She didn’t know you would be so clingy, so demanding.
Such a total leech.
Sucking the life out of me.
But when you started in on my kid, that was it.
It was time for you to go.
It wasn’t easy.
You didn’t want to leave.
It was clear.
You had to die.
Stuck home on a snow day, I’m Googling ways to end you.
It wasn’t enough to get rid of you.
I had to totally erase your existence.
Clean anything you’d touched like a literal plague.
Boiling all the sheets was easy enough.
But trying to get a kid to sit still, while I tore your influence away one painstaking strand at a time?
Everything had to be examined.
All the lies and denials.
It was a total nit-picking nightmare.
I went to a specialist.
We went over everything.
Talked about how you wouldn’t let go.
How I just wanted to cut you out of my life so badly I was willing to get rid of anything you held dear.
“Just do it.” I told her. “Quick, like a band-aid. I’ll close my eyes and think of Sinead, Sean, and Shaquille. They’ve made it work for them.”
She talked me down from the nuclear option.
Getting your hair done is usually a calm, soothing experience.*
But getting rid of you was not.
With every stroke, it felt like I was being pulled in two.
As she scorched my tresses in thirty-second blasts, I visualized you frying until your little head popped.
I imagined your tiny death rattle.
And then I went home and cleaned like a woman possessed.
If you’d touched it, into the garbage, laundry, or freezer it went.
And then, I tackled my child.
It wasn’t pretty.
It wasn’t fun.
But it had to be done.
And if you ever come back into my life, I will totally do it again.
Breaking up is hard to do.
But in eleven days, after a repeat cathartic cleansing, it’ll be over.
I’ll finally be rid of you.**
Happy Lousy Valentine’s Day, you creep.
Asterisk Bedazzled Footnote:
*I’ve never paid so much to have my hair done only to leave a ‘stylist’ looking more like a train wreck. Except for the time I went to high-end salon and they gave me (without my permission) some godawful cut called a ‘Rachel.’ Looking back, even this experience wasn’t that bad!
**Don’t visit us for at least two weeks to be safe.
You read this far bonus:
I found a weirdly appropriate book in French while searching for Google images to accompany this post. I couldn’t quite fit it into the above text but wanted to share it with you.
Her blond, twisted curls were fixed and her little pink-and-white gingham dress was stiff and yellowed with age. By the time she finally became mine, she was twenty-seven years old. Pretty ancient for a doll. And, by ten, I was old enough to know she wasn’t to be played with.
So, until I reached my first decade, I enacted my primal childhood dramas on my Barbie and baby dolls instead.*
There was one other doll who bore the brunt of little girl adventures in our extended family: Grandma Laura’s walking doll.
This doll was an antique, but, she was never treated like one. Built with a stiff cardboard body with wooden limbs, she was meant to be played with.
If she ever had a name, I never knew it. She was just called ‘the walking doll’ because she had creaky hinges at her knees which caused the leg to swing back and then forward as you walked behind her.
She sat in a chair in my grandparents’ living room, waiting for one of the grandchildren to come play with her. She was much loved and it showed.
The walking doll’s hands were worn to indistinct nubs and the plastic along her arms was cracked or missing. At one point, someone loved all the hair off of her.
My grandmother must have cut down a wig to cover her bald head. The walking doll’s new style was choppy, black speckled with grey, and in no way resembled a typical baby doll. I never knew she had any other hair color.
Until I took her to the doll hospital that is.
It was always my intention to take good care of my bequests, but time, family expansion and inattention takes a toll on the mechanics of people and toys.
Many years ago, Amy’s rubber band broke, leaving her looking much like an extra special victim from a crime drama.**
I found Patricia Buckert after a quick search online and contacted her to see if she could recover my long-time companions from the benign neglect of thirty-some years in storage.
A professional with certification through the Doll Artisan Guild, Patricia studied at Seeley’s in Canada and traveled to West Virginia to learn advanced secrets of doll restoration. Patti Ann’s Teddy Bears and Dollies provides a rare service—not just doll repair—it’s more like finding doll nirvana.
