I was sitting here in front of Precious thinking I had to start dinner, when up popped this email:
We hope that the rain is going to hold off!! Unless it starts to downpour we are going to attempt to get practice in. Hope to see you all at 6:00
I looked over at Nat who was a parallel boy-version of me, lying on the couch doing nada thing. He seemed calm, his teachers said he’d had a good day, I had an hour or so before I really, really had to make dinner, so I said, “Hey Natty, you feel like trying baseball?”
“Yes!” He shouted and jumped off the couch; always a good sign.
Off we went to the high school, blasting my new Shakira CD which we both love. [I feel a bit embarrassed playing hip-hop from inside a Volvo, taking my kid to baseball practice, but what the the F***, it’s my midlife crisis and I’ll continue to make a fool of myself until I’m done.]
We did not see anyone we knew on the entire field so we just sat on a bench for a little while. I watched the groups who were playing catch, trying to figure out if any of them were Special Olympics groups. Something caught my eye about how one of the groups was having a catch; a grown man with a beer belly and a younger man. The older man seemed to drop every other ball, which struck me as odd. Aha. I walked over, and sure enough, I heard another person say, “I thought there would be more people here,” which is what every SO team says at some point. Still, to be as polite as possible, I figured I would say, “Does anyone know where the Special Olympics team is meeting?” rather than, “Are you the Special Olympics team?” I’m always happy to be part of a SO team, but you never know what stupid issues the general populace might have.
They all had gathered by 6:00, a good dozen grown-ups and one or two teens. These guys could really play. I was the only mom there. Everyone else had come on their own! Total Major League. I had to keep introducing myself as Nat’s Hovering Mother (Has a nice ring to it, anyway.) They started out having a catch, and Nat was really good. I could not get enough of watching my gorgeous smiling boy throw like a guy with those lanky tan teenage arms. I never learned to throw so it’s always such a magical, natural, almost sexy thing watching a guy scoop up a baseball and easily lob it back, really far, totally nonchalantly.
Then they split up and some batted while others caught balls, and Nat completely spaced out. He kept throwing his glove onto the oncoming ball; he just did not get it! It was so bizarre that I could not help laughing. No matter what anyone said, he did not understand what he was supposed to do, but God bless him, he just kept trying, silly-talking his whole way through it. I have to get a good beginners’ baseball book for him; suggestions, anyone? Or, if anyone wants to take a stab at doing a Nat book on playing baseball, please do!
When it came time to bat, it was the same problem. “Raise your arm, Nat!” He would raise the wrong arm, then just lower it. “Put your hands closer,” He put them farther apart. “Stand like this.” He acted as if he had not heard a thing and stood where he was, silly-talking and puppet hand with the bat. Then I tried hand-over-hand and bodily positioning him. That worked okay. He took a swing. He got a hit after the second try! He ran to first base (past it really because he did not know from touching base) with the helmet on and the bat in his hand. “Drop the bat!” I yelled, and he threw it really, really far. Everyone cheered.
The only mistake I made was in yelling, “Go, Sweet Guy!” The coach laughed and said, “There’s no ‘Sweet Guy’ in baseball, Sue.”
I am officially an obnoxious sports mom. At last!
I have much more to say about Sarai’s wonderful wedding than those pictures in the previous post, which were supposed to have been worth a thousand words. Sometimes you need a thousand words to get it all out.
The things flying around in my brain are many, from the ridiculous to the sublime: my sister-in-law Sarai, how Nat was at the wedding, what the officiator said, how Ben was, how Max was, and a dumb thing like how I looked. I’ll start with the dumb thing: the weather was awful, humid and rainy, so my hair looked terrible. I’ve been trying to let it go au naturel lately, which for me only means using a curling iron to augment the natural curl, and a different (non-straightening) product. But all the Kerastase goop in the world was no match for that humidity. That, along with the overly plunging neckline made me look a bit like a floozy, which was not at all my intent! I thought the strategically placed flower would take care of what I consider my blessing and my curse but it flopped unceremoniously downward. I was really annoyed at myself for wearing that black dress and for getting the hair all wrong.
