Thursday, April 29, 2010

What Makes Me Proud

Sometimes, of course, it's the big things. But mostly? It's the little moments, the not-so-in-your-face ones, the ones that show character so far beyond what you might have hoped your child would have.

I'm not going to tell much of this story because--as is almost invariably true of 12-year-old girls whose lives have become more and more their own and less and less their parents'--it's not mine to tell, no matter what Anne Lamott says. After all, nobody behaved badly here.

Here's what I can say: There was a disappointment yesterday. It brought tears to Em's eyes. You could literally see her stiffening her upper lip; she didn't give in to it, wouldn't give in to it. We talked, and I tried to comfort, but it was she who got herself past it.

Grinning at me with a watery smile, she said, "I feel like Mercedes."

I looked at her quizzically.

And then she smiled wider, eyes still brimming with tears, and began belting out, completely unselfconsciously, in a deliberately stagey and off-key voice:

I am beautiful.
No matter what they say.
Cuz words can't bring me down.
No, no.

I am beautiful.
In every single way.
And words can't bring me down.
No, no.

And then she sat there, and grinned. And giggled.

My kid is going to do so well in life.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

An Elephant Wearing Tap Shoes

Em's 7th grade Language Arts class is doing a segment on poetry. Today they were each asked to write a poem of sorts--a series of similes and metaphors about a particular person.

Em chose to write about N.
He plays golf like a professional.
He is as quirky as an elephant wearing tap shoes.
He is as handsome as a male model ready for a photo shoot.
He can be as annoying as a dog begging for food.
But overall, my brother is a treasure that is special to me.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

In Which Anne Lamott Justifies My Blogging

Anne Lamott did a book-signing and -reading on the campus where I work last night. Here's how much of a fan I am: I went. By myself. I don't do those sorts of things, ever. Especially midweek, when it means more time away from my kids.

But it was Anne, so it was different.

(And yes, I know she's one of those writers who many people love to hate. But the criticisms--of self-absorption and indulgence--well...let's just say that I can't imagine too many bloggers who have the right to level that particular accusation at any one else with a straight face.)

She was reading from her new novel, Imperfect Birds. But I was there for the non-fiction. I was there for Anne. And she did not disappoint. She made me laugh out loud several times, made me nod my head in agreement several more. And then, in one simple sentence--a response to a question from the audience--she made me pull out my notepad and write down her words, right then and there.

The question was about how you might use writing--the teaching of writing--as a way to reach the sorts of at-risk kids that her new book is about. She stopped for a moment, told the man who'd spoken that it was the first time she'd been asked that question, then spent more time answering it than she had reading from the book.

She rambled a bit; she probably does that anyway, but she was clearly tired, at the end of a very long book tour, almost home. At one point, though, she talked about where kids--where we all--find our material. She talked about giving kids permission to write about whatever is inside them, and whatever is outside them as well. And then she said, "You own what happens to you. And if people don't want you to write about it? Well," and here she smiled slightly and shrugged, "they should have behaved better."

If people don't want you to write about it, they should have behaved better. If that isn't the blogger's motto*, I don't know what is.

*Here's the ironic part: Earlier in the day, I'd read an interview with Anne in Salon that came out on Monday. In it, she speaks somewhat deprecatingly of blogging, saying she doesn't think she would have been a blogger, that she's too much of a perfectionist. [It's near the end of the piece, if you're interested.] While she was signing the copy of Grace (Eventually) I'd just bought, I thought of that--and of how she'd basically just summarized and justified blogging for me during her speech. Suddenly, I heard myself talking. "I know you said in Salon that you wouldn't be a blogger," I said. "But I just wanted to let you know that you...your books...they're a big part of why I blog." She looked up at me then, curiously, and said, "And do people read your blog?" And I grinned. "Some," I said. "Enough."

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

I'm in a Mood

The reality is that there isn't a five-days-a-week-in-the-office job that would make me really happy.

