...life interrupted...

We're readers.  This family.  We read first thing in the morning and last thing at night.  We read on park benches and in cafeterias.  We pack books in our luggage when we travel, and we stow others in the car every time we leave the house.  We bring books to the beach and to restaurants and to amusement parks.  

We're readers.  

We're escape artists.  We wander in and out of distant landscapes and other lives.  We disappear  between two covers and drown out the world.  We make friends and enemies and memories with people and places and creatures of black and white, colored in by our imaginations.  

The greatest gift life afforded me was my son.  The greatest gift I gave him was the stories.  I read to him in the womb, and stayed up late rocking him gently and whispering fairytales.  I read to him at every meal and during every morning and every night.  I read to him and he began to read to me.  Little words...little syllables. Strung together stunted sentences.  See dog run.  

Time passed as time does.  The sentences grew longer...the syllables multiplied.  From board books to Golden Books...paperbacks to hardcovers.  And still I read to him, and he read to me.  I read to him as we waited for the bus to arrive on his first day of kindergarten.  The Hardy Boys.  I read to him this morning, and every morning between that first day and this one.  The Hardy Boys.  We're working our way through the collection. Every day, we read.  

He reads his own books now.  Treasures purchased from the thrift store with tightly-fisted allowance.  Indulgent tomes bought with gift cards.  Stacks that topple over from the library.  Science fiction and fantasy co-habitate with Garfield.  Transformers and Doctor Who live next to Warriors.  

His teacher sends home a reading log each week.  At the very top is the reading requirement...100 minutes per week.  I smirk every time I sign off on the bottom...he averages twice that daily.  I'm tired of filling them out...pointless wastes of paper.  

I've never punished him for staying up late to read...under the covers with a flashlight.  I never will.  I did the same thing when I was his age.  Sometimes I do it now.

We read, and I am reminded that despite everything else,  I am lucky.  I got just what I wanted.  I dreamt of a family all curled up in a living room reading, when I was pregnant with him.  I imagined soft, quiet nights with warm mugs and turning pages.  I wished for it.  I got just what I wanted.  

When homework is light and we've time to spare, we'll while away the afternoon with books.  He with his.  Me with mine.  We'll sit in the living room or out in the yard...next to each other and yet miles apart...traipsing about on adventures in other worlds.  Disappearing.

Until he interrupts.  Until he reads aloud at me while I'm still underwater...dragging me up to the surface with his voice.  Interrupting my exploration...my imagination...my story.  Inspired to share something he found funny or frightening or curious.  Insistent that I experience it as well.  Interrupting.  


...stand alone...

Our town library has recently adopted a Lego Club program.  Previously, we had to travel quite a bit farther to a different library in our county system to attend their once-monthly offering, and the travel time always cut into my dinner prep.  So it's quite nice to now be able to just pop down the road to our library instead. The fact that it's one of his most-favourite places is the icing on the cake.  I know every time we walk in the doors, he'll be fine.  No high-alert autism-parenting needed!

 Several years ago he and I sat down one afternoon after yet another in-store meltdown, to compose a list of his favourite and least favourite places...and why they were so determined.  At the top of his least favourite places?  WalMart.  Bad smell, crowded, buzzy sounds, and ouchy lighting that hurt his head were his reasons.  What a lightbulb moment that was.  I always get a headache and nausea when I go into WalMart.  Every single time.  I literally have to rush in, grab the few things I can only every get there, and rush back out in under 5 minutes if I want to avoid symptoms.  Now I know why!

Anyhow, among his favourite places....in fact, topping the list...was the library in town.  He told me the lighting is just right, the sound is just right and he likes the way the books smell.  Plus, the window seat is both comfy and hidden, so he can curl up with Henry and a pile of adventures, while disappearing into the woodwork. Add in the playground in back? So great his 6 year old self named it The Super Playground...which we still call it now!  Given all that, you can probably guess that we spend as much time in this happy place as possible.  I check the website at the start of each month to see what program offerings there are and sign him up as soon as registration opens.  The librarians there all know him by name and favourite book searches.  In fact, there's one librarian who beats him to the punch every time...calling up the list of books he usually inquires about before he even gets to her desk.  They've each taken me aside at various points to comment on his growth and improvement.  One of my intangible treasures is a whispered conversation in the stacks several years ago, when his favourite librarian gleefully told me he made eye contact with her for the first time. She was positively giddy!  So sweet!

