Thursday, November 13, 2014

Energy sponge

A comment my massage therapist made a few days ago has stuck with me. She said most of the knots and cramped muscles in my back are probably due to my tendency to take on other people’s problems and negativity as my own, and store them in my back, neck and shoulders. I think she’s right. I do tend to take other people’s problems, which they come to me with all too willingly and without reservation sometimes, too much to heart. I feel a strong, irrepressible need to immediately try to help, brainstorm about solutions, ease their pain, put their minds at rest. I often feel like an energy sponge, but one that only works for negative energy apparently, soaking it all up and holding onto it as if to relieve the other person of their burden. And if you believe in this type of thing, I think the description in this article applies in some ways to me.

This morning I once again saw Walker Man as I think of him, an elderly gentleman who lives somewhere on my street. I don’t know his name, whether or not he’s married (possibly widowed), which house exactly he lives in. I started seeing him a lot around the time we first got Dai, our male Akita, and I was initiated into the ritual of The Morning Walk. I would see him almost every day, walking down the street, out on his morning constitutional (and I mean that in the sense of a walk). He would greet me as always with a smile, even though he didn’t know my name or where I live, make a comment about the weather or my dogs, give me an even bigger grin, and we’d go our separate ways. Flash forward to a few years later. I would see him heading into or leaving the physical therapist’s office, also on my street. Greetings were exchanged as always and we each went our merry way.
Jump ahead another year or so, and I was now seeing him shuffling along behind a walker. Cheerful as usual, always time for a hello or brief exchange, each of us on our respective sides of the street (I’m always worried my dogs will knock someone over in their enthusiasm, so I try to keep a safe distance.). I assumed he had had a hip replacement of some other surgery that required the walker as part of his rehabilitation. And still, he was out there every day, on his daily lap around the block.

As the year went on, I noticed he was walking slower and with less certainty, even wobbling a bit. And STILL, big smile on his face, always time for a greeting and a word or two in exchange. A few months ago, I noticed his speech had started to deteriorate and he was moving at what can only be described as a very slow crawl. In spite of this, still the beaming, huge smile and twinkling eyes. 
I realized he might have had a stroke, and his speech was impaired as a result.

This morning I was nearly certain of it. We saw each other again, he stopped (presumably to take a much-needed breather), smiled what is now becoming a more crooked grin, but glowing nonetheless. He called out in a very loud voice what I believe was meant to be ‘Nice weather today!’, which it definitely is, and I agreed. He gave me that huge grin, and hobbled on.

As I continued on my walk, it struck me that in spite of his apparent misfortune and deteriorating health, this man is a pure ray of sunshine. Although he isn’t able to go as far as he used to, or as fast, he still gets out there every day, is in good enough spirits to smile and communicate with those he meets on the street. I am amazed at how someone like this still manages to stay positive, and exude genuine joy in spite of what he may be going through. I decided then and there to make a conscious effort to be a ‘positive-energy sponge’, to soak up this positive energy other people give off, in an attempt to counteract the negative in me. Let’s hope I am successful.
And as for Walker Man, I expect the day will come that I no longer see him on my daily walks. For now, I will relish his happiness and good energy while it's available to me. And though I may not be able to understand his words as clearly anymore, I know he’s still in there. I can see it in his smile.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

The Great Clean-up of 2014

Sometimes when the clutter in my head gets to be too much, whether it’s a conscious trigger or not, I am moved to clean out my closet, and mostly the storage bins of clothes I keep in the attic, due to a lack of space in my bedroom. Dutch houses are SMALL, and they normally don’t come with built-in or wall-to-wall closets of any respectable size (a walk-in closet is every Dutch woman’s dream), if they come with these at all. Most people have small wardrobes in their bedrooms, and are accustomed to switching out clothes according to the season. Fall and winter clothes are moved upstairs, to the attic (or all the way downstairs, if you have a cellar and it isn’t too moldy and damp to store clothes), during the spring and summer, and the summer and spring clothes are stored away during the winter.