When she talks about the dolls she’s made—with kiln baked porcelain crafted and painted by hand—you know you’ve found a kindred spirit.
Her doll hospital is located in Oshtemo, MI along Stadium Drive in a small, green house.
Even with the big white sign out front, you might miss it. But once you’ve entered, you’d never forget it.
The front room is overflowing with dolls, prams, strollers, a crib filled with wide-eyed babydolls, and shelves where lady-like figures pose, en deshabille, with porcelain-dipped lace to trace their décolletage. Nearby, a wire carousel houses miniature accessories: shoes, socks, and delicate unmentionables with froths of lace enough to choke a Clydesdale.
This dolly sanctum sanctorum is a veritable paradise for your inner child.
When I show her Amy, Patricia immediately recognizes her as one of the series of Little Women dolls created by Madame Alexander. But she’s entirely surprised by her second patient.
“I’ve never seen a doll quite like this before.” Patricia says, as I place the doll on her counter.
“She’s been in the family for a long time. She first belonged to my grandmother.” I explain.
As I remove the doll’s outer garments, her poor condition is revealed. A spring falls off her leg as I remove her bloomers.***
We also learn that originally, she was a redhead, similar to my grandmother’s brunette shade…that she kept in a bottle under her bathroom vanity.
“I’ll see if I can find anything in my records to help identify her.” Patricia promises.
“Look what I found! As I was going over your doll I found the Babs marking. This helped me identify it.”
According to the site linked, the Babs Walking Doll was made between 1917 and 1921 by the Babs Manufacturing Corp. Since my grandmother was born in 1909, she was between eight and ten years of age when she was given her. Knowing my doll is over a hundred years old, makes me treasurer her even more. But, she was in pretty sad shape.
I asked Patricia to do what she could to recover her lost charms. This no doubt destroyed whatever value the doll might have possessed, but, I would never sell her and I felt that she deserved her own personal make-over.
It took a lot longer than I would have imagined. But I suspect you don’t undo a century of aging in a day.
Amy came home first.
You can’t see it in this photo, but she now has two satin shoes covering her feet. The mar on her cheek is gone and, with restringing and repairs to the dress, she looks as good as new.
I asked my mom if each of her sisters had their own doll from the series.
She seemed surprised to learn there were other dolls.
Mary, age 8 or 9, in her Beer Barrel Polka outfit.
“Oh, yes. She is one of the daughters from the March family, from the book Little Women?” I tell her. “Did you read it?”
“Oh, well, I’ve seen the movie.” Mom says. “But no, I was the only one who got a doll like this.”
“I thought, because you were one of four sisters and the book is about four sisters, maybe you each got one to represent your relationships.” I say. “But you were the oldest, and that would make you the ‘Meg’ doll instead of ‘Amy’ who is the youngest of the March sisters.”
“I really don’t remember that much about the story.” Mom admits. “But I had blond hair like this as a girl.”
It is always a shock to find someone doesn’t cherish the same books you do. I love Little Women. But if I were to pick a March sister, I would be Jo. Brave, adventurous Jo who writes and dramatizes her life. That, and the fact she has brown hair, just like me.
I finally got to pick up Grandma Laura’s walking doll this fall. I then learned that PattiAnn’s is closing; after so many years spent learning the art of doll craft, Patricia is retiring.
“Is this because people aren’t buying dolls as much?” I ask.
“Yes, partly. Children just don’t play with dolls the way they used to, not with the invention of iPads and electronic games.” Patricia sighs.
I look around and have to ask, “What will happen to all of this?”
“I’ll be selling it off as I close-up. You can check my Facebook website for details of the upcoming sales.”
I have my camera with me and I ask her if I might take a picture of her with a doll, “Which is your favorite?”
“Oh, all my real favorites are back at home, packed up for the move.”She looks around for a bit and then picks up a laughing babydoll. “But, I made this one for my mother before she passed away. So, I’ll be keeping her.”