Yesterday evening, we swung by for the second session of the new Lego Club.  Thankfully, it was a light homework night!  The turn-out is good for a new program, though the autism-parent in me is nervous for the day it really takes off.  Crowds and the volume they tend to create are both major triggers for him.  I usually wait back a bit these days at the beginning, checking out the new fiction arrivals before sneaking into the program room to observe.  There was a time, not so very long ago, when he simply would not participate without me and deflected all the decision making in any project onto me.  In the past year or so I've become much better at removing myself from the equation, and he has gradually put his feelers out...

So in I snuck, right behind his back, and made my way to the very corner where the window seat was partially blocked by an easel.  From there, I could sit quietly and watch as he constructed.  All the other tables were full...four or five children and/or parents all dipping into the community bin for Lego bricks.  Their projects spreading out across the table, running into one another and onto the floor.  Little arguments here and there, as children vied for some suddenly uncovered piece in the bin. The quiet compromises of their parents in hushed tones and gently firm hands.  

But over at the back table, there was but one pair of hands dipping in and out of the bin.  One pair of hands feverishly constructing, destructing and rebuilding.  My son sat alone in the middle of the broad expanse.  Seemingly oblivious to the presence of others, or the sound of their chatter.  Henry sat in the chair next to him...purposely seated in such a way as to get the best view of the project underway.  I looked at the other tables and listened to the buzz of conversations, then back to his table where he worked steadily in silence.  

My son is an independent sort of fellow.  Given his druthers, he'd choose isolation as his workspace every time. Even when that's not an option, he finds a way to create it for himself...tuning out the world completely.   Social gatherings overwhelm him.  Group projects unhinge him.  Sometimes even my involvement in a task sets off a chain reaction of frustration. Cooperation and compromise are not in his toolbox.  

I sat in that corner, unobserved myself, watching the projects slowly come together.  I watched my son complete his task without ever acknowledging the world around him...without ever joining in on the group's activity.  I smiled now and then as I watched him adjust his creation...shoulders tensing in frustration and lowering when he solved his problem.  I can read him like a book.  His frame full of clues.  Never once did I feel the need to get up and go to his side.   He didn't need me.  He had it well in hand.  He could stand alone.

So he did.  He sat alone at the table and disappeared into his own world while he created.  He sat alone at  the table and disappeared into that world populated with Transformers and Creepers and Henry and Katja and Mami.  He sat alone, but he wasn't.    



...walk this way...

Last year there was a utility crew working on our street for a few weeks, cleaning up debris and repairing the damage done by Sandy.  We'd see them early in the morning as we walked down the drive and waited for Mister Man's schoolbus to arrive, then again later in the day when he came home.  The roar of their vehicles and electrical equipment was deafening, and it made my ritual of reading aloud "The Hardy Boys" impossible.  All their ruckus disturbed the very air, filling it with dustclouds and sawdust and displaced insects.    So rather than read or sit and converse, we took to walking.  Pacing up and down the street, arm in arm, for 10 minutes or so until the bus pulled up.  

(I've always made it a habit to incorporate some down-time into our morning routine by heading down the drive early, so that he has ample time to de-stress and de-compress before heading onto "the battlefield".  Since we rise before the sun in order to fit in therapy time, it's a necessary indulgence.)

The utility workers looked on with curiosity the first few times they saw us walking by...back and forth, forth and back.  But by the third day, they were just as used to us as we were to them and we each ignored one another as best we could. One of them, though, must have been paying attention when I covered Mister Man's ears with my hands as we walked past their workspace and he kept an eye out for us.  As we approached he'd look up, nod, and switch his tool off.  The grinding sound paused just enough for us to get  past, and then kicked back into gear once we were clear.  By week's end, Mister Man had gotten in on the action...nodding back as we approached, then using his hand behind him to wave the tool back on.  This funny little backhanded motion as though he was in charge.  

Work progressed somewhat slowly, and we became quite used to the scene at the bottom of the drive.  But at the end of two week's time, the construction vehicle herd had thinned considerably.  The following Tuesday, after Mister Man's bus departed and left my frantically waving self in it's dust, one of the few remaining workmen crossed over the roadway and called out to me.  I stopped, unsure.  He approached, taking off his ballcap and rustling his hand through his hair quickly.  I waited.  

