Susan's Blog

Tuesday, November 17, 2020

The Ancient Appeal of the Firepit

Please enjoy my latest piece in Pyschology Today, about the appeal of the firepit during the Covid era, especially to a nerdy little family like mine.

Sunday, September 20, 2020

How to Just Bee

If I had to come back as an insect, I’d want to be a bee. Imagine having your nose stuck deep inside flowers all day and then coming home and making honey. On summer days I’m a human bee. I’m working in my garden as much as I possibly can — despite a little arthritis, the threat of ticks, and poison ivy.

Most people love my garden when they pass by walking with their masks and their dogs. Most of them also say that they couldn’t do it — they cite reasons like black thumb or too much work — but I wish they’d rethink that. Gardens are good for the soul and good for the planet. If people would put work and money into a garden the way they do their lawns, we’d have more color and scent in the world, and we’d be creating whole worlds for other creatures. Gardens don’t take that much water if you plant wisely and according to your region. Grass on the other hand takes tons of water and lots of killing equipment like so-called fertilizer or weed poison or gasoline-powered lawn mowers. Grass looks great, though, like a beautiful outdoor carpet, and you can play on it, and sit on it, and if that’s your thing, go for it. Creating a garden, on the other hand, is building a paradise.

Let there be light. You need light to have a gorgeous perennial garden. Sure, you can build beauty with shade but it’s the full sun guys that hold my heart. I try to figure out my exposure and observe when the sun arrives and when it departs. You need at least 6 hours of baking, unfiltered sunlight. Some people say 8 but you can cheat a little with 6.

Play in the dirt. To have a great garden, you must consign yourself to a day or two a week of being really sweaty and dirty. Apply sunscreen, Off, hat, and gloves, and then get in there and dig up whatever grass or weeds you have. You can get this tool: You jam it in and then slide it under the grass like a tough piece of pie and you pull out the layer of sod. There’s going to be a lot of sod so think of a way to dispose of it, or a place to use it. I throw it far under shrubs and forget about it.

Imagine you’re a plant. You live the best kind of life, with your face in the sun and the world at your feet. What kind of home would you need? Lots of tasty soil. So if you notice your soil is tight and crumbly, think about how to make it soft and frothy. Imagine your toes are roots, stretching out into a soft bed. (There’s a reason they’re called flower beds.) Once you have a roughed up patch of dirt you can add in shovels of fertilizer. Oddly enough it is shit that one animal doesn’t need that creates the feed for other life. I like Coast of Maine with the lobster in it but you can use any combination of manure and decomposed matter. Not mulch. Manure, please. Then churn it all together like brownie mix.

Play in the nursery. I go to a small urban nursery that designs its layout like gardens, complete with three-foot-long windchimes that sound like symphonies, and old tree stumps and carved urns and flowing fountains. I wander the full sun aisles and just look and smell and touch. And read. Read those labels, consider all the information like required sun, height, color, and bloomtime. Here is my cheat sheet that tells you about the last three.

Your perspective is everything. I mean, literally, your point of view. How will you be seeing your garden most often, where do you sit and look at it? From what angle will you appreciate it? The thing is, no matter how much we want to see all of it from anywhere, we will only be able to see all of it from one place. But that’s the magic of a garden: most of the time you can’t see it all, so you want to enter it and see the rest. So it is your viewing spot that determines the layout. You want the tallest to be farthest away. Or do you? If your favorite flowers are the tallest, put them in the center! Just know that whatever is behind them will not be visible if they bloom at the same time. So find a way to see them all. Maybe it’s just a flash of orange echinacea peeking out to the side of your bold blue delphinium. Make every color and every spot in the garden count.

The March of the Flowers

Here is the sacred order of the flowers. Use this list as a way of putting your garden together. I’ve listed bloom times, colors, and most of the heights. Your work here is to figure out how much sun you have because these are mostly full sun. Every now and then a supposedly sun-loving plant will survive (gasping and leggy) in partial sun but it’s no fun for either of you.

Now go forth and garden.


1) crocus 2) snowcaps (white) 3) scylla sibirica (blue, low-growing, spreads beautifully) 4) hyacinth 5) forsythia 6) heath (piney flowering low shrub that spreads)


1) Bulbs like daffodils, and tulips 2) Vinca (low-growing ground cover with purple flowers) 3) Flowering trees like cherry, dogwood and apple, rhodadendron, azalea 4) Lily of the Valley


1) Peonies 2-3′ 2) Poppies 2-3′ 3) Primrose 1’4) Iris 2′ 5) Clematis, wisteria -vines. Be careful with wisteria, it is really invasive 6) Herbs – generally low, good for edging 7) Scented geranium – 6 inches to 1’ These are not the annual geraniums you see everywhere in pots – purple and pink 8) Scotch Broom – big shrub, red or yellow 9) Thrift (pink, marble-size, low-growing) 10) Cerastium, aka Snow-in-summer, white on silvery green stems, covers my stone wall by my driveway, spreads like crazy) 11) Lupine, 1-2’ purple 12) Columbine (1-2’ pink, yellow, blue, tolerates a little shade)