We keep what matters to us. I don’t know if I would have a doll collection if it had not been for the one’s given to me. I have quite a few. My first years of independence during my tour in the Army were incongruously spent collecting dolls while stationed overseas. But those tales will have to wait for another day.
For now, I will be grateful I got my dolls repaired by someone qualified in a craft that is dying out.
And for those of you who are interested in the results, here is my walking doll, in her new dress cut down from a dress my mother made me:
I think you will agree, you wouldn’t recognize her from her former self!
I travel for a purpose. Generally, that purpose is to get to a destination. Sometimes, however, for my son’s sake, I travel for distance. For pleasure. To lose myself in the rolling roads dividing the countryside into rows of waving cornstalks and fields of bucolic cows chewing endless mouthfuls of grass. Usually there is an Aaron Copland sound track playing in my imagination.*
Recently, however, I had this experience backfire…and go hilariously bad. The tale ends up with a life-saving intervention from the Michigan DNR and a ‘Hail Mary’ airport pick-up. Join us for the missed-flight entertainment, if you dare, on the adventure I am calling:
F*ck the Road Less Traveled
It all begins with meeting a friend from afar.
Like most heroic quests, ‘Jay’ comes a long way to meet me. (Okay…technically she is visiting family, but still, meeting me is the added cherry on the trip-from-Japan Sundae.) Unlike most of my ‘internet friends’ who are likely market-research algorithms with questionable profile pics, Jay is a real live person.
Jay is so terribly cool, she met up with me at the nearby Panera for an hour of lovely conversation–despite juggling jet lag, a toddler, and the joys of accommodating myriad family obligations to meet up with someone she only knows in the digital sense from Nanowrimo.**
I was geeked. Her dad joined the venture–mostly because he was her chauffeur–but he was an engaging story teller who kept the conversation rolling. When our time together ran out, he invited me to come up to the family reunion scheduled for Saturday next.
“Sure.” I say. “But I’ll have to leave in time to get my mother-in-law from the airport.”
“I live in the woods, so, when you get up there, just call me and I’ll meet you so you can follow me back to the house.” He assures me.
“Oh, I have GPS. I’ve been up in that area before. I’m sure I’ll be fine.”
Saturday rolls around and I cram my kid in the car and we’re off winding the back roads of beyond because I haven’t yet figured out that my car’s GPS has been avoiding highways on purpose. We arrive with only a few rural/off-map detours. (Okay…we got lost three times finding the house. But for me, that’s ONLY three times.) This makes me unbelievably cocky. If you don’t know me well, know this…if anyone can get lost going someplace, it’s me. But, I’ve come to rely on my son’s innate desire to travel to get us where we want to go.
Jay is warm, her daughter is adorable, and her father is welcoming. A yard full of strangers don’t question me or my giant son’s right to be there. The picnic is a nice, if brief, interlude at someone else’s family reunion. Before long, it’s time for us to leave to meet a plane. I tender our regrets clutching the scrawled map Jay’s father painstakingly wrote out for me to follow back to civilization. Upon leaving, I immediately take a wrong turn and don’t figure it out until it is far, far too late. Much to my son’s delight.
If you have never been to Fremont, Michigan, I highly recommend you visit. Especially if you want to become part of the witness protection program. Because, I promise you, once you move there, no one will find you again. Ever.
We are in the car, driving in the wrong direction, down a dirt path and I’m alternately swerving to avoid trees that are apparently just growing in the middle of the track we are following and I’m questioning whether the map is wrong or I am.***
It’s when we finally hit tarmac that I make my worst mistake of the day. There is an option to turn left or right. A quick glance at my dashboard GPS is of no help. So, with my son as the designated navigator we turn left. The most mistaken 50-50 shot of all.
This is where the paved road ends…
When asked whether we should turn around or keep going, my son’s intrepid response?
“Straight!” He barks from the back seat.
I eyeball my GPS doubtfully, tap the screen and gauge how far it is through the unmarked green area to the road it depicts on the other side.
“Well, it doesn’t look like it’s too far…about half an inch.” I think to myself. “How far could that be?”
