Susan's Blog

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Nothing Sweeter

Long time since I blogged.  I’ve been obsessively trying to make Nat’s group home a reality.  I’ve been traveling (to Provence, which feels like a fairy tale).  And I’ve been trying not to deal with Max going off to college. But it is imminent.

My relationship with Max is a good, solid one.  He was easy to raise.  My main concerns were that he not be too much the Middle Child stereotype, or the Sibling of a Disabled Child stereotype, both of which are about not making any trouble.  I also worried that he did not get enough of the right attention from me; that no matter what I tried, I was probably still psychologically occupied with Nat.

One way that I spent time with Max and Nat, which was not too difficult, was to take them to stores and to the mall.  Not that I would buy myself clothes or anything; I would just wheel them in the double-stroller, and later, walk them into the food court, after we looked at the glass elevator that showed how everything worked.  Max cared about these things; Nat was quiet about them.

The mall we visited most often was Cambridgeside Galleria, in North Cambridge.  It was very close to Lotus, where Ned used to work.  We had one car in those days, and so I needed to take him to work if I was to have a car that day.  On those days, I would take the boys to the Galleria.  We had our routine, of course.  Nat and Max both love routines, even though only one of them is autistic.  People in general love routines and traditions, and that’s what our Galleria jaunts were.  I’d take them to the Burger King for dinner, after a stop at Mrs. Field’s cookies.  We would marvel at the huge flat chocolate chip cookie in the case.  I would buy them chocolate chip cookie cupcakes; I can’t remember much about them except colorful fluffy frosting.

The Burger King was particularly good in terms of the toys that came with the kids’ meals.  Back then, Toy Story One was very big with us, and a theme with Burger King more than once.  Because we went practically every week that year, we amassed quite a collection of Toy Story characters.  At one point we had tiny Buzz Lightyear, Buzz Lightyear in a little rocket, giant Buzz Lightyear in the box like the one in the movie, and a Buzz Lightyear costume.  Maxie was Buzz Lightyear through and through.

After a while, life changed, and we stopped going there.  The Galleria was a bit scuzzy, I realized.  I didn’t miss it.

Things are so different now.  I shop online or at The Atrium, an upscale mall in Chestnut Hill. No one eats Burger King in my family, especially Max, who is a vegetarian.  He also carefully monitors his junk food and sugar because as a kid he would get such stomach aches and nausea from that stuff.  We got rid of the Toy Story box of toys long ago, at a yard sale.  Mostly Max has his own life — already, even though he has lived his gap year with us.  He drives, he goes out and stays out late.  His girlfriend is often here.  I adore her, and she is like a part of the family.  But I have missed Max in the last year, even though he is still here.

Today I needed to go to Cambridgeside because it was one of the few places with a Travelex counter.  I needed to exchange the euros on the Travelex card that I had bought in preparation for Provence. I invited Max to come, just spontaneously.  He said “sure;”  he still likes to shop.

In the car our conversation was awkward sometimes, with most conversations originating with me.  But when we shut the doors of the car, Max said, “Is there a cookie store here?  Somehow I always associate parking garage smells with cookies.”

I looked at him in surprise, but why should he remember Mrs. Fields’ Cookies?  “Oh yeah!” I said, and told him about our tradition of getting the cookie there.  “Hmm,” he said.

We went to the Travelex counter, where they gave me $740 in cash; no checks, no putting it back on the debit card.  We then went to Best Buy, then Borders, which was having a huge close-out sale, and then we split up.  He eventually joined me at the Gap and I spent a bundle of that cash on his college clothes and stuff for Ben.  I started to get tired of being there, and we left.

Back in the garage I remembered the smell, and the cookies.  “Oh!”  I said.  “The cookies!  We forgot!”

Max, in his usual laid back way shrugged.  “Do you want one?”  I asked.  “I don’t need one,” he said, predictably.

We walked a few more steps, a sad pressure growing in my chest.  In ten days he’d be in college.  It had been years since we had been at the Galleria; who knew how many more it would take to come back — if any?  Not that I loved the place.  But I love Max, and I loved his memory of it.

“Let’s go back,” I said, as we dumped our Gap bags into the trunk.  He hesitated.  “Come on, why not?”  We went back to the doors and took the elevator to the street level stores.  We went in the wrong direction and then found the signs for the food court.  As we came to the Food Court, I looked left and there, in ugly pink and orange, where Mrs. Fields should have been, was a Dunkin’ Donuts.  “Oh,” I said.  “I guess we can’t expect that a cookie store would last that long.”

“Yeah,” said Max.

“Do you want a frozen yogurt?”  I gestured to the stand to the right.  But I knew he’d say no.  There’s only so much effort Max will make for sugary food these days.  We walked back through the mall, and stopped to look at the elevator.  It went so far down, ending in black metal darkness.  “Wow,” I said.  I’d never noticed that, or maybe I’d forgotten.

“Yeah,” he said.  “It really is cool.  Look how you can see everything, even the huge counter weights.”  We marveled in silence.  Then we went back to the car, and drove home chatting comfortably.


Thanks for sharing such beautiful memories and a great story Susan! I so enjoy your blogging. My best wishes to Max for a successful college experience. Evan leaves for his first year next week and I am starting to feel the parental “separation anxiety”, even though it’s a second time around. It’s different this time. Different child if you know what I mean!!

Again thanks for sharing your stories with those who care!!
Your cousin,

— added by Lewis on Wednesday, August 17, 2011 at 9:57 pm

You are such a dear. Good luck with Evan, you are a great dad. Love you!

— added by Susan Senator on Wednesday, August 17, 2011 at 10:02 pm

Lee Woodruff writes helpful info re kids going to college. Google her.

Anna Quindlen writes beautifully about the same.

Best to you.


— added by Linda on Wednesday, August 17, 2011 at 11:16 pm

I’m teary now. Good luck to your son heading off to college and to YOU, sending him off.

— added by Dixie Redmond on Thursday, August 18, 2011 at 6:42 am

Susan, you and Ned have filled Max’s quiver with a wide variety of arrows. He is kind and thoughtful, a young man who values his family and outside relationships. I knew from the way you described how he loves and respects his girlfriend, that he was an absolute winner. That’s not too common in young men his age. I think he’s stellar, and you can tell him I said so. Beam with pride woman, you are about to unleash your second super-special child on the world. You and your husband should toast each other for another job well done. Lisa

— added by lisa on Thursday, August 18, 2011 at 2:12 pm

This is a beautiful story, like so much of what you write. I wish all of you the best this year and in all the years to come.

— added by Celeste W on Tuesday, August 30, 2011 at 12:04 am

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