1) All sorts of roses 2) Delphinium (2-5’ tall, stunning blues to mauve to white) 3) Pinks, carnation ( 6” to 1’, pinks, purples, fuchsia) 4) Coreopsis (1’, yellow) 5) Scabiosa (6” – 1’, periwinkle blue) 6) Lillies (Asiatic, tall, 2-4’ all colors, smell great) 7) Lavender 1-2’) 8) Catmint (1-2’) blue-lavender 9) Rose campion (1-2’, magenta on silvery stems with soft fuzzy leaves) 10) Foxglove, (tall, white, pale yellow and especially purple-pink, is finicky but magnificent) 11) Penstemmon (6”-1’ orangey red) 12) Daylillies (1’-2’, yellow, orange, red) 13) Hydrangea shrub grows big, mostly in blues 14) Sage 1’-2’ usually pale blue or purple 15)Baptisia, 2-3’ blue or dark dark purple 16) Honeysuckle


1) Butterfly bush (large silvery green 2) Echinacea – (1-2’, orange, pink) 3) Black-eyed Susans (1-2’) 4) Monarda aka Bee Balm, (2-3’ red or purple) 5) Hydrangea shrubby tree, goes white-to-pink 6) Hyssop ( 3’ blue-purple) 7) Hollyhock (3-5’ lots of colors)


1) Asters (Tall, purple or fuschia) 2) Daisies (2-3’) 3) Butterfly weed (orange) , 6″ 4) Tall phlox


1) mums, ugh 2) Bridal Bower Clematis (white) 3) Annuals (cheating but what can you do, it’s fall) 4) Shasta Daisies (tall, white, thick and green for the whole summer) Also, they smell kinda bad 5) Perennial verbena 6) Heliopsis (yellow sunflower types)

Saturday, August 29, 2020

Playing With My Autistic Son

At 57, I’m finally the mother I wanted to be. Read about it here, in my latest blogpost for Psychology Today.

Monday, August 3, 2020

Autism Vacation: Not Quite a Piece of Cake

Here is my latest piece for Psychology Today, “Autism Vacation: Not Quite a Piece of Cake.” Enjoy!

Tuesday, June 16, 2020

Connection and Autism: It May Not Be What You Think

You can read my June 2020 Psychology Today column here.

Monday, May 18, 2020

Susie’s Little Day Program

I was caught off guard by the Coronavirus just like everyone else. I look back now in horror at all the times I sat right next to people — even a sneezing guy on an airplane — and wandered around blithely without a mask. At the beginning of March, though, it all changed. I was picking Nat up from his day program on a Thursday for a doctor’s appointment, but while waiting for him to collect his things, I noticed how few people were in the room, and how few vans there were outside. I asked Paul, his dear friend and case manager, and Paul said that people were not coming in because of the virus.

Suddenly it was real in a stomach ache kind of way. What the hell was I thinking, sending Nat in every day when this new bug was actually killing more people than the flu? “Nat,” I said to him in the car, “You are not going back there for a while.” And I explained to him about the “sickness” that was very bad, and how we had to be really careful from now on. I told him that he would not be going back to his group home for a while either.

Nat was okay with it, and so was I, because we did not realize how the quarantine would stretch on and on. So for the first week it was all kind of like a sleepy vacation, and my husband Ned was working from home, so we just kind of “sweetied around” as Ned calls it. There was no schedule at all; I went on bike rides and cleaned up my yard, uncovering green shoots everywhere, imagining the colors that would soon be popping out of all the trees and the ground. Nat and I rediscovered our love for baking, and I was proud of myself for being able to stay away from the sweets and continue my long streak of success on Weight Watchers.

At some point, towards the end of March, I got bored and therefore grumpy. Ned was now comfortably into his work-from-home routine and so he was much less available for playing. And Nat, sensing the staleness in the air, suddenly started saying, “Go home.”

He meant his group home. He also began asking about his day program. I felt brittle and resentful of the whole arrangement, and Nat became anxious one day on a walk in the Arboretum. For the first time in almost a year, he was smashing his feet on the pavement, jumping high, and smacking his head. “Calendar, calendar!” he shouted.

We always had made him calendars when he was home on the weekend, but what could we do now? Monday: Wake up, Eat breakfast. Sit around. Get bored. Snack. Laundry. Dishwasher. Sit around. Lunch. Sit around. “No calendar,” he said when he looked at the week that yawned before him.

My irritation grew by the day, even though I was bellydancing (yes, I do that, shut up), playing guitar, and riding my bike. I got a medical marijuana card because I was so stressed out. Every time I looked at Nat, sitting so still, almost disappearing, I would feel the indigestion of guilt gurgling in my chest. As March slid into April, Nat began saying, “May,” meaning, “in May I’ll go back to the group home and day program.”