This was the case again yesterday. Or rather, the night before that, when I got the urge to purge and realized this weekend was my window of opportunity since my youngest son, who sleeps in the attic (not as punishment, it just happens to be the largest room upstairs, half of which is occupied by storage bins, most of which hold my clothes or the old toys of his he can’t bear to part with), would be away this weekend, on a camping trip with his father. This is a task I can only complete when I have the run of the room, since it’s usually a no-go area when he’s home.

Armed with three large, empty garbage bags and the vacuum cleaner (no point in moving all that stuff around if I’m not going to vacuum while I’m at it), I made my ascent to the attic.  Two hours and several sneezing fits later, I was staring at three full bags with a tremendous sense of satisfaction. And I wasn’t even done yet – there was still the closet and chests of drawers in my bedroom to tackle. After a break of three or four hours, I resumed my task and dealt with those too, filling bag no. 4, and my sense of accomplishment, even one day later, is like a high. My head is clearer, my thoughts can run freer.

Each pile is reminiscent of a phase from the last 10 (15?) years, and each phase is chock full of memories. Oh good grief, there are those corduroy dress trousers I bought for that conference in London (medium-level Fat Stage) that I haven’t worn since. Oh geez, and that super skimpy bikini I bought because I had lost weight and gotten in shape, but which was really pushing the limits of decency, even at the time. Consider yourself chucked, in the bag you go (unworn, in public, at any rate).

There are the miskoops (one of those Dutch words that I love and find semi-untranslatable: ‘bad idea’, ‘waste of money’ will suffice for now), that fashion-conscious friend talked me into buying (her motives were unclear, but I would venture a guess that they weren’t pure), saying they looked fantastic on me, but which I secretly never really liked and thus never wore. Or the items I bought on those ‘what-was-I-thinking’ days, the ones you take home yet never wear because they just look stupid, or are unflattering. Then there are the items I completely forgot I had, and by the time I remembered, it was too late (they no longer fit or turned out to be a bad idea anyways).

Then there are the ones that make me saddest: clothes I loved to wear because I was at my thinnest, and remember how good I felt wearing them. To save, or not to save? Will they ever fit again? And even if they do fit, how out of style will they be should that day ever arrive? Do I save one or two as ‘motivation’, or for sentimental reasons? I can picture holding them up, to no one in particular and saying ‘Can you believe this ever fit me?’ Nope. In the bag you go.

What do I do with all the T-shirts from concerts and festivals? Do I also earmark these for the Sentimental Value pile, never to be worn again, only to be looked at now and then as I think, ‘Ah, good times’? For my kids to find when I’ve left this life, so they can know how hip I once was? Nah. Be gone, all of you.

I’ve watched those programs time and time again, the ones with those super-practical women, living in minimalist houses, always full of tips for cleaning out closets, dumping the extraneous crap in your home, and though the one ‘rule’ has stuck with me (‘If you haven’t worn it in the last two years, odds are you probably never will.’), I don’t always abide by it, though it is a good truism.

Rarely do I have regrets about getting rid of clothes during these purging episodes. I do recall one particular regret though: getting rid of a long, khaki-colored leather skirt that I bought when I was studying in France in college. Although I catch myself briefly wishing I still had it, mostly for the memories, what’s the point?

Hitting a milestone age this year, I found I didn’t have the overwhelming sense of nostalgia for my younger years I used to feel during one of these clothes dumping sessions. I look back on those years with fondness, the years before I had my kids, the years when they were babies (and yes, I got rid of the maternity clothes AGES ago – I’m not that bad off), and I struggled to create a personal style that matched my new state of motherhood – not too hip or trendy, I was a mom now! Not too frumpy; I was still relatively young! – and later, when the baby weight was nearly gone (many, many years later), and I felt more comfortable with who I was, a style appropriate to a woman in her mid- to late 30s and early 40s, the mother of young, pre-pubescent children.