The reality is that I'm not going anywhere any time soon.

The reality is that working from home didn't make me happy either.

The reality is that I'm apparently not especially easy to please.

The reality is that waiting for my life to be the way I want it to be means all I ever do is wait.

The reality is that I'm not even sure what waiting for my life to "be the way I want it to be" even means.

The reality is that I'm restless and distracted and ineffective.

The reality is that I have to learn to live within my reality, and that reality is here, now.

The reality is that I have no idea what that means, either.

Reality bites.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Books I Listened to in 2009, Part I

So, um, yeah. It's April. And guess what I forgot to do in January, when my son was being diagnosed and I thought I had it all together but really didn't? Yeah, I forgot to post this list of audiobooks I listened to during the year. Hell, I forgot to finish this list of audiobooks I listened to during the year.

In fact? I still haven't finished it. But I'm far enough along that I can give you the first half of the list here and now, and fully expect to get the other half up within a week or so. (Expect. Not promise. I know better than to promise.)

Here goes. Part I, with the introduction I had written at the time. Of a post that should have been up four-plus months ago. This level of procrastination impresses even me.


Yes, I know many of you don't get the whole audiobook thing. But even this year, when I was working an office job and haven't had the opportunity to log as many miles walking as I have in previous years, I devoured those suckers. I can't keep up with myself. Seriously. They just don't put out enough "good book" audiobooks to keep me going!

Which is my way of saying that my audiobook list dwarfs my "real" book list, and I'm not ashamed to admit it. OK, maybe I'm a little ashamed. If I wasn't ashamed at all, I suppose I wouldn't have gone on and on about it for two paragraphs now, now would I?


Moving along...

1. A Spot of Bother (Vintage) by Mark Haddon: Already wrote about this one.

2. Aloft by Chang-rae Lee: The problem with not writing about a book the second you finish it? Is that, a year later, when you go to say a few words about it, you find you can remember almost nothing. Does that means it was a crappy book? No, not necessarily. Clearly it wasn't a life-changing book, though.

3. When You Are Engulfed in Flames by David Sedaris: So funny, so irreverent, so true. David Sedaris, you are going to be the death-by-laughter of me.

4. A Year in Provence by Peter Mayle: Always meant to read this. Always wanted to read this. Now that I've read/heard it? I'm glad.

5. After Dark by Haruki Murakami: Creepy and dark, bizarre and affecting. Spare, almost stark writing, and yet fully realized characters. I was in awe. But also, I couldn't stop wondering: What must it be like to live inside Murakami's head?

6. The Longest Trip Home by John Grogan: Sorry, John. I'm a huge Marley and Me fan. I really wanted to like this. But sometimes? One memoir is enough.

I ran out of new audiobooks to read at around this time, and started going back through the dozen or so books I kept on my computer from the year or so when I had a subscription to The next four entries are all relistens.

7. Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim by David Sedaris: A relisten from 2005. Here's what I had to say about it then, from my old blog. "Is Sedaris ever not simultaneously funny and brilliant? There's a scene in here between him and his mother, after he's been kicked out of their home by his father, that will leave a scar somewhere on my heart forever. And I'm not sure that the muscles in my ribcage will ever recover from my laughter during the story about Santa Claus and the Eight Angry Black Men."

8. Running with Scissors by Augusten Burroughs: Another 2005 relisten. And my thoughts then? "This is one of the better that I've read/heard. I know I'm late to the Burroughs party, but I was astounded by this man's ability to spin a yarn, and to prove just how much stranger truth can be than fiction. The one problem? I am now OBSESSED with figuring out who the psychiatrist really was." The only thing I have to add after listening again? I long ago did a little Googling and satisfied my curiosity.