"I just...well, I just wanted to say goodbye Ma'am.  And to tell you that's one special boy you've got there.  But he's the lucky one.  You're the only parent we've seen actually wait with their kids.  That's special. You two walking down and back, instead of just sitting in a car. So much better.  My mom did the same thing.", he burst out at me.  Startled, I didn't really register what he had said.  "Um, ok", I got out, right before he cut me off.  "He's special-needs or something, right?  I mean, oh man, I hope that's not wrong."  I stopped him this time and replied "Yes, he is. He's on the autism spectrum, but he's doing really well." "Oh, good, I mean, yeah..." he said.  "I thought so.  I saw the way he'd shrink and tense up when the machines got louder and how you held his hand and then his ears.  Hope we didn't make things to hard on you.  Anyway, just wanted to tell you that you are a special mom.  You remind me of my mom.  I had problems too, but she never let me let them get in the way.  You keep it up.  He's going to thank you someday."

And with that, he slipped his cap back on and walked back across the street.  I stood there, rooted to the spot for a moment, wondering what had just happened.  Then my phone buzzed in my pocket, and I waved at their backs as the crew packed up and drove away and I walked back up to the house.

We leave the house early and walk down the driveway.  I snap pictures, encouraging him to look right at me and focus on my voice.  Sometimes we sit at the bottom where old paving stones jut out from the dirt right at the edge of the woods, and read together.  Often he works away diligently at his Transformers drawings, while I read aloud.  But some mornings we walk arm in arm..back and forth, forth and back.  He'll clench my hand tightly if the trucks whizzing by are to loud or the sun is to bright or something startles him.  And I'll use my other hand to cover his ear, shade his eyes or squeeze his shoulder.  

I keep it up. 


...i love you more than...

"I love you more than lobster.", I told my son this evening.  He'd had a trying day at school.  His Chromebook was appropriated by school officials after another student changed the title of his copied document to something both impolite and inappropriate.He came home in an emotional whirlwind of anxiety, humiliation and outrage.  Needless to say, I jumped right  onto his bandwagon once I got the full story out of him.  Mama Lion...party of one?!?

(Long phone convo...waiting on the outcome of the investigation tomorrow.  Less than effective administration.  Grrr!)

Discussion ended and my interest sated, we moved on to homework and home-fun...but the mood remained dreary.  He has an impossible way with problems...worrying on them as if a dog with a bone.  Concerned about the investigation.  Worried about the outcome.  Fearful of being punished for something he had not done.  Scared of his mother's wrath if she didn't believe him.

(I believe him.  Not because I'm his mother.  Not because I love him.  But because I know him.  I know his capabilities and his limits.  And this...this goes well past his limits...)

He curled up on the bed with Henry and Katja, blanket over his head...the very picture of defeat.

I stood there for a moment, feeling helpless.  

Then I sat down suddenly, threw my arms around the lump that was him and whispered "I love you more than lobster."  "I love you more than lobster, and pretty things, and candy.  I love you more than hot coffee in the morning.  I love you more than good books at night.  I love you more than I know how to."

His head slowly, ever so slowly, peeked out of the top of the blanket.  He squirmed his way further out of the blanket, further out of the bed, and further into my arms.  All 12 years of him...all 5'6" and 110 lbs of him... In my arms and on my lap.  And he said to me " I love you more than Transformers, and Legos and Henry and Katja and Dr. Who, and mac'n'cheese all combined up.  I love you more than you love me."
I smiled.  And I let him win.  

(Because, of course, I know that's impossible.  I'm his mami...I'll always love him more.)



...spring fever...

 I saw my first daffodil today.

We were driving homeward after running errands.  Driving along on this delightfully twisty road that winds through the woods and up the mountain.  It crosses over a creek bed at several points and I always peer out in search of the mini-waterfalls. In the setting sun, the woods are a monotone brown...brown stumps, brown trunks, brown leaves.  Spring hasn't yet painted our area yet...so the only relief is the rare patch of early grass pushing through the debris.  

There's litter as well...refuse from passerbys pushed into the woods as snowplows traveled through.  In one particular spot I counted a dozen coke cans, all in a row.  Ugh!  

But as we coasted down one hill and turned a corner, a glimpse of yellow caught my eye.  There it was.  Surrounded by all that brown, and garbage perhaps. There it was.  The first daffodil.

Proud as a peacock, with it's face turned up to catch the last rays of this deliciously warm day.  Flaunting its bright petals and graceful stem.  Promising of sunny days to come, and languid evenings spent soaking in the outdoors until nightfall.  The first daffodil.

And I breathed a sigh of relief.  The long winter is over.  Spring is here at last.


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