Okay, but then there was Ben, utterly charming. He looked adorable in a navy jacket that was too big for him, and with his hair gooped out of his eyes. He was my little sweetheart the whole time; he kept making me laugh and he even danced with me! He even seemed a little shy when we danced, like maybe he’s in some kind of Oedipal phase or something. So delightfully cute.
Max, taking photos with his Uncle Patrick’s big Nikon (Patrick, a.k.a C.B., is a professional photographer), everyone commenting on how handsome and tall he was. Mingling, making conversation with people, drinking Shirley Temples.
And Nat was smiling the whole time. We did not have to worry about anything for the day because we could tell he was really with us. Still, Ned and I figured out a contingency for the ceremony, in case we had to take him out quickly; last ceremony we attended with Nat was Great Uncle Skip’s memorial service and Nat started screaming when the hymns started. My guess is that we had told him it was going to be “like going to temple,” and so Nat had expected Hebrew, and instead got Onward Christian Soldiers. Anyway, he was just fine during Sarai’s ceremony, smiling and quiet while babies and toddlers screamed all around us. Not only was I bursting out of my dress, I was also bursting with pride!
The ceremony started with the fanfare music from the beginning of a 20th Century Fox movie! We all laughed. Ned and I wondered why no one ever did that at their weddings? It was so original! Then it switched over to Here Comes the Bride and Pacelbel Canon; not original, but sweet.
What I enjoyed the most was what Mark, the officiator, said about marriage. He went way beyond the tired-and-true “in sickness and health, for richer and poorer,” that we all have heard a million times. He said that you were going to fall out of love with each other sometimes and that you had to find your way back to loving each other. That you would discover things about the other person that you really did not know before, and also about yourself, and that you would have to figure out how to accommodate that discovery. He talked all about how you would have to explore things and deepen because of them, not leave. He really made me think about all that I’ve been through this winter and spring, my much-belabored mid-life crisis, and how I should stop beating myself up for it all. How I have to learn to accommodate myself, take care of myself, just as much as Ned has learned how to accommodate me. These words made me come back to our Sweetie Treaty and how the number one item is “Don’t feel bad about feeling bad.” That kind of guilt trip makes difficult phases so much worse.
Ned always tells me that if I want to change something, to change just one small thing first and then you’ll at least be a little better off than you were. And, he’s always been the one who has told me to go ahead and do what I need to do to be happy. When we were first married, he’s the one who said to me, “You want to be a writer? Just write, then!” He has always given me the freedom to be exactly who I am and who I need to be.
I felt so lucky sitting there in that beautiful wedding hall, watching my sister-in-law get married to a really good guy, doing exactly as she pleased, while I was surrounded by four beautiful men who give me so much, too. After all is said and done, Ned says I was beautiful at the wedding, and I really wasn’t; he doesn’t hear me when I point out my flaws. He calls me “The Deluxe Model Woman” and he means it. I thought of that while I sat there listening to Mark’s wise words, and felt so strongly that this is close to as good as it gets. Ned has always wanted for me just to be happy, then and now; I think I should listen to him more often, and not to my demons. [Although next dress-up event, I will use the flatiron and I should have worn the red dress!]
Ned’s twin sister Sarai married Ed Fisher on Saturday, June 24, 2006 in Yonkers, New York. … See my Tabblo>
On Saturday, June 24, this piece of mine appeared in my favorite newspaper, the Washington Post. Go Nat! Go Post! If any of you readers subscribe to the paper version, please contact me so I can get a “real” copy.
A little mountain goat
he is nimble and lithe and impossibly brave
stretching slim limbs with hidden muscle
thoughtlessly over toothsome rock.
A man already;
hides his tears when he’s been hurt
doles out kisses, holds tightly to affection
secret fears harbored in a sea of misconceptions
Instead of me he pours his passion into a million pages
his life’s questions play, fight, maim, and die there
some of his demons, and mine
have been defeated
though there are a few left —
just for spice.
in the small sweaty palm of his hand
I can now rest.