Today, a day later and a few stuffed garbage bags richer, I feel a weight lifted, if only in the symbolic sense. I know the clothes will go to a worthy recipient, someone who needs and will enjoy them, and who will then be able to pass them on (assuming they haven’t disintegrated by then), either to a textile recycling facility or someone else who needs them. My memories will still be in my head (until they too disintegrate), even if the clothes are no longer in the attic or my closet. They’re just clothes, it’s just stuff; the memories will last long after the clothes have fallen apart or been passed on.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Jingle, jingle, JINGLE!

2013 will not go down in my personal history as one of my best years. A seemingly unending chain of unfortunate events and pure bad luck seemed to befall me, particularly in the second half of the year.

Probably because of this, the holiday season seems to have snuck up on me, and arrived with a squealing of brakes, suddenly appearing before me sometime last week. The unseasonably mild weather we’ve been having has probably also contributed to this feeling of ‘Wait, what, it’s almost Christmas??’ I have been unable to shake the last week or so. On the other hand, I am glad the year is almost over, not that everything will miraculously turn around and be right again as the clock strikes 12:01 on New Year’s Eve.

I made a semi-subconscious decision not to be a Grinch this year and to make the ‘most’ of it, even send out a few cards to family in the Netherlands (something I haven’t done in years). Struggled to come up with gift ideas for my husband and sons, and actually managed to get a couple I think they might like. Even enjoyed it, shopping for gifts in an all-decked-out-for Christmas Maastricht. Decorated the living room, put up the tree, all in my best efforts to create a rather acceptable (if I say so myself) Christmas atmosphere in my home.

Though I’m generally not really a cynic (really, I'm not!), the Christmas television programming, in its attempts to get everyone in the spirit, can sometimes just be laughable. Holiday movies I had never seen much less heard of, pop up daily, up to two or even three weeks before Christmas, and the message always seems to be the same. ‘Love thy brother’. ‘Cherish your family, no matter what.’ ‘Be generous, but only this time of year.’ 

I think back to what Christmas was like when I was a kid. Growing up in Miami, I always envied those who celebrated Christmas in the snow, building snowmen, huddling around fires, skating on ponds, their mantelpieces decorated with stockings and silvery garlands. The idea of Christmas in Miami just seemed well, kind of silly by comparison. But in spite of it all, I loved the feeling I had, I loved waking up on Christmas morning to see what was under the tree. Did I finally get the Barbie camper or wait, dare I hope, the plane?? Wondering if that kind of scary, fat, smelly guy whose lap I was forced to sit on for a photo was the same one who broke into our house on the night of December 24th to put presents under our tree. (Something that, to this day I still find a weird, and yes, very creepy concept – the Santa’s lap pictures. Whose idea was that?? And what’s with the unhealthy parental manipulation of the ‘naughty and nice’ rule?)

As an adult, it seems we all try to recreate that magic for our kids, and probably for ourselves while we’re at it. There’s a forced aspect to it all, ‘you are going to have a magical Christmas, if it’s the last thing we do!’  This year, doing the Christmas grocery shopping Sunday and yesterday, I decided to pay more attention than usual to my fellow (stressed) shoppers, and have been reflecting on the whole idea of this time of year, and why it brings out the best and worst in all of us at one time or another.

At the Netherlands’ answer to Costco (the Makro, the only place I have a nearly 100% guarantee of getting a turkey larger than a Cornish hen), I watched a young family, parents and three kids under the age of 5, struggling to ‘get it done’, all three kids running in three different directions in the crowded, overpopulated store, Christmas carols blasting from the speakers as if to say ‘You are going to have a fantastic Christmas, dammit.’  The mother’s once perfectly coifed hair just this side of standing on end, the father’s face frozen into an expression of ‘The sooner we get out of here, the better.’ Later on, in Grocery Store No. 2 of 4 that day (I was on a mission, The Great Sweet Potato Hunt of 2013, as there seemed to be a thankfully short-lived run on this elusive vegetable this year.), I overheard an argument between a man and woman, the gist of which was that she was amazed to discover that he didn’t seem to understand that this was the ONLY day she had to do the Christmas shopping, and was he crazy? Did he think she was going to come back to the store on Christmas Eve day? 