Those of you who have ever taken a snowmobile trail are probably laughing your heads off at this point. I, however, haven’t a clue.
And into the woods we go…
Need I mention it is a one-lane track?
And that we need to hit Highway 31 pretty darned quick if we are going to have a chance to make the forty-some odd miles back to the airport in G.R.?
Pretty soon, things get a bit desperate. We’ve been in the woods for at least half an hour. We are definitely going to miss the flight we were scheduled to meet!
Who do you call when, at fifty-one years of age, you are lost and need assistance?
*Gets cell phone*
BEEP.. BEEP.. BOOP.. BEEP.. BOOP…
After a frantic conversation in which I fear signal loss almost as much as I fear the drones of mosquitoes following our car like we are to-go container they are trying to figure how to open, Mom comes to the rescue…
Insert appropriate theme song here
…of my mother-in-law anyway.
“I’ll go.” Mom promises. “But you owe me! I was already in my pajamas for the night!”
We keep driving. The huddling clouds overhead limit what visibility we do have beneath the canopy of the old growth forest we are traversing.
I’m not exactly panicking…yet.
But I’m thinking about it.
When along comes the cavalry…
I have to unroll my window in order to ask for directions.
The mosquitoes, at least, were deliriously happy.
The nice young men from the DNR—wait…doesn’t that mean Do Not Resuscitate?—correction, the Forest Service Department of Agriculture (it says it right on the door, Kiri) give me some directions on how to get out of the woods.
“You’re gonna come up on a fork in a bit, take it to the left…then you follow the road until you see the exit to Highway 31. It’s not that much farther.”
I thank them, and slap at mosquitoes trying for a second pint of blood, before I hastily close the window to depart.
Our vehicles squeeze past each other like fat ladies wearing hoop skirts moving through a narrow hall.
And then we are back on the trail, slightly more confident that we will make it home.
There’s the fork…
And more trees than you can shake a stick at.
And then we come to what looks like another choice…
This turns out to be a random opening in the forest.
“What the actual hell?” I am cursing young men who think they gave detailed directions but obviously skipped a few steps.
If I knew how to use Google Earth, I’d check to see if our little blue Prius was captured in the center somewhere.
While it is possible to go left, that way seems certain doom based on the quantity of wild flowers and stumps in the way.
We veer right and hold on to a waning hope.
The GPS is now openly mocking me.
It dances in circles around and around but never moves toward Highway 31 and freedom.
We pass the dusty roundabout, heading right.
Pretty soon, we see a verdant meadow, puffy clouds, and dream of escaping this wildness nightmare.
But those fantasies are dashed by what looks like the burial site for other lost travelers cleverly disguised as a “Coastal Plain Marsh.”
Leaving the erstwhile, granite grave markers in our rearview mirror, I can’t help but feel like the forest is trying to tell us something.
But what could it be saying?
Apparently, it’s telling us it is time to go home.
There, in the distance, it beckons us.
The way out!
Ahhhh….civilization…or as close as it comes in rural Michigan.
As we drove home…we admired the sights we thought we’d never see again…
Even traffic cones were a welcome sight!
We passed the bakery with the oddest name ever for a location smack in the middle of an alluvial plain.
And then, like the plains of Africa in the song by Toto, the rains came.
Bedraggled and drained, we make it home in time for dinner.
And it’s going to take a lot to drag me back to Fremont unless I’m giving a guided tour, perhaps by a team of strapping forest preserve on-call rescuers? For emergency purposes only, of course.
Until then, I grow restless, longing for some solitary company…and a song to sing me home.
Asterisk Bedazzled Footnote:
*I mistakenly Googled Erin Copeland and got a completely unsuitable track the first time. #NOT MY MUSIC.
**If you do not know what NANOWRIMO is, we are apparently not as close as my imaginary internet friends.
Thank you for joining me for a retrospective of the Mother’s Day bonsai bonanza at Meijer Gardens. I highly recommend you attend the special exhibits like these, or, failing that, stopping by to enjoy my obsessive photography habit.