I have completed a fair draft of my novel, which I’m calling Dirt, A Story of Gardening, Mothering, and a Mid-Life Crisis. I have given out four copies to friends and only one of them has gotten back to me. I expect my sister will have some feedback tomorrow when I see her at my parents’ Cape house (I’m going for the day with Benj and Max; Nat has school).
As always, I am looking for a new project — by the way, the Washington Post has accepted a piece from me which should be out any day, I will post it here when it does — and I stumbled upon something wonderful. I wrote a novel thirteen years ago, when I was in the throes of mothering little Nat and baby Max, and it was based on a lot of what I was going through at the time. This book is about a young mom struggling with nascent OCD, (true), a faintly abusive husband (total fiction) and two small children, the older of whom seems to be a bit off in his development (hmmm). The book also dips into past life stuff and Tarot (I used to have a friend who was heavily invested in past-life beliefs and I went to an aura reader with her a couple of times. All very interesting, but not my cup of decaf. Tarot, however, is a lot of fun, like horoscopes, not in that it tells you the future, but it does tell you what is important to you just by the way you choose to read the cards.)
I realized that this book could be the prequel to my current one! This could very well be my summer project. I may decide to throw out the past life stuff and I’m not at all sure what to do about the husband; he’s different from the newer one. I have the summer to figure it out. Here is the very beginning. It used to be called The Scent of Violets, but I’m thinking now I should try to relate it somehow to Dirt.
It was the third time in two years that Emily’s husband had dislocated her three-year-old son’s shoulder. It happens easier after the first time, the doctor had said laughingly, nervous laughter, as if he needed to reassure himself as much as he did her that this was not child abuse. She sat stoically in the tiny examining room at Mass General, looking beyond the doctor’s shoulder at a tall box that had been placed on the sink counter, ominously labelled “Sharps”: discarded needles, a grim treasure trove.
“You snap it back in place, a little gruesome, a shock of pain for a second, and then it’s done,” the doctor went on. He set the boy in her arms, on her lap. Emily tensed, sat up straighter, ready to do what she had to. But secretly she hated when doctors pulled her into her children’s medical procedures; it seemed so primitive that in the midst of all the high-tech medical protocol, technical jargon and distant doctor attitude there should be this need for her to hold down frightened twitching limbs so that they might be pierced, pricked, Tine-tested. Jack was thankfully taking his cues from his mother and was sitting marvelously quiet, especially considering that his arm was dangling like a broken twig. Only when the doctor touched his shoulder gently did he give a tiny cry, a sucking-in of his breath, and Emily felt tears start in her eyes. She tightened her grip. The baby slept in the backpack, his little mouth wide open and sending forth puffs of milky breath, a sweet comfort during this entire ordeal.
Max graduated from eighth grade tonight. His school is a K-8, as are all eight elementaries in our town, which is a very nice thing because the kids become very loyal to the school and bonded with each other. Of course, it also guarantees they are ready to leave for high school by the time they are through, because they have spent nine years there!
Max received eight awards prior to tonight’s ceremonies, in French, Student Government, Speech Contest, Writing Contest, and other areas, totally bowling us over. Tonight he surprised us again by receiving an award as one of the top eleven academically in the class!
Max also was asked to speak, along with this young woman, and they co-wrote a speech about how the class has grown in terms of learning how to become less cliquish and more inclusive of everyone, as they experienced on their two-night camping trip to Caratunk, Maine. He spoke very well, clearly and loudly.
I was on the edge of my seat.My parents also were here, and they were totally kvelling. Such nachas. (Yiddish for “pride that comes from your children doing well.”) Ned and I could not go to sleep, not only because Ned’s colleagues kept him up talking about some bug or something, but because we felt so happy and proud to have such an accomplished mensch for a kid.