Yesterday at my local supermarket, I watched a young mother of indeterminate foreign origin (in my tiny village? Where was she from? Inquiring linguistic minds wanted to know!), muttering and getting progressively more worked up as she fought to get her toddler in the grocery cart, struggling to get those pinwheeling little stocking-clad legs through the holes in the cart, her toddler shrieking in protest, the mother cursing (I can only assume) louder and louder in her native tongue. I decided to go to another area where they kept the grocery carts outside, passing the Accordion Guy on the way (he’s there every year) playing Christmas carols, of course, and we exchanged a look of pity for that woman, half smiling, a look I like to think also expressed our shared befuddlement at the whole holiday spirit thing. Why some people make themselves so crazy this time of year, so they can make everything perfect for that one or two days a year when everyone feels the pressure to have a wonderful Christmas, enjoy being with family, eat the perfect meal, give the presents everyone wanted. Why? And why just these few days a year?

When I see people like these, clearly unhappy, stressed out, all wishing they were anywhere but here (in the grocery store, the mall, wherever they need to be to ‘get it done’ for the holidays), I imagine a cartoon thought balloon over their heads with the text ‘Merry Effing Christmas’.

There is an older couple in the Netherlands that achieved some degree of television fame a couple years ago, and who sort of sum up what I mean, Tiny and Lau. Though this video cracks me up every time (it’s in Dutch, but the message comes through I think for everyone, whether you speak the language or not), it also makes me sad.

Wouldn’t it be great if we could all just relax a little this time of year? Not work ourselves into a frenzy to make Christmas perfect? Not do our grocery shopping with a vengeance, packing our carts as if a nuclear apocalypse were imminent? Just eat and drink (and be merry for merry’s sake) more than we should (whatever that is), enjoy the time together (after all, we never know where we will all be this time next year, and if we will all even be together) and be thankful for what we DO have? Bring back a little of that magic we used to feel as kids? No pressure, no guilt?

This is my wish for everyone. To just enjoy the day off, enjoy each other’s company. No stress, no regrets.

Merry Effing Christmas everyone!

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Ya gotta keep 'em separated

I can't seem to get the line from this Offspring song out of my head today as I am pulling old blog posts off of my business website to post them here.

My husband asked, 'Why are these on your business blog page?' I couldn't answer that except to wonder myself.

(And as much as I hate to admit it, he IS right, most of the time.)

So no, I haven't suddenly been extremely prolific and been at the blog table for 24 hours now, I am moving my posts with a more personal note to this, my personal blog page.

Not that anything here is a secret from my business colleagues and customers, but as they say, there is a time and place for everything.

