Susan's Blog

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

In My Mind I’m Going to Carolina

Ain’t it just like a friend of mine,

To hit me from behind.


One of the best friends I’ve ever had is someone I met in childbirth class, while pregnant with Nat.  Merle was the second Southerner I’d met in my sheltered New England life, but I had never met anyone like her.  Merle had a lot of knowledge stored up, about babies, but also about family, health, people, religion, organizations; you name it, she had something to say that would make me think.  I didn’t always agree, but I did think.  It seemed as if an entire structure of World View — (sorry to geek out here, but I mean in the Schopenhauerian, Weltanshauung sense of world view, our inner, indestructible, and immutable perception and value system) —  had been built around her, like a library of good sense and information. Whether it was particular to her family culture or had to do more with growing up in a small town in South Carolina, or just how Merle is, she could always match what was happening to a reference in her mental stacks.

I was always surprised by her certainty.  I was never certain about anything.  And when our two babies came along (Quin and Nat), I was even less so.  I had read Leach and Brazelton, but still I knew nothing.  It was as if I were inventing motherhood.  Merle, on the other hand, had only read Spock, but she knew right away about things like allergies, thrush, possible ear infections, and subtle shifts in behavior.  Merle was the first one in my circle who mentioned a concern about Nat and how quiet and withdrawn he could be.  When we found Nat hiding in the bathroom from Quin one day when they were around two, Merle told me she was worried.  When I protested that Quin was just too noisy for him, and that our pediatrician was not concerned about all the other things about Nat, Merle’s response was, “Well, you are.”

She knew that I was worried, and didn’t make a big deal out of it, even though it was a very big deal.  Nat’s behavior, to her, fit right into an area of her wisdom, called, “The Doctor Needs to Do Something About This.”  No value judgment, just certainty.

I got angry at her.  She backed off, but she was unfazed.  All the while that I churned the idea in my head that we would no longer be friends because she just could not deal with her out-of-control kid who terrorized tiny Nat, and because of her cornball Southern Common Sense, Merle just eased off and continued to be my friend, just a little more quietly.

I don’t actually remember how she responded to the news of our diagnosis.  We just kept being friends.  I do remember telling her a lot about my own relationship with my parents, which was very strained, on and off, at the time, and that Merle would listen with furrowed brow, and always say, at the end, “Yes but they’re your family, and they love you, so…”  Another bottom line.  Infuriating, and yet, when you found yourself in Merle’s orbit, it was very easy to find a place and go with the flow.

I gave a talk the other day in North Carolina, for Autism Services of Mecklenberg County, and there I met another Southerner, Ann,  the organizer of my talk, who possessed a similar solid scaffold of wisdom.  Just having lunch with her, I was blown away by the way she could dip into her stores of experience/philosophy/knowledge. She told me about how her son, who has Asperger’s, was once asked by fellow students, “Are you a snob, or just a retard?”  because he did not talk to any of them.  His response was “neither.”  Ann told me that when she heard this, she told him how he had missed a teaching opportunity.  He could have explained Asperger’s to them, enlightened them about how it is difficult for him to converse the way they did.  She said (and I’m paraphrasing awkwardly here) “everyone gets one more chance, to be good.  You explain, inform, enlighten, and maybe they’ll be sorry, or next time they’ll think.  After that, if they do it again, they’re bad.”

No dithering around with bullying and teasing theories, no wailing about the lack of adults present, no throwing up of hands.  Ann could really think on her feet, and grab onto the teachable moment, while at the same time, treating her son as the responsible individual.  And in doing so, this is what he has become.  He just got back from a year in Americorps.

Ann seemed familiar to me while we sat there and ate and exchanged stories of our adult sons, even though we’d never met before Friday.  I felt an odd ease and comfort with her, that feeling that I was being challenged and embraced at the same time.  I realized at some point later that she reminded me of Merle.

Quin and Nat are all grown up, and I talked to Merle the other day for the first time in a while.  I don’t know why we lost touch.  She told me how Quin was probably going to take a gap year from college, and how she thought that was a good idea, give him a little more time to grow up.  She told me what her worries were, and what she would do about them.  She listened to mine.  My problems were not bigger or worse or anything, even though we have autism going on.  When I brought that time up recently, when she’d told me what was what about Nat, she merely shrugged and said something like, “Well, I just knew he was too quiet.”  Just like always, Merle knew what was what, and went on from there.  I could feel my place in the universe, talking with her like we used to.  Things fit softly together, and made inexplicable sense.  Surrounded by her solid walls, I found I could really enjoy the view.


“I felt an odd ease and comfort with her, that feeling that I was being challenged and embraced at the same time.”

What a gift. And what a cool name Merle is. Love that southern vibe.

Okay, I’m feeling all wistful now.

— added by autismville on Tuesday, August 31, 2010 at 8:25 am

When I think about the women I like best, they all seem to be women who tell it like it is. And are confident in themselves and make those around them feel confident and competent too.

— added by gretchen on Thursday, September 2, 2010 at 12:25 pm