I have hesitated posting because the last time I wrote, I had a pretty vicious Anonymous comment “not reading you anymore, you whine, you’re a terrible mother,” blah, blah, blah. Okay, so don’t read me. But for those of you who do, I am here today to write; can’t predict how I’ll feel tomorrow, but this weekend was a masterpiece and I felt stronger today. It feels like the black killing rains of spring are over. For three days there has been hot sun and air that clings to the skin like nighttime summer blankets. The colors of my garden blaze around me, with all my favorites: pink roses, blue delphiniums, scarlet poppies, purple campion, orange and yellow nasturtiaum, indigo sage. The breeze always bears the scent the marshmallow scent of honeysuckle.
But it is not the beauty that has made a difference in how I feel. It is that miraculous shift in consciousness that occurs slowly, back and forth, over months and then, suddenly, in a moment, it arrives. An easing, a lifting, and now my eyes see everything that is here; and my heart feels it as well. There is no substitute for true peace; it happens on its own timeline. It is excruciating waiting for it. But it always arrives. I forgot that, even though I wrote about it in that book of mine.
Nat feels it, too. Yesterday and today, he swam in the Special Olympics Summer Games like a champ. He even tried to stand on the bronze medalist’s platform, his own private joke. He grinned after he was told to step down. That grin grabbed my heart and yanked it open. There was no way to feel anything but joy as I watched him get his medals.
Tonight he was able to ask me to come outside and help Ned with the cookout. “Go get Mommy,” he said to me. Then, later, he was walking around even more swiftly than usual, cradling his finger. He looked at me, his eyes wide with alarm.
“What is it, Natty?” I asked. He started to groan and whimper. I took his hand, and saw his finger was red. “Oh, you’ve bumped it. Let’s get ice.”
“Noooo,” he moaned.
I looked again. I saw, lodged under the full length of his index fingernail, a brown splinter of wood. Oh, God, I thought. I felt a shudder of pain run through me; his pain. “Ned!” I shouted.
We all went upstairs to perform the delicate operation of plucking the thorn from my lion’s paw. I thought about Androcles, and the gratitude of the lion. I held onto Nat tightly, wishing his pain would bleed into me so he wouldn’t have to feel it. He never flinched, and he never hurt us, despite the fact that it must have been horrible to have us pluck at that sliver. I finally got it out, and it was nearly half an inch long. But it was out. A wash-off and a bandaid, and all was well. Life restored back to blissful normal. Absence of pain = happiness, for both Natty and me.
All this to say, “I’m back.” I am going to try not to let the weather, whether actual or emotional, get me as down again. Not when there’s so much to be happy about. But, as in all things, only time will tell.
This is the second night that Max is away. Yesterday, very early in the morning, he left for his eighth grade trip to Maine. It is going to be three full days of stuff Max never does: white-water rafting, obstacle courses, rock-climbing, sleeping in minimal cabins. No Internet for Maxie! The class spent all year raising money for this trip and the parents, of course, still had to kick in an exorbitant amount of money, but I did it gladly because to get Max to try outdoor adventurous stuff is — well, difficult to say the least. He looks like a California surfer but his heart belongs to Mac.
I miss him so much. He is a graceful, happy presence in our home. He walks into a room and lights it up with his beauty. His smile is very wise and his eyes notice everything; they always have. He always has seemed old beyond his years and so competent that I think a lot of the time I feel kind of safer when he’s around. Without him, the house is not quieter, exactly (he’s very quiet, except for his heavy step); it is emptier.
Max left and just before he did I told him to wake Ben and kiss him goodbye. I didn’t tell him to wake Nat. I figured that Nat might be confused because they never kiss and rarely even greet each other. I did remember to explain to Nat that Max is away, in case he was wondering but I have to admit that I did not really know if he would notice.
Boy was I wrong.
Tonight, Nat was sitting kind of forlorn on the couch. Ned went over to him and asked, “What’s the matter, Natty?”
Nat replied immediately, “Want Max to come home.”