I said, “I hope so,” but I knew it would not happen in May.

What we needed was a day program. Well, good luck with that.

But — maybe? I created a list of activities that Nat liked, and told him to choose some for each day. He did it one day, but then refused. When I finally got him to articulate one thing he wanted to do, it was baking. Always baking. Before I knew it, I was going back in time, into behavioral training. I would use the baking as a way to get him to do other things.

But Nat would see right through me. He’d look at me with my perfect list of choices and his eyes would say, “Really? This is how you want to play it?”

So we would bake. And drive in the car to nowhere. And bake. And before long I noticed that Nat had a tiny little belly smooshed over his belt — something I never thought I’d see. “Well we can’t not bake,” I said to Ned. “So we’ll walk,” said Ned.

And they did. Long walks deep into Boston, avoiding crowded parks and their Covid-scented air. Ned would come back drenched in sweat, Nat would look like he’d just woken up from a refreshing nap. Soon Ned began relishing his job of plotting 4-5 mile walks. He had several requirements: avoid crowds; go for a long time; try to find new destinations each time; find a good podcast to listen to (no illustions here about chit-chatting with Nat for an hour of walking).

They’d be gone long enough for me to escape into something, usually dance or heavy gardening, my other joy. Seriously, the dirtier, the better. I’d have my break and they’d have exercise and an activity they both enjoyed. We could not get over the fact that Nat no longer insisted on the destination being ice cream as in the pre-Covid era. He wanted to go on the walk because he needed something to do and he felt good doing it. And it was his thing to do with his dad.

Then they’d come back and I’d give Nat (and me) an early lunch. I’d think petulantly, “Dammit, I don’t want to bake, why do I always have to bake,” and then I’d hear myself saying, “Nat, do you want to bake?”

We’d get out Mom’s Big Book of Baking, and pick out a recipe. It would have to be something we both liked because, well, Weight Watchers was stressing me out and the priority was filling Nat’s days and being happy with what we had. Still, most of the time I managed to get away with licking my fingers and eating only one cookie.

After the baking I would feel so proud of myself, and of Nat, who was very skilled at baking. From careful measuring to setting timers and temperatures to separating eggs, he was game for everything. At first he did not get why we were using so many bowls and taking so many steps to bake a cake. “Buy mix,” he said at first. “Nat, trust me,” I said, “You are going to love making a cake the real way.” And of course I was right. By May we were experts at making half batches of everything, half layer cakes, half peanut butter cookies, half of the fudge. Because I still needed us to survive this self-isolation and not acquire Type 2 Diabetes.

Then, the Zoom period of quarantine started, and soon we had choices of people to “see.” We did a Passover seder on Zoom (that was no more hectic than our usual seder). Then the day program started sending out links for hang-outs, or we’d facetime with grandparents, or have a music lesson with his rock band director. Suddenly I could actually develop a calendar that did not piss Nat off, because there’d be 10am Morning Meeting, 1pm Arts and Crafts, 5pm MUSE (the rock band gang) hang-out. And woven throughout were the walk and the bake.

We’d still have occasional discussions about when he’d be going back to his real life, and I found I could reason with him by describing what re-opening things would be like. He listened carefully, sometimes even smiling when I got really detailed about all the little changes that would have to be made outside, like masks and tests and smaller crowds. Now that it’s May he says, “June,” for when he’d like to go back, and I say, “Probably.” But I no longer feel anxious about what if it doesn’t happen in June. Because I know we got this.

Monday, March 30, 2020

Quarantined: Spending Time With My Adult Autistic Son

I hope you enjoy this new post I wrote for Psychology Today. It’s been quite a time staying home with Nat these three weeks!

Monday, February 17, 2020

Special Needs Voting Social Story



Copyright 10/25/18 by Susan Senator

All rights reserved


  1. Voting is making choices. Voting is a wonderful thing to do if you are grown up. Voting is VERY IMPORTANT FOR ANYONE LIVING IN THE UNITED STATES.
  2. The choices are for different people who want to be in charge of the rules we follow. These are called Elected Officials.
  3. The choices on the voting form are also for some rules that all people must follow. These are called Questions.


We go into the building. At the first table, ____________ says his name SLOWLY and clearly

_____________________ says his address SLOWLY and clearly

_____________________ takes the paper ballot and goes into a booth

________________relaxes and takes a deep breath. _____________moves calmly and SLOWLY.

________________uses the pen to color in ONLY ONE CIRCLE: That is how you vote!


People who want to be in charge of [your state], and also Rules for us to follow.

__________________ is probably a DEMOCRAT/REPUBLICAN/INDEPENDENT because: ______________________________________________________________________________________

[Note: I believe a guardian/parent/friend can guide the individual the way you would guide anyone who asks. Do not be ashamed to advise voting for the party that is in the individual’s best interest. Here is an example: Nat likes living in an apartment and going to his day program. DEMOCRATS believe this is a good thing and they spend money on it. So Nat should vote ALL DEMOCRAT because Democrats make those kind of rules and spend money on those kind of things.]