I started this post about ten days ago…but caught the flu so bad, I couldn’t finish writing it. I kind of collapsed instead. I am finally crawling back up on my personal hobby horse–the bedeviling holiday traditions that trap you in a tinsel choke-hold and won’t let go!
I won’t say that I am single-handedly keeping Hallmark alive, but of my entire family, I am the only one I know who sends holiday cards because I have to and despite the fact that I lost all religious affiliation years ago.
I have never been diagnosed with OCD (?Overly Cheerful Demeanor?), but it’s the only explanation I can find for why I put up a Christmas Solstice Tree, bake and decorate a bajillion festive cookies and, of course, send out the ubiquitous holiday cards.
It’s a sickness really.
I waited too late this year though. The holiday came and went (a Day Early) and I had yet to write out a single card. You’d think this was a sign! Maybe this year would be the year? Can I break the cycle?
Turns out…no. I can’t.
Four boxes of holiday cards at the ready—espousing nicely generic season greetings—printed family photo montage highlighting 2017 high (and low) points ready to go, festive stamps at hand, I sat at a table and manically wrote out a personalized greeting to everyone on my list.*
Did I mention I was suffering the worst plague at the time and, maybe, started hallucinating about half-way through the pile?**
To say some of my cards were a bit weird…well…I really wish I had taken pictures of some of the better entries. Fortunately, friends were willing to send me a few as proof of madness friendship. Seeing them now, they don’t sound nearly as weird as I thought they were at the time.
But, I do remember a few choice comments I wrote:
Please remember on New Years Day to toss a roast beef out your front door before heading out. This is to feed the dragon perched on your gables. It need not be cooked—many dragons prefer a raw gift—but a nice sear is also appreciated.
Do not forget to watch for acid-spitting lizards though. They are much more temperamental and you’d be advised to crawl out a side window to avoid them…”
The longer I wrote, the more like a cry for help some of the cards started to resemble:
Dear Chicago Friends,
“I do not understand why or how this tradition started?! Nobody writes physical mail anymore! What is the point? This is going to reach you well past the New Year and, honestly, I’ll probably have babbled ten times equally dull daily complaints on Facebook. Maybe next year I’ll just do that. I’ll Tweet my greetings! Except, that I am a Luddite, and eschew Twitter. Not just because a certain member of our government has made it his bilious verbal diarrhea playground…but because I have standards. Dammit.
I practically accused my California cousins of outright smugness in their choice of vacating Michigan winters for the dubious joys of living on the San Andreas Fault:
Then there were the feeble attempts at humor involving the likely contagion I was spreading this season:
Dear Philly Friend,
“…can you catch depression when you catch a cold? Mostly it’s the fact that I had all of my cookie rolled, cut, baked and nearly all frosted when this cold happened. As a result, I didn’t dare send them to anyone…for fear of spreading the contagion…
Apparently, I’m less circumspect with card distribution. Don’t lick this card. You’ve been warned. Probably too late though. You’ve already licked it haven’t you? Sigh. Oh Well, swift recovery to us both in 2018!”
Then I hit the wall I always hit after about four hours of writing inane holiday greetings (interjected with subliminal pleas for the madness to stop–see below). I start doodling to fill up the dreaded white space:
I have a list of about sixty people to whom I send cards. I had enough holiday stamps for about half of the list…after that, you got a Wonder Woman or Star Trek stamp depending on your likeliest affiliation. When in doubt, I used one commemorating the eclipse!
The later on the list your name appears, the weirder the card entry you’ll likely get. Also, the more my dyslexia and spoonerisms would crop up.
I can only imagine what the person getting this one thought of it all…
I have no choice. I have to send them. Then again, THEY have no choice, poor people, but to accept them. And secretly, I hope they like them and send me one in return. It is the obsessive compulsive gift that keeps on giving!
In the end…only Hallmark really wins.
Asterisk Bedazzled Footnotes*:
*I cannot send a blank card. Really. Unless I am at death’s door, so a few of you may have one of these rare creatures. When I hit that marathon writer wall, I autographed a few and called it good. I’m still shuddering from the absence of ink though.