I hugged him and kissed him and told him that I did, too.
I always have to be reminded of Nat’s big capacity to love. How lucky for us that he could tell us. Little Sweet Guy.
There I was, feeling immensely sorry for myself; I had no idea what to write and I was convinced that a dear friend of mine had given up on me, or that perhaps I should give up on him. Plus the rain! I sat here, on my beige checked windowseat, looking at the pillows, selected lovingly and carefully by me over the years, a tableau of cream and blue-green: two very large white linen square shams; two smaller green and beige striped throws; one lace inset rectangle; one large sage and blue with ribbons; and one long rectangle blue-green with white pom-poms. I tell you this to give you a vivid picture of my surroundings. Precious, my computer which helps drive me crazy (like Gollum Smeagol‘s ring), was mocking me with her blank expression.
Anyway, Ned came in. First, he said that I should write about the Special Olympics State Games, coming up next week. He told me he had heard a Penn Gillette podcast, in which someone had likened something to the Special Olympics, implying that it was this dumbed-down thing where everyone wins. After the red had cleared from my eyes, I agreed that, yes, this was a good thing to write about. I was now in one of my chip-on-my-shoulder moods and thought for a moment about facetiously calling it, “Retards?! Sign me up!” But that, of course, was not what I really wanted to say. What I wanted to say was that the Special Olympics are actually very competitive, with the same a**hole parents (me especially) you’d find at any sporting event, who’ll do anything to see their kid win, and the same great people who become your friends for life.
But this is not about what I wrote. This is about how I felt better. Because after Ned gave me the oped idea that can’t lose, he sat down at the piano. He sits with his back very straight, a little dorky I must say, but so sweet. And he played a Ben Folds song we both love, and saw together performed last summer. And he sang along, totally off-key. I joined in, my voice trying to lift his to the right set of notes, but to no avail. So we kind of harmonized together in pathetic cacophony that pleased us very much.
Autism is not, as so many think, about not perceiving the existence and or importance of other people’s minds. Although I know and respect Simon Baron-Cohen, I think he got this a little backwards. For this neurotypical mom, autism can be more accurately described as an ongoing struggle to get my child to understand that he has a will and a mind of his own. I experience Nat’s autism as an extremely passive existence, whereby he is so unto himself that he does not realize his own power. He also seems to attribute far too much power to me. I first understood this when he was a little guy, and did not know to ask me for juice, or did not know how to ask me for juice. He learned to say, “Want juice?” as a question, in effect imitating me so that he would get what he needed, which when you think about it is an ingenious adaptation. The autism experts explained to me that this is echolalia, a “problem” or “symptom” of autism.
I used to think of Nat’s echolalia and silence as the relatively simple problem of not knowing how to ask; increasingly I believe it is that he does not know to ask. I think that the latter is a far larger problem than the former. One can be taught various means of getting words out, whether by signing, typing, using pictures, etc.
But how do you teach someone that they should get words out? That they should do something, for their own good, to fulfill their own needs?
I remember sighing to Ned that I wish I could get Nat to understand that playing with toys or other people was not just something I wanted him to do but was something that he wanted to do. Yesterday, Nat pinched both Ned and me because it was raining out. In this way, he still insists that we are in charge of everything, from the weather to when or what he is going to eat. I believe that this is a manifestation of the same ultimate passivity, or of being so completely unto himself that he does not perceive his own separate existence, will, and ability. Or perhaps passivity is not a good word; perhaps it is more the existentialist “en-soi,” the being so completely what one is that the quality of your very consciousness is different from others. Because I am aware of causation and my limitations as well as my strengths (at least, compared to Nat), I don’t blame other people for the shitty weather. I know to help myself whenever I can. And usually I know when that is, but not always. Nat, on the other hand, does not seem to know any of this.
These days, Nat will not ask for anything without a prompt. The ABA-ists will state simply that Nat is “prompt-dependent.” Perhaps there are techniques for “fixing” that. But perhaps it was the ABA that strengthened this tendency in the first place. Nat, who began life as someone so utterly within himself, has become so used to our structuring of his world that he may be incapable of structuring it for himself.