9. Dry by Augusten Burroughs: As I did in 2005, I relistened to the first three of Burroughs' books in rapid succession. Regarding this one, I said, "Although this one wasn't quite stranger than fiction, it was certainly more absorbing. It did strike me as odd how completely disconnected this part of his story was from the story of his childhood--how he seemed to have completely cut all ties with his past, despite how they undoubtedly led to his issues in the present of this book--but I otherwise found it completely engrossing. I could feel the pain and hurt and the confusion in this book in a way that I simply couldn't amidst the complete oddness of Running with Scissors. And, oh. The scene in rehab with the stuffed animals? Beyond funny."

10. Magical Thinking by Augusten Burroughs: And, finally, my 2005 comment on this one? "If I hadn't read his previous two, I'd have been enthralled with this collection. As it was, my bar was perhaps a tad too high, so I was only fascinated (though I could have lived without a step-by-step description of his mouse execution)." I have to say, I liked it better on second listen, but the mouse execution still seems nothing more than mean-spiritedness.

OK. Now, back to our regularly scheduled new reads!

11. The Bonesetter's Daughter by Amy Tan: The problem with these stories that are set both in present in past is that one of the tales almost always suffers in comparison with the other. I know we're supposed to be using one to illuminate the other and yaddayaddayadda, but I spent large swaths of this book rolling my eyes at the relative insipidness of the modern-day tale, and waiting to be transported a little way back in time to the 'real' story. Still, that's just a complaint, not a condemnation.

12. Drink, Play, F@#k by Andrew Gottlieb: I thought it might be fun to read this reportedly "impudent retort" to Elizabeth Gilbert's Eat, Pray, Love. It wasn't. Moving on.

13. Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates: What a well-written story. What horrible people. What squirmingly awful lives. I quibble with the laying of blame on suburban living, though. You can live a squirmingly awful life right in the middle of a metropolis.

14. Run by Ann Patchett: When this book came out, I remembered reading a lot of "not as good as Bel Canto" reviews. My take? Whatever. Different beasts. So, yeah, maybe I didn't walk away from Run feeling completely transformed, like I did from Bel Canto. On the other hand? I did walk away from it feeling that this was a fascinating story, that the characterizations were lovely and fully realized, and that I'd recommend it in a second. And so I have.

15. I Am America (And So Can You!) by Stephen Colbert: Freakin' hysterical.

16. Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson: I listened to Gilead a year or two ago, and you'll see that I listened to Home (the best of the best) this year. Housekeeping didn't measure up for me. Robinson's writing is incredible, at all times, but this story just didn't quite get there, or maybe it just didn't take me there.

Friday, April 2, 2010

The Other Mother

We were at Weeyum Wise's 9th birthday party.

It had been a difficult decision as to whether to go; it was being held at the Big Gym, which has always been a rough place for N; he loves it, he hates it, he wants to be there, he can't be there. And to make it worse, there wouldn't be a single other child, aside from Weeyum, whom N would know.

Weeyum's mom--my lovely friend J--suggested that, if N or I would prefer, we could do a special day with the boys another time, instead of putting him through this sort of potentially upsetting social scene. But N had seen the invitation, and he was dead set on going. So we went.

It was--if you use a neurotypical measuring stick--a complete disaster. N refused to take his socks off, refused to even enter the room where the other kids were playing. When they left the gym and went into the party room to have pizza and cake, N grabbed the chair right next to Weeyum, but soon abandoned it to come sit on my lap, insisting on having my hands over his ears while the rest of the kids sang happy birthday, refusing to eat any ice-cream cake, refusing to be in the group photos.

During the time the kids were in the gym, N wandered around the lobby, watching the others through the large windows, eventually talking to one of the mothers, one I didn't know, hadn't met. He was flirting with her, actually, as is his wont--chattering away, asking her to play with him. I had moved into the party room to help J set out plates and such, and also (no need to pretend otherwise) because I was embarrassed by N, by the way he was acting, by the way he was standing out. I was embarrassed because of what I assumed the other mothers were thinking about him. (I'm not even going to link here. If you've been around the special needs/autism blogosphere this past week you know why that was on my mind, why I was thinking about the other mothers' judgements of my son.)