**I started to feel a little human, but the persistent cough worried me. So I went to a med center and caught a completely different virus. If this piece is unfinished, I probably died mid-sent…
I am spending Christmas Day writing cards to friends because, apparently, I am living the holidays backward. And it started off so promising too…
The cookies were baked and frosted in early December…ready to be handed out to teachers and neighbors instead of requiring exhausting shopping jaunts and wrapping to accomplish. Ta dah!
*She gloated and lo’ the gods of irony did take notice.*
So, of course, the minute I added the last dragée sprinkle, I came down with the worst bubonic nasal funk, like, EVER. I didn’t dare hand out the frosted ones out to anyone…I liked.
We’ve been eating them all in lieu of chicken soup. (Note: I make something like 100 cookies each season.)
As a result of the plague, all shopping was done last minute. Like on Saturday, or as I was calling it, the Eve of Christmas.
I gritted my teeth and plowed through the tinsel strewn madness in a frantic bid not to throttle my fellow man–just so I’d have presents to hand out at the family gathering.*
I stayed up all night Saturday wrapping the last-minute what-nots decorated with frills and furbelows and wondering why BBC America wasn’t showing the much-awaited Dr. Who Christmas special.
*A clue, she has not.*
Dizzy with a stuffy head, thrown by the fact I work from home and days are marked by whether I have to shove my kid on a bus or not, things are spectacularly wonky. Festivities happen in spastic fits and starts if they happen at all. To be perfectly blunt, I’m off! In fact, I am so off in my order of traditional holiday crapola, that we celebrated early.
LIKE…a DAY early.
I woke Sunday thinking that it was Monday because I saw a mail van delivering to the house next door. So, Santa came early. I made the traditional pop-n-fresh, cinnamon rolls from a Pillsbury can baked into the shape of a lumpy Christmas tree the way my mom always made for us when we were kids. My son happily opened his giant tube of popcorn and his Orville Redenbacher fun-fun air popper.
It is only after the morning is gone and all the presents are opened that I realize…oh, wait. It’s only the 24th.
So, here we are, December 25th with nothing to celebrate. The snowy day precludes the emergency ‘road trip’ that I blankly promised my son yesterday with the caveat “If the weather is good.”**
And we woke to this…
This wouldn’t be so all-fired tragic if it weren’t for the irony of it all.
My kid, the Calendar King, said NOT ONE WORD about the fact mommy was off by a day.*** I guess all kids dreams of Christmas coming early. This does explain the kind of puzzled looks he kept giving me when I told him to keep opening his presents though…
So, Happy Holidays to everyone… and I might as well wish you Happy New Year. I’ll be with you in spirit/s next Saturday as we toast farewell to 2017! Because who in their right mind would put New Years on a Sunday of all things! Am I right?
*I was shocked to find other people shopping and leaving me with no place to park but the butt-end of the parking lot. Seriously, why weren’t they all home with their families and snug in their beds?
**Note: all weather is good weather for travel according to my son. The roads could be melting with lava, hail could be denting the roof and Pteradactyls might be making a bid to return from the primordial ooze from which they sprung and he’d still say, “Car ride?”
***Yeah yeah. I know. Non-verbal autistic. But he could have pointed to a calendar or something!
We had another…incident. That’s how it feels, reporting these moments of autism-inspired flare-ups—like filing a police report. You can almost see the mirrored sunglasses glinting as the fictional officer approaches…
IO (imaginary officer): “What seems to be the trouble here?”
ME (me): “I…I…He…and then…”
IO: “Slow down, ma’am. Is anybody hurt?”
ME: (snuffles) “No. Well, just a little.” (rubs hand) “It’s nothing. I’m just crying.”
IO: (looks around) “By the side of the road?”
ME: (wails open-mouthed) “Yessss.”
IO: “Tell me what happened, ma’am.”
ME: (wipes snot) “I tried to take my son to the restaurant.”
IO: (gestures) “This one?”