I am not blaming ABA. I think that this is an educational technique, like all the others, that helps teach people certain skills. But the fatal flaw in ABA is that there is this magical fade-out of prompts, this expectation that there will be a leap from the specific skill acquisition to the general. But the leap from specific to general is a huge chasm for Nat. I now think it is the same underlying problem, the leap from feeling something within to realizing that he can be the master of his world.
More mundanely, I am now considering placing simple reminder cards all over the house that read like this, “If you want to eat, go to the refrigerator or the cabinets and make a choice;” or “If you are bored, you can choose an activity, like listening to your Ipod, scootering, reading a book, watching t.v.”
Anyone else have any ideas?
If you are in your early 40’s, it is very likely that you think National Lampoon’s Animal House (1978) is one of the funniest movies ever made. (My all-time favorite movies are at the end of this post.) Think about it: the John Belushi (Bluto) scenes alone make it an all-time classic. The part where he is staring in the windows of the girls’ dorm and he falls off the ladder; the part where he is sneaking across the lawns of the college green; the part where he hits the beer bottle over his head and breaks it, smiling, trying to cheer up Flounder; the part where he grabs the sissy guy’s guitar and smashes it up (“I gave my love a cherry, that had no stone…”); and of course, the Food Fight and cafeteria scene (“See if you can guess what I am now.” (Inserts ball of cottage cheese into mouth, puffs out cheeks, squirts out cottage cheese right into frat boy bully Greg Marmalard’s face) “I’m a zit, get it?” He leaves the cafeteria after snorting like a horse at Niedermeyer, a real bad guy, ROTC instructor, whose horse had been accidentally killed. Animal House came out right when I was finishing high school and I had never seen anything so funny. My sister does a fantastic imitation of the horse twisting its huge head and dying. I guess I have not grown up much.
Last night I saw a commercial for Aqua Fina water, made with Animal House footage, some real, some fake. The real Otis Day was there, singing “Shout” at the toga party. Fake Belushi in a toga. The cops show up. Guess who the cops are played by? Niedermeyer and Marmalard! Old but still recognizable.
Thank you, Sir, may I have another?
Favorite Movies (not in any special order) and why:
1) Shawshank Redemption — perfect, fascinating tale of revenge
2) Ordinary People — beautiful story of healing; Mary Tyler Moore — a villain!
3) Gone With The Wind — Vivien Leigh, Clark Gable, need I say more?
4) Animal House — see above
5) All the President’s Men — perfect suspense, acting, dialog, mouthwatering men, great political moment in history
6) The Sting — Redford and Newman! Fantastic plot that took me many times viewing to completely understand
7) Jaws — oh, that shark! The scary stuff, the agonizing suspense on the boat!
8) The Graduate — coming of age movie, classic.
9) Annie Hall — all-time best relationship, New York Jewish culture movie
10) Bull Durham — Kevin Costner at his hottest, great story about baseball and sex
I am in the worst mood. I am waiting for feedback about my novel — I have completed a first draft, whoop-de-doo — and I have NO ideas. I sent a great piece to the Washington Post for Father’s Day but I think that they have blocked my email address. [Not really.] So I am going to spew out a list of my “favorite” top pet peeves (“peeves” is an awful word, perfect for an awful, irritating, nudgeball thing).
1) Editors who don’t get back to me or who reject my stuff
2) Friends/relatives who think they are editors but don’t know sh**
3) Being taken for granted
4) Summer fruit because I can’t eat it on Atkins
5) Field trips I don’t go on and feel guilty about
6)Breakfast shares and evening concerts and parent-teacher conferences
7) Failing ozone layer
8) My parents going on fantastic vacations and never taking me
9) Men/boys who can’t communicate probably because they don’t even know what’s going on in their own heads/hearts
10) No one new to flirt with – wish I didn’t need that