______’s family are all ________________.

What are you going to be? Republican or Democrat?

[Note: Again, it is very typical for individuals to want to know how their parents and families vote, and for parents to guide them thus. In Nat’s case, it is the Democrats who will preserve the funding for his programs, for the life he lives.]

____________________________________________can color in a circle for each new box:

  1. Candidate 1 believes that _____________________________________________________.

[Note: Make a one sentence statement that would make sense and sums it up in a way relevant to the individual.] For example: Elizabeth Warren makes rules that allow Nat to live in his own apartment. Geoff Diehl would take that rule away.]

Fill in just one!

2. Jay Gonzalez/Palfrey Democrat OR Charlie Baker/Polito Republican

Ballot Questions. There are 3 Ballot Questions. Color in one circle for each.

Question 1 is about nurses who work in hospitals. Hospitals need to hire more

nurses, or do hospitals need to make nurses work harder to help every patient in need, even if it is hard for the nurse?

Question 2 is about making elections more fair for people with less money. Or should people with more money be allowed to spend a lot of money to become a leader.

Question 3 is about protecting all people letting them eat where they want, go to movies they want, use bathrooms in restaurants.

That’s it! Put the paper in the slot of the machine! You did it!

Friday, January 31, 2020

Nat Solves the Autism Puzzle Piece

I give you my latest column for Psychology Today. Enjoy!


Monday, December 23, 2019

More About GHOST

While on my bike ride the other day, I had a revelation about how to begin implementing GHOST, which I first described in Psychology Today. First I came up with what the acronym means: G.H.O.S.T: Group Home Oversight & Support Team. The way it would work is, the parents and guardians of group home residents swear an alliance of the soul with each other and vow to check in on the others’ child in the parent’s absence/death. Weekly visits. And if you can’t, you must get someone else who gives a shit to do it in your place. I don’t know what the incentive would be since we don’t all have trust funds for our guys. Is saving/enriching a life enough motivation? In effect our group home peer families become “Ghosts” for us?

G.H.O.S.T. FORM (Group Home Oversight and Support Team)


Loved One’s Name____________________________________________________

Ghost’s Name________________________________________________________


Date of Last Visit____________________________


  • What was the overall demeanor of _________________________________?
  • If you looked in his room, what was its condition?
  • What was your interaction with the loved one like?
Friday, December 13, 2019

Change Vs. Accept? Read My Latest For Psychology Today

How much should we autism parents struggle to “change” our children’s behavior, to channel it to more “normal” pursuits? Are we stifling the real person by doing so? You can read the piece here.

Wednesday, December 4, 2019

I’m Offering A Writing Workshop Online

The process for producing a publishable piece: Nailing the essay-length work

This two-part class will give you the basic tools for crafting opeds, personal narrative, book proposals, pitch letters, beginning memoirs. You will also have opportunity for peer review and one free session of my editing. 2 Saturday mornings in January, TBD


  1. Overview: The essay, what it is used for:
  • Pitch letters
  • Opeds
  • Summary of book for an agent
  • Persuasion


  1. The three most important goals for an essay
  • To catch the reader’s eye
  • To get the reader to keep reading
  • To “win,” i.e., to fully convey your point and persuade


  1. The nutshell: how do you create perfect essay-length works?
  • Structure
  • Tools, techniques, and strategies
  • Tone
  • Understanding your reader


  1. The bricks and mortar: structuring your piece
  • Lede
  • Background
  • Active story
  • Falling action
  • Kicker


  1. Let’s talk about tools, techniques, and strategies


  1. Learning from others: read and write the type of essay you are aiming for.
  • Best ledes:
  • B. White
  • Brent Staples
  • Maya Angelou
  • Opening of Glass Castle
  • Best kickers:
  • Joyful Noise
  • NY Times pieces


  • Assignment#1: Read the essays. Analyze two of these essays for next time: structure & techniques, with examples. Critique the pair: are there problems?
  • Assignment #2: Write out your idea(s) for next time.


The process for producing a publishable piece: Nailing the essay-length work



  1. What is your idea?
  • Sometimes there is more than one essay within your essay
  • Current topics
  • Evergreen topics


  1. What is your angle? Is it special and new, shocking, revelatory, solution-oriented?


  1. Finding your own process: Outlines, free-writes and brain dumps





  1. What techniques will you use?
  • Your favorite techniques
  • Less familiar techniques
  1. Give your work its due
  • Never ever believe your first draft is THE ONE
  • Put it away, print it out, try not to edit online
  • Get a reliable reader


  1. Read-around/peer review


  1. Wrap-up


  1. Feedback

Cost is $150 for both days, or $100 for one day.

January 4 9am-12pm EST and January 11 9am-12pm EST

Contact me for registration details.