The Can

Fortunately I was reminded today of The Can’s rather inaccessible location, as I have been meaning to relocate it for a while now. I have now moved it to a place where I not only instantly know where it is, but can easily grab and rescue it from fire, flooding, storms, earthquakes or any other natural disaster. The Can definitely falls into the category of those material possessions one hopes to rescue first in such an event. This seemingly innocuous object, an old CafĂ© du Monde can from my years in California, holds an invaluable treasure trove, items of inestimable monetary value (in spite of the face value printed on them, ridiculous by current standards given the over-inflated prices of concerts these days): the ticket stubs from many (yet far from all) of the concerts I went to when I lived in California in the late 80s and early 90s, before uprooting myself (and The Can of course) to move to the Netherlands in 1992.
A well-travelled can it is, having made its first move, albeit humble, from Monterey to San Francisco after I graduated from business school and went to seek my fortune (but mostly just a job, any ole job would do) in The City. Later, its travels would include a 7 (or was it 8?)-day cross-continental journey from San Francisco to Miami in a box, kept company by hundreds of bootleg tapes with recordings of concerts I had been to and others I wish I had attended, in the back of a U-Haul hitched to my car, crossing the Southwest, assorted deserts, sweating for two full days traversing Texas and then over through Bayou Country (with a quick stop in New Orleans, where alas, we were a day late and jello shot too short for Mardi Gras) before finally entering the Panhandle of Florida, continuing its journey all the way down to Miami. From there, it would be shipped in that same box in a sea container, along with my car and nine other bulging boxes containing other absolute necessities, to finally be unloaded at my new home in Rotterdam.
Subsequently suffering through three other moves to its current home in the southernmost province of the Netherlands, today I decided I needed to take that trip down Fuzzy Memory Lane again, having been reminded of The Can’s existence, initially prompted by a documentary on Quadrophenia I stumbled upon zapping channels late yesterday evening. I carefully and slowly sliced through the tape I had used to seal the box for the last move 12 years ago (having snuck a peak in the box, mostly to ascertain The Can was still there before entrusting it to the movers), holding my breath, though I knew it still had to be there.
And it was. After all those years, all those moves, the metal is showing only the tiniest signs of rust, and the old-school, dot-matrix printer ink is even still fairly legible on most of the ticket stubs. Others are surprisingly pristine, with dates ranging from 1986 to 1991. I removed the stubs slowly, carefully, not sure which ones to look at first, wondering whether to count them, estimating their number to be over 150. These precious jewels, tickets to the past, keys that had the power to unlock doors to amazing memories. Concerts I had forgotten about, others that were indelibly imprinted on my memory, still, after all these years. Flashes of images like still photographs coming back to me, who I was with, where we went before, and after, even memories of me changing from my work attire into my concert togs in the bathroom of the office I worked at, waiting until everyone had left so that no one would see me emerge in my tie-dyed T-shirt (back then, I might have still cared about stuff like that), tiny silver skulls dangling from my ears, brightly-colored woven bracelets around my wrists. I worked about 20 minutes from a few of the more popular concert venues, so it was easier to meet friends there straight from work than to go all the way back to The City and go from there.
Memories of sitting in circles on hot concrete, in parking lots outside of stadiums, with friends, waiting for the gates to open (stadium seating!), not so we could get the best seats in the house, but what we considered to be the best seats, and more importantly, enough of them so we could all sit together. Watching the pre-concert scene unfold, both outside of the venue, and once inside it, as the seats filled up, people milled around on the floor, and the soundboard guys did their thing, the recorded music slowly swelling, the sound getting tweaked and balanced, so by the time the band got on stage, it would be nothing less than perfect. Lights being tested, on and off, stage hands testing instruments, moving them and monitors to just the right spot. ‘Testing, testing, 1-2-3’  could be faintly heard weaving in and out through the recorded music coming from the speakers as they tested the microphones.
I remember that excitement so clearly, and the familiar comfort and ease of being with those friends, our inside jokes, our trusted patterns and habits with one another, our history together, the mere looks that would be enough (since words weren’t necessary) like it was, well, the day before yesterday. I can hardly believe it was 25 years ago. I look back on that time with such pleasure, a huge smile slowly creeping onto my face - how lucky I was to have been able to experience that, and have a group of friends like those - most of whom are still good, close friends, no matter how far we may live from one another, and no matter how infrequently we may see one another.
Sifting through the stubs I can pull one out at random, read it and be transported back. Like a free ticket for a ride on a time machine. Sure, those days are gone, and I know I can’t go back, but these tickets, The Can that keeps them safe, protected from the elements and intact for as long as possible, sure are a wonderful way for me to visit every now and then.