And I was even more embarrassed by myself, by my embarrassment. (What kind of mother...I berated myself. Really, the only one behaving badly here was me.)

After I while, I noticed that this same mom was still interacting with N, handling him just fine, never once looking to me for help or intervention. At one point I saw J go over to N, trying to get him to join the group, and this mom just looked at her and smiled. "He's scared to take his socks off," she said. "He's fine here."

After the gym party was over, we moved to a nearby park to open presents. Again, N refused to join in with the other children, seeking the same mom out, asking if she would play ball with him. I was talking with another parent, watching; I saw her say a few words to her older son, a boy around N's age, then open a juice box for her younger, who was probably around five. Done, she let N spirit her away to play some game of his devising, with elaborate rules only he could possibly understand. But she never seemed rattled or upset, never sought my eyes, never seemed to want or need rescuing. So I stayed where I was, and turned my attention to the other kids.

And that's when I saw him. This other mother's older son, not too far off from the group of yelling, tumbling kids, but not part of it, either. Walking in circles around a tree; talking to himself; making spaceship sounds; gesturing with his fingers; entirely in his own world; absolutely happy.

I sidled up next to J, who was setting out some snacks. "That boy, M," I said gesturing to him with my chin. "He's one of N's people, right?"

J looked confused for a second, then realized what I meant. "Yes," she said. "Yes, he is. How did you know?"

I didn't answer, just watched him, watched J watch him, watched her see what I was seeing.

"I didn't see it until just now," I admitted. "At the gym, I couldn't have picked him out at all."

"That's his safe place," J said. "He goes to classes there all the time."

I turned to look at N and the other mom, still throwing the ball back and forth. "No wonder," I said, more to myself than to J. "No wonder she's handling him so well, so easily."

* * * * * * *
It's Autism Awareness Day today.

This last week has been one very long spate of awareness. In addition to the party, there was the Mother-Son Olympics at N's school, where he participated in most of the events, including the 'ski jump' (a leap onto a gym mat after running along a picnic-table bench). He went far on the jump, earning our team a bunch of points, and our teammates cheered him, loudly, when he landed. At which point he looked up, startled, burst into tears, shrieked loudly, and ran behind me to put his head under my coat. (That's him, after he'd recovered himself, in the photo up top.)

And then there was the Passover seder at our house on Monday, where N greeted my friend and work colleague, K--with whom he is unabashedly in love--by telling her "your hair looks weird" and refusing to offer any more of a greeting, then proceeded to completely lose his ability to deal, shrieking and wailing, when his friend C erased something he'd drawn on the whiteboard in our kitchen.

Oh yeah. I'm aware.

I'm aware of the ways in which N's place on the autism spectrum marks him as different, and the challenges that brings. I'm aware--once I've had a few days to regroup, at least--that there are and always will be good days and bad, and that that's par for the course with any kid. I'm aware that my son is special, but also that he's no more or less special than his sister. That he has special needs, needs special handling, but that the needing and the needing to be handled are themselves no different than with any child. It's just a little more challenging to meet those needs, is all. And sometimes it feels more fraught.

I'm also aware that N's interactions with the world mean that people will judge him for his differences. Sometimes, they will no doubt judge him harshly; this is, after all, a kid whose autism doesn't really look like autism, but often like shyness, rudeness, brattiness. He doesn't flap or toe-walk. His speech isn't obviously scripted or repetitive. His gross motor skills are fine--in some areas, they're even remarkable. Even parents who know what autism looks like might not always recognize N. (Though this weekend? You couldn't miss him.)

But I'm also aware that sometimes these people are not judging harshly. As I learned from the other mother at Weeyum's party, sometimes they understand, even if it doesn't seem like they possibly could. It may be because someone they love is "one of N's people," or it may be because they have a good and open heart.

Or it may just be because they are aware.