Saturday, November 30, 2019

Psychology Today: The Near Impossibility of Family Balance

Here is my latest post for Psychology Today. Enjoy!

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Nat is 30

Even back in 2005 when Making Peace With Autism came out, I knew that I’d made a terrible mistake with the opening sentence: “The hardest day of the year for me is Nat’s birthday, November 15.”

How could I have thought such a thing, much less published it for everyone to see?

What if Nat saw?

Realistically, he wouldn’t because he doesn’t read books like that. But still. Imagine a child seeing that.

Further on I wrote:

Of course, Ned and I are happy to celebrate Nat’s birthday, going to great lengths to come up with presents that catch his quicksilver attention and baking a cake slathered with frosting because the frosting is the only part he’ll eat. We invite all the family members who can make it. But no friends, because Nat has none. No, as far as we’ve come being Nat’s parents, we cannot say we enjoy his birthday. Ned feels it’s because Nat’s birthday makes no difference to Nat himself.

God damn it. Nat has no friends? Garbage. He’s got friends here that he’s had since he was ten. He’s got friends in his group home. He’s got friends from his teams, from his day program. But that’s how I saw things. Remember, back then I was making peace with autism, it was a gerund, a verb in the active tense, I had not made peace with it.

Oh but that’s why we love your writing; you’re so honest, no sugar-coating, people say, as if that excuses it, this public breast-beating. Poor me.

Poor me, when I’ve got a healthy 30 year old (on the 15th) who has a place in the world, family who loves him, friends all around, healthcare, and two nice homes.

Look: I gave birth to a neurologically atypical son. That means he does not perceive things the way the average person does. That means he understands things differently from normal, or maybe not at all. That means he has to be taught explicitly anything we need him to be certain of. Safety. Self-care. Asking. Answering. Counting. Reading. Public versus private behavior.

We used to even teach him how to play. Kids must play, right? And boys must play with cars, or role play, or play games.

“Put boy in car. Car goes ‘vroom.'”

We were told that if we give him the tools, like the mechanics of play, he would collect them in his experience and begin to expand from there, playing naturally.

Nope, never happened.

I came to understand that typical fun is not how Nat experiences fun. We don’t quite know how he experiences fun, and we still don’t. And yes it makes me sad that I don’t have too many ways to have fun with him. Again, poor me.

Because I do have fun with him. It’s that hanging-out kind of fun. I’m a talker, so I don’t get to do that with him. So instead we’re active. We shop. We cook. We walk. We go to parties together, because his friends are our friends, and their parents are our friends. Ned and I joke that we have a social life because of Nat.

Even back then, when Nat was four or five, it seemed stupid, irrelevant, and sad to spend time showing him how to act like a typical child. Mean, even. What was he, Pinocchio? Not a real boy? His was an ABA school, and I loved the place, because Nat did learn there! But I didn’t like the way it was all ABA or the highway. Never Nat’s way.

And with ABA, at least back then, all the messages were, “you’re not enough the way you are. You have to relearn that, do it this way.” Constantly battle with your own instincts and impulses. All so that you can blend in.

How insane is that? We’re all individuals. Blending in means to some extent losing yourself among the others.

We were teaching Nat to lose himself even before we knew who he was.

Well, now we know. Nat is a (just about) 30 year old man who likes his space. He loves singing in his band. He loves when he knows exactly what to do (who doesn’t?). He loves just about any activity, new or old. He’s flexible (except during his times of great anxiety, which do come every so often. We just finished one when he was smacking his head a lot). He loves being around people as long as he doesn’t have to talk much. But sometimes he even likes talking, if the conversation is clear and focused on him. If the answers aren’t floating around out of reach.

Nat loves attention. Positive attention, like when he sings. Nat does not like to feel lost in the crowd. Nat likes to know what to say and what to do. He loves cues.

He does not like to blend in and we no longer believe he has to.

I guess I still haven’t made my peace with autism — it is hard for him, dammit, it is! — but I sure do know how I feel about Nat. He’s amazing. And his birthday is the celebration of him, blond, bright, and beautiful, smart and sassy, secretive. Devoted to his friends and family and traditions.

A guy who will always be there for you.

A guy who loves with all his heart.

So on his birthday, I celebrate all that is Nat.

And I hope he is happy.



Wednesday, October 9, 2019

What Does Independence Look Like For My Adult Autistic Son?

Here is the latest column for Psychology Today. Enjoy!

Thursday, October 3, 2019

The Universe According To Me

When is enough, enough?  When do we let go and then grab onto something new?

As I get older I need to be able to answer that question and not look back. I had a particularly good day at work today — I teach writing at Northeastern University — which means I got really really tired. My hour of teaching three days a week is a time period when all of my usual creative energy is compacted into those moments. If you know me at all, you know then that this is a lot of creative energy concentrated and distilled in the best, purest thinking version of me. And like the Laws of Conservation of Matter and Energy, once that creative thinking speaking piece of me is spent, it is gone. And that is why I am writing so little these days. Keep an eye out for Universe casino slots games and their awesome jackpots from daily free spins.