Find the beauty

Since I started taking a new shortcut to drive my son to school in the mornings, in an attempt to avoid most of the rush-hour traffic, we’ve had the occasion to see the Methadone Bus a few times a week parked at one of its regular stops in the city. It took me a while to realize that that’s what it was, this somewhat vague, large white vehicle with only a couple of tiny windows high up on the sides. If you look carefully, you’ll see Verslavingszorg (Addiction Treatment Services), in small print, on a rather (intentionally?) obscure spot on the side. Once I realized what it was, and noticed my son giggling as he watched the somewhat strange characters feverishly running to get on it before it left again (and the euphoric ones getting off of it), I felt I should explain in serious terms what it was and why it was there. At first, I just kept it short. ‘That’s the Methadone Bus, and people addicted to heroin can go and get their shot so they feel better.’ I might have even taken an overly light-hearted, and - dare I say it - humorous approach at times, giggling along with him, dismissing it. I realize now I was trying to take the sting out of it for him, glossing it over in my attempt to shield him from the terrible reality.
Lately though, I’ve felt a more detailed explanation was called for, and have been trying to collect my thoughts about how to explain it. He beat me to the punch.
Although he still giggled quietly every time we saw it, one day last week he was obviously curious enough to ask about it. ‘But Mama, what is methadone? Why do they need it?’ I explained what it was, why they needed it, and emphasized in a serious tone that that’s why people should never start taking heroin. Because in most cases, it’s for life. A horrible life, and for these people, rarely a very long one. I told him that these are people who have to beg, borrow and steal to feed their habit. And that sometimes, the world is just really a terrible place.
I almost want to apologize to him for the state of the world today, or rather the way it’s always been. My husband’s theory is that the misery and tragedy have always been there, we just know more about it all now thanks to modern communications technology. And of course, the horror-hungry media.
I realized it’s not only my job as a parent to educate my kids on the horrors of the world, protect them from evil, shield them from misery, but even more importantly, it is also my task to teach them how to find the beauty. Oh, and to be kind to others, to be a good person and to find a way to be happy.
This is a major challenge in today’s world; this should not be news to anyone. After all, how do you teach kids today to find the beauty in life when we’re all constantly being bombarded with bad news, somber outlooks and human cruelty? The events in Boston this past week brought this home, yet again. How do you explain to your children why people do what they do? How do you teach them that we don’t always know why, and even if we do, that it doesn’t usually make sense?
I am suddenly reminded of those pictures we used to make in arts and crafts in elementary school. First, you drew rainbow-colored stripes using pastels, and then painted over the entire sheet of paper with black paint. When it dried, you scratched or scraped a picture into the paint, exposing the pretty colors underneath.
Though it is getting harder and harder to find, there is so much beauty in this world. I’m not such a firm believer in ‘see the positive side of it’, because often, there simply just isn’t one. So if there isn’t a positive side to every negative story (see picture above), look for the positive elsewhere. Nine times out of ten (or nine-and-a-half times out of ten), you’ll find it in the simple things, the things that are around us every day and that we too often tend to overlook.
I envy children and their innocence, and yes, their ignorance. Their seemingly boundless joy at the simple things, the things that are all around us and that we have long forgotten or fail to acknowledge.
The beauty they see and find is there; in fact, it’s everywhere. These days, we just have to look harder to find it.

