs, while not enabling incorrect behavior. Despite having a terrible day, the principal green-lighted him for the field trip to Baltimore, and with her encouragement, his aide moved schedules around to accompany him.

There are a lot of variables on any field trip, but adding in a child with autism in an immersive, general-educational environment, with all the chaos, disorder, and openness of 30 kids in an Aquarium, and it’s…tense. I appreciated the teaching team’s willingness to add his aide, and to take extra precautions in order for him to be with his class— these are all wins for the Special Education system and the people fulfilling IDEA for children like Bean.


When Bean has one of the now-rare bad days (and if you’ve got a kid with autism, you know what I’m talking about) there is something like an emotional hangover everyone suffers. It’s emotionally wrenching and physically exhausting to have a melt down, and he usually sleeps a lot afterwards, while everyone else puts the pieces back together. When he was younger, he was oblivious to how he affected others, but as he’s gotten older, that’s changing.

Last night, when Jon and I sat down to talk to him about the pending trip to the aquarium, he surprised us. He said he was worried it might be too much, and after thinking about it, and following such a hard day, he felt the bus ride and the commotion of the aquarium might make it really hard for him to stay calm. This is the very first time he’s shown this level of self-awareness, this ability to see what might be obstacles in front of him, and name them. It’s also the first time he’s willingly offered to give up something he wanted to do— he really loves aquariums.

It’s a fine line between avoidance, or letting him retreat to safety, and realistically acknowledging and avoiding circumstances that wouldn’t be good for him. I’m not sure exactly where that line is on this situation, but the fact he addressed his own needs for the very first time, and then was willing to stay with his decision was huge. He wants to go to the aquarium as a family, and he knows he’s going to have to complete a separate project for his teachers.

I’m really proud of this boy. It gets better. It does.