Any other part of me has to go to my family (BenMaxNatNed and sometimes MomDadLauraSomeFriends), and my biking/dancing and then, if I can, AutismAdvocacy. This formula has been mixed, remixed, and titrated over the years to yield the happier form of me that you see today. I came to understand that there was only so much I can say Yes to and that I have to choose carefully.

So today I got to thinking about the item I had planned to participate in later on in the day. And all I could feel was dread and resentment. Not irritation with the folks that invited me to this meeting, but with myself for having been foolishly optimistic about my ability to attend a new committee at 6:30pm in a town 30 minutes away.

Oh, but the meeting is about something to do with Nat’s quality of life. Does that come under the Nat category or the Advocacy category. When I’d agreed to do this, I was thinking mostly it was for Nat.

Actually I still think this committee is an activity that would affect/improve Nat’s daytime life.  But there’s a lot of work for the Greater Good involved, too. As a younger woman, I would just leap to do the latter. I was all about the Greater Good in my career: making the world understand and appreciate Nat and autistic people in general. Different people. I wrote books, articles, served on committees, lobbied legislators, went to the White House and the State House.

But today as I was walking across the quad of my new favorite university, I was feeling both exhilarated and exhausted from class. And I realized that in that 65 minutes I had not thought about Nat once.

I can hear you gasping in horror.  Or was that me?

I hadn’t thought about my two other boys either, but you don’t gasp over that. That’s because they are 27 and 21, independent, out in the world.

But Nat.

Well, what about Nat? I thought to myself, there actually is a reason I didn’t think about Nat, that I don’t actually think about him during the week until Friday, when the weekend is near and he will be visiting.

I don’t think about him. You heard that right. And that is because he is for now settled into a wonderful group home, and an equally terrific day program. And so a great deal of my energy can now go elsewhere. I can work at a university. I can buy myself lunch at a gorgeous cafe. I can take the long way home from the trolley.

This is because at this moment in time, I feel my boys are okay, more than okay. Evil Eye, stay the fuck away, let me say that. Let me bask in that. And let me blow off tonight’s meeting because, Dammit, I do enough.

Though at the moment I decided this, I didn’t feel okay. I sat down with my computer and who should pop up on Messenger but Max. He just wanted to say hi. See how I am. Hear about my day.

And I think that perhaps there is some kind of Universal Law going on here, where maybe Max picked up on my mental freedom, my openness, and he made that connection with me.  I don’t believe there’s a Master Plan for us; I do understand that energy and matter cannot be created or destroyed, and that my own energy and matter are finite. But I also believe that things conspire — randomly or deliberately — to free up crowded old pathways as we grow, ripen, age. And that there are endless pathways for our energy and our love to take if we are open to them.


Friday, September 20, 2019

A New Year, A New Family Member — or Two

Recently I hosted a family party — my mom’s 80th — which was just immediate family and close relatives. It was great reconnecting with cousins and with my Aunt Georgia and Mom’s brother Gerard, and Aunt Rhoda, Dad’s older sister.

I think Mom felt the same way. She seemed on a high the whole day. I was particularly excited about this because it was one of the few times we had really celebrated just Mom, and not as part of a really magnificent couple with my dad (82).

We celebrate the two of them a lot, because they have a pretty extraordinary relationship, having started dating when she was 13 and he was 15. And even though the party was about Mom, Dad figured large in the whole thing because he is rather larger than life at times. And Mom is so used to basking in his colorful admiration that it made sense for Dad to have a big part in the event. He read her one of his best poems — he has written numerous books of his poetry, which were adapted as quotes about heartbreak — and also he sang to her.

But another wonderful thing about the day was that all Mom’s grandchildren were there at the same time, which is a rarity these days. And so all three of my sons were there, which made it utterly delicious for me. What’s more, Max and Ben brought their girlfriends. Interestingly enough, a cousin also brought his girlfriend, so there we were, an expanding family, and Mom as the Matriarch. Lovely to see the old and new faces.

Nat did not bring anybody, nor did any of us expect him to. Nat is far more solitary than his brothers. And although he lives with four other young men, who also have autism, they are in a group home with supervision. It is very difficult for me to imagine any of those guys out of context of each other and the staff of the home. In the past, we have managed to invite disabled classmates of Nat’s, or housemates from his various group homes — especially for his birthday or his concerts. But it never occurred to me to invite someone connected to Nat to this party because none of us are used to thinking of Nat that way.