Meltdowns and morning rituals

Last week B. had his first major meltdown in about five months. We had actually started thinking that the phase had perhaps passed. We had almost forgotten that sometimes it doesn’t seem to take much, a setback that most people would consider minor, a problem that most people would  easily and quickly be able to solve, but we know better. B.’s not ‘most people’. It had in fact been so long, that we had also almost forgotten that it’s often just a symptom of something much more wicked brewing beneath his complicated surface.
This time it was the inability to get his game apps to work properly on the hand-me-down cell phone I gave him when I got my new one. A cell phone he had SO been looking forward to getting, and started asking me months ago when I was getting my new phone and he could have this one.
It started with screaming, cursing and a lot of noise coming from his room on the top floor, not all of it identifiable, though we’ve gotten pretty good at discerning between the sounds chairs make when they’re thrown across the room, and when a trash can has been hurled at the wall, even two floors lower. At first, I thought it might have just been him in a gaming frenzy; these kids tend to make a lot of noise when they play with each other online and are wearing headphones, unaware how loud they are being.
But then came the familiar stomp-march down the stairs, B. whizzing past my office, slamming doors and running outside to the back of the garden (in his socks, in the rain, over the wet grass), back to his ‘safe place’. The log he sits on that serves as his perch in front of the rabbit hutch where he still sometimes goes when things upset him, or he just needs some peace and quiet. As it was already dark, I couldn’t tell what exactly was flying into the yard from the back, but it sounded like heavy branches and rocks. A few landed on the roof of my office, making loud clattering noises. We have learned not to try to interfere with or stop these rages; it is a necessary part of the process, he needs to get it out of his system, and intervention only makes it worse. We do monitor the situation to make sure he’s not doing anything that would result in an injury to himself; dismembered household items, rearranged furniture, shredded books and papers, and a messy garden we can handle, fix and tidy up.
I heard a pounding noise and strange rattling coming from the kitchen, followed by the obligatory stomping ascent up the two flights of stairs, doors being slammed all the way up. His older brother casually informed me, also used to these episodes, that B. had punched the refrigerator door so hard, he left a dent in it (thus explaining the pounding and rattling sounds). I went up to his room to see if he was okay, as a dent that size in a stainless steel refrigerator must have surely required a good deal of force and I was worried he had injured his hand. No, he hadn’t, I was forced to deduce from the silent yet angry shaking of his head, his giant headphones on, furious eyes focused on the computer screen.
‘Go AWAY,’ he repeated, as he always does when I come to see what happened this time to set him off. I offered a few suggestions, offered to try to help him with the phone, but he just continued to play his game, swatting my arm away more violently each time I tried to comfort him. After all these years, I should know better, but it had been so long since the last meltdown, I seemed to have forgotten what works and what doesn’t.
This of course meant no school the next day. This much I already knew, at 5:30 in the afternoon the day before. Getting him out of bed is a big enough challenge, but getting him to agree to go to school is even harder, on a normal day, let alone during a ‘rough patch’, or period that he’s particularly defiant about everything, and vocal about how much he hates school, hates his teachers, hates the subjects - hates it all. Hates his life. The downward spiral as we call it, where he talks himself into a deeper and darker depression. He comes out of it, and these days, faster than he used to, but still, it’s hard to watch, and even harder to know that you are powerless to help.
Even knowing that the odds of him going to school after an incident like that were slim, I still tried it the next morning. This daily ritual involves first going up to his room at 7:40, then 7:45, then 7:50 (my husband says I’m worse than a snooze button), then taking my shower, stepping out and listening carefully as I do every morning, in the hopes that I will hear him fumbling around up there now, getting dressed and getting his books together, precluding the need for yet another trip up the stairs. Silence. I got dressed, and crept up the stairs. ‘B., you really need to get up now, we’re going to be late.’ Silence. I walked over to his bed, sat down on the edge and rubbed his back the way I do to gently wake him up. ‘B., will you get up now?’ No answer, no movement though I know he’s awake. Glancing at his alarm clock, I see it’s already 8:10; we have to be in the car at 8:25 at the latest. I sigh and say, ‘Should I just call you in sick then?’ The slightest, nearly imperceptible nod of his head, turned away from me towards the wall indicates that yes, I should, because he’s not going to school today.
I trudge back downstairs, half relieved, half frustrated as usual when I have to make these calls. The receptionist at his school practically knows my ring; he definitely knows my voice, that’s how often I call.
‘Hi, it’s B.’s mom. He’s not going to make it today.’