This morning I was thinking ahead to other events coming up for the family and I remembered that I’d made a date for my parents to come to our house for Rosh Hashanah dinner.  I’m not all that religious but there is something special about certain Jewish holidays — Passover and of course Chanukah, the Jewish Christmas. But Rosh Hashanah is during early fall and is the Jewish New Year. The end of the year and the beginning of preparing for the new one. And autumn being harvest time makes it a perfect setting for this fall holiday. Rosh Hashanah is a favorite of mine and Nat’s.  Maybe it’s the beautiful crisp brilliant light of fall, and the feeling of renewal that autumn brings. Or maybe because we eat apple and honey (to symbolize autumn treats and sweetness in the year to come). We both love dipping apple in honey. Nat even knows the Hebrew prayers over the candles, wine, challah, and for the apple and honey.

My mom loves Rosh Hashanah, too, but it is in a more bittersweet sense. She remembers her parents, brothers, and grandparents at this holiday and how rich a celebration they had, being Orthodox Jews. The excitement extended to the food — not just apple and honey but also specialties like kasha varnishkes, chicken matzo ball soup, and carrot tsimmis. But I think that typical of Jews the food is associated with love and fun, and family. And Mom really misses her original family. This time of year she is particularly vulnerable for not having them there. I sometimes imagine that for mom the presence of her ghosts can fill her heart with such longing that she has a hard time actually enjoying it with the rest of us. I feel for her. I want to help that ache but of course I can’t do much.

This year Mom called and asked if she and Dad could spend the special dinner with me. I was so delighted to get this call, because it would make the dinner so much bigger than what it usually is:  Ned, Nat, and me. I think that like my Mom, I tend to remember the Rosh Hashanahs of my girlhood, the intensely moving evening service at Temple and all of our special food as well as seeing friends and family like my Aunt Rhoda. But my memories are strictly happy and full of the desire to continue those special times with my sons and their significant others, because I’m lucky enough not to have to experience the pain of loss that Mom does. Knock wood, my loved ones, old and young, are still with me.

I thought about inviting Max and Ben because now the dinner was feeling more special with Mom and Dad coming. But I didn’t invite the boys because they had just been here for Mom’s party, and it’s a bit of a hardship for them to interrupt their lives — Max works as a cameraman in New York, and Ben is in college in Savannah.

I wondered how to expand the family — it had been so much fun being a bigger group at Mom’s party and also in childhood. But without Max, Ben, and assorted girlfriends, there didn’t seem to be a way. I wondered about my Jewish friends but they all have their own dinners.

Then I thought about Nat. I envisioned him in his seat at the end of the table, saying the prayers, wolfing down the apple and honey and then the brisket, and then getting out of there. And I felt sad to think of his solitariness, his typical isolation. Yes, he does want and need his space, his autism demands it, but I also know that he has relationships with others. I started to think about those others: his housemates. Suddenly I got really excited, imagining them there.

But just as quickly I imagined how difficult logistically it would be to have his housemates there. They’d need staff, and would I be able to make the staff feel welcome in that setting? No, the boundaries are just too hard to cross; I thought they would feel awkward. And as far as asking the housemates’ families: well I have never met any of them. I did know that they were likely not Jewish. So where would I even start?

And then another idea dawned: I could invite Paul and his wife Rachelle. Paul is Nat’s case manager at his day program, but he has also done respite for us many times, and Nat always leaps for an opportunity to hang out with Paul. Paul seems to love it, too. His texts and photos of Nat and him together always show a mutual enjoyment. Because of Paul’s unique relationship with Nat, and his clear love for him, I have found that I can ask Paul for advice on Nat. Paul’s wisdom is far beyond his years. I got very excited about asking Paul to come because of the different ways Paul has been in Nat’s life and because I can see that this relationship will probably go on for a long time.

So long, in fact, that I wondered if Paul would even be there for Nat when Ned and I were too old to be. I realized that if there was a chance that Paul would become even more important in Nat’s life at that point, then Paul should take a prominent position in Nat’s life now. Suddenly I saw the absolute truth in this. I thought of Max and Ben again, and how they would likely have girlfriends with them more often than not, and that the family always makes room for these new faces.

So why not make room for the important people in Nat’s life? Maybe his housemates couldn’t come but maybe with more planning they would someday. But Paul only required an invitation and desire to go.

Suddenly I really needed to make this happen. We would take Nat’s attachments as seriously as we took Max and Ben’s. I confirmed with Ned about expanding our dinner this way and then I went ahead and invited Paul and Rachelle. Paul said they’d come and added that he was always eager to learn about new things (in this case Rosh Hashanah). I think he will take particular pleasure in seeing Nat say the prayers.

This new addition to our family holiday will make Mom happy, too, I just know it. Because even though I can never bring back her now departed loved ones, I can show her that the next generation is expanding in all sorts of ways, and that our family traditions of food, love, and tradition are as strong as ever.  As Nat used to say, ages ago, “It’s a-different, that’s okay.”

Sunday, July 7, 2019

Already Missing New Orleans

“…Ole Mississippi, she’s callin’ my name.”

Just got back from a trip to New Orleans with Ned for our anniversary.

We stayed in a glorious old hotel, the Monteleone. Our room was smallish but very sumptuous, with a wall of windows looking over the rooftops out to the Mississippi.  Ben had given us a book about haunted New Orleans and we found out that there were twelve spirits in our hotel, one of whom hung out on our floor! Never saw him or felt his presence though. They had a nice pool on the roof, and just off the lobby was the Carousel Bar, that actually rotates.

First day there we ate beignets at Cafe Beignet:

Then we walked to Jackson Square where there was a street performer and many Tarot card readers set up before the park. I chose a reader who looked happy and full of life — she was wearing bright yellow and listening to her music, whereas the others were all trying to look somber and important. I’m not telling you what she said, but after a 30-minute conversation, she and I parted as dear friends.

That night we ate dinner at Cafe Amelie, in a shady courtyard with old-fashioned string lights and a large fountain.

We asked for the table for two by the fountain but they told us it was reserved for a couple and that the guy intended to propose. They arrived shortly after us, a big man in pink shirt and white pants and a small dark-haired woman, also in white with high pink strappy sandals. We ate slowly and watched them discreetly, waiting to see what he’d do. Nothing happened until they’d actually finished dinner. They walked over to the fountain and finally he knelt in front of her and gave her the ring. They hugged and kissed, we applauded and told them it was good luck because it was our anniversary.

The next day we explored the French Quarter, and the Garden District, just taking in the sights block by block. We visited the House of Broel, which is a wedding venue, a dressmaker, and a Dollhouse Museum(!) They had tiny vignette after vignette of miniature Victorian life.

The Garden District is full of stately homes, the Lafayette #1 cemetery, and Magazine Street, with artsy and funky shops.

We got some Snoballs (flavored shaved ice) to cool off, just in time for it to start pouring rain, with drops as thick and hard as shots of bourbon.

Our dinner reservation was in a courtyard restaurant, but because of the weather the courtyard was closed. Our next choice turned out to be closed for the week, so we just ate dinner on a second-floor balcony of a casual place, Curio. I had my first po-boy, a fried shrimp one. Later we went to Frenchmen Street to check out the jazz scene. We usually don’t like jazz but we loved it there; it was magical, and really fun wandering in and out of the wide open bars and taking in the music.

We especially enjoyed the impromptu brass band that spilled over from a street corner actually into the street, delighting pedestrians and frustrating people foolish enough to try to drive there.

Next day was our bayou boat ride. An old guy picked us up in a van with another couple and a young Brit and drove us to Honey Island, telling us all about Hurricane Katrina. Eighteen feet of water out there (East New Orleans), just as bad as the 9th Ward within the city. On the boat ride we ventured down the brown Pearl River and deep inside some strange cypress groves. The captain got many gators to approach the boat by offering them marshmallows. Who knew that gators ate marshmallows?

That night we went back to Frenchmen St and enjoyed it even more than the night before because we knew which bars we liked. We ate dinner in one of them, Bamboulas, and stayed a while. The street scene was as wild as ever, even on a Tuesday. Ned played washboard with a guy named Windex Pete.

The next day we went to the Botanical Gardens. They were gorgeous: section after section of tropical or more typical perennial gardens, with an exhibit of rain forest and also of prehistoric plants (mostly many many different kinds of ferns).

We also went back to Magazine Street and walked the other end, all the way up to the Snoballs place. Before we got there we found a lovely little outdoor cafe, Bordeaux, and had lunch there, with a frosé (Frozen rosé with peach and lemon vodka). Delicious and beautiful.

Terribly hot outside, though. Bordeaux, like all other NOLA cafés, had big ceiling fans as well as wall fans that had water misting from them.

And back to Frenchmen St. after a dinner at Napoleon House, where I had a roast beef po-boy. This time we watched a fantastic Zydeco band, Crawdaddy T, whom I loved so much I tipped them twice.

July Fourth we tried beignets at the famous Cafe du Monde and then took a steamboat ride down the Mississippi on the Natchez, which is one of two remaining authentic steam-powered ships in the US. We learned more Katrina history, including seeing where the levees were breached by eighteen feet of water, and the damage that still remained.

That night we ate dinner at the Original Pierre Maspero’s, which was the spot where Andrew Jackson and the Lafitte brothers (pirates) plotted what was to become the Battle of New Orleans, the final battle of the War of 1812. And of course, on to Frenchmen St after that. On the way, we ran into a second line for a wedding party. Very New Orleans!

Fourth night in a row of great music. We had to be sure to be back at our room in time for fireworks, a stunning but surprisingly brief (10 min?) display from a barge on the river.

Our last morning we had a full breakfast on a tiny balcony in the French Quarter, a little souvenir shopping, and then off to the airport. Gotta go back again sometime, just loved it there.  Where else do strangers call you “darlin'”?

Sunday, June 30, 2019

Someone Called the Police on Nat

The day they called the police on Nat: my latest post in Psychology Today.

Older Posts »