‘So I should mark him down as sick then?’
‘Okay, well tell him I hope he feels better and thanks for calling.’ He always says this, exactly the same way, and I mutter my standard response, ‘Thanks, I will.’
We’re in the process of looking into new schools for him now, because this is just not where he needs to be, even though it does cater to children with both his abilities and challenges. He has a 75% attendance record, meaning he has missed one out of every four days so far this year, and this is unacceptable to the school board. Our primary goal for this school year is now to get him to go to school. Grades, test scores, homework - this has all taken a back seat; the objective is for him to just show up.
I thought back to the last real meltdown, during the summer. Even though he had begged me to make an appointment for him to get his hair cut, and in spite of the usual well-spaced reminders/warnings about it the day before, then again on the morning of the appointment, and about an hour beforehand, the more he thought about it, the more upset he got. He hates having his hair cut. Over the course of the day, the very prospect of it had upset him so much, right before we were to leave, he stormed back to his rabbit hutch, throwing rocks at me as a warning, if I dared come any closer. I went back inside and called and cancelled five minutes before the appointment. Not angry, not surprised, but secretly a little disappointed, having hoped this would be the time he came willingly and without a fight. Luckily the hairdresser knows B. and about his issues, and was very nice about it. Still, I bought her a small gift and brought it by the next day, offering to pay for the unused time slot at her busy salon. I don’t want to take advantage of people’s kindness and good nature - I don’t want or need special treatment, at the most, just a little patience and understanding.
When people ask me about B., and I tell them how he’s doing now, I get such a rainbow of responses. These range from ‘Are you SURE he’s autistic? It’s probably just puberty - all teenagers do that,’ to ‘Oh my GOD, I don’t know how you cope, you poor thing.’ Even my own father, rest his soul, would say ‘In my day, we called that “shy”’. After 14 years, you develop a skill set you sometimes wish you never needed, but are happy you have just the same. Patience is something I never thought I could have, not in this measure, and though it can be in short supply depending on what I’m dealing with at the time, I have found ways to muster it when I need to. And although these efforts aren’t always successful, I’ve also learned when I need to walk away and calm down, as having a meltdown of my own isn’t going to do him any good.
I’ve also gotten used to planning my work days, building in buffers, plenty of time in case there’s a ‘disruption’. For me, being a freelancer has this extra, added bonus; I can be there for him when he needs me, no boss to have to ask for a few hours off, and I can make up for lost time in the evening, or on the weekend. I am also careful not to take on too much work in case I have to spend time with him, or for him. In case I have to drive to school at the drop of a hat because something has set him off and he has walked out in a rage, and is now wandering around the neighborhoods near the school, texting me to come get him. Subconsciously, I feel I always have to be within a 10 km radius of wherever he is, ‘just in case’, particularly when his father is away on business or at a meeting somewhere out of range. Although this hasn’t been necessary recently nearly as frequently as it was a couple of years ago, still, it has become my modus operandi, a subconscious default setting in my brain. It wouldn’t ever occur to me to tell him I might be late, or he might have to wait because I’m busy doing something else. The rare times I have showed up literally one minute late (I’m usually at least 5 minutes early) to pick him up at school, I know when I get home I’ll find a text on my phone that reads, ‘Where are you??’
I remind myself on an almost daily basis to think of the good times, the small victories, the progress we’ve made, and how far he has come in the last couple of years. Sometimes, they’re harder to remember, to conjure up, particularly when he’s going through a bad period. He’s still my sweet little boy (all 6’3” of him), who can still melt me with that gorgeous smile (which, though I don’t see as often as I used to, is still brighter than any ray of sunshine for me). It can bring a tear to my eye to see his long, thin frame bending and kneeling to lie down with each of our dogs separately to give them their 10-minute goodnight hug, his eyes closed, a big smile on his face, this is when he is really at peace, finally blissful. This is when I am reminded of the wonderful, sensitive person who’s in there beneath all the struggles, frustration and anger, the incredibly smart person who will be happy someday, who will have accepted his own shortcomings, but mostly, finally realized how talented and amazing he really is.

I can see the pity on people’s faces and hear it in their voices when they ask about or respond to something I’ve told them about B. Yes, it’s hard, and yes, it’s not what I envisioned when I knew I wanted children. But he’s my B., there’s no one else like him, and I’ll take all the meltdowns and hard times he has to give because I know there are just as many fantastic moments to balance those out, even far outnumber them. These are the moments that melt my heart, bring tears to my eyes, and make me so grateful to have him in my life.