IO: “And then what happened.”
ME: “Little Man refused to go in…but I made him. And then…” (tears well up again.)
ME: “He lost it. He started screaming and biting himself and fighting me. I tried to stop him. A woman helped me get him to a table and I tried to give him his emergency medicine. While I was getting the pills, he sank his teeth in and I dropped them all over the floor. I was wrestling him, trying to get him calm and he finally started to settle down when…” (starts crying again)
IO: “Go on.”
ME: “…the manager asked us to leave.”
IO: “I see.” (clicks pen, scribbles a few notes) “Was anyone else hurt?”
ME: “No…just my hand. I’m gonna be fine. Just need a Bandaid.”
IO: “Are you going to be okay to drive?”
ME: “In a minute. I’m just waiting until I’m sure Little Man is okay.”
IO: “Sounds like a plan. Take all the time you need.”
ME: (sniffs) “Thanks.”
IO: “Don’t mention it, ma’am. Just get home safe…and take care of that bite.”
With the click of a pen, the imaginary officer walks back to the car and calls it in, then fades away and is gone. I’m left, wondering why days like these are happening more and more often? After forty minutes, we move back onto the highway and get stuck in molasses for what seems like hours in the Memorial Day weekend traffic. My hand stings the whole drive home.
I was tempted to post a video to Facebook. You know the kind. Angry, outraged mother, slams establishment that doesn’t understand her child.* Everyone shares and declares the company the Spawn of Satan. But really, I didn’t blame the management of the restaurant, which I won’t name, but will say, what hurt the most today was not the bite. It was being asked to leave.
In the softest voice imaginable, a young man approached our table where I was standing holding my son in a head lock/hug, and said, “I don’t want to have to ask…you know that.”
He didn’t say the words. He didn’t have to. My son was being more than disruptive, he was having a stellar autism meltdown of galactic proportions. I was just trying to get him calm enough to take him out without an incident and, in a whisper, I told him that.
“How can I help?” He said.
Getting my son to the car was a small trial, but after a Vesuvius explosion of vented rage and frustration, we sat in the car. He fumed. I wept.
People came. People went.
As the meds I’d managed to stuff into my child finally worked, I contrasted this afternoon with the successful-ish visit to school earlier in the day. It was field day and all four of the students in my son’s class participated, or not, as they could. No game went as it was intended—though, the rolling tires up an incline only to chase them back down causing everyone to scatter like ten pins came pretty close. It was a physical metaphor of the emotional rollercoaster of autism parenting. What goes up will definitely come down. Probably with teeth marks embedded in it.
This is the refrain of my life. For every good moment where I manage a picnic lunch in the grass with my son and pictures are captured as proof, there is a corresponding, undocumented, black-hearted despair waiting in the wings to walk to center stage and take a giant, steamy dump.** Guess which memories last the longest?
I have reserved a small, smug nugget in my heart for the moms who struggle with their broad spectrum children. My son has had his moments, but I’ve been able to take him places and do things other families just didn’t. This makes you cocky. You want to think that you have the secret! You know something those other families don’t!
“Just push your child. Find his boundaries and respect them, but keep trying to push them.” I would think to myself.
The boundaries are now pushing back. And, at thirteen, they have the weight of an almost adult behind them. A proto-man who has his own mind and directions and preferences that I am now required to respect. Either that, or be prepared to count my fingers and come up with an odd number.***
I didn’t videotape the experience. I didn’t post it to Facebook. But for a bitter, self-indulgent, desperately tired moment I wanted to. I wanted the pity of nations and the poor-me sympathy of automatic outrage served up on a platter for autism families everywhere. It would feel so good, so soothing to be told I was right. That they were wrong. That people should be more understanding.
!!!VINDICATION IS MINE!!!
But knowing I was the one who pushed my child through the doors when he’d already said, “No!” I knew who to blame.
Being told to leave hurts. Every time. It hurts so very deep, in a place you can’t see and don’t want anyone to know is there. And every injury scars deeper than the last. Keloid patches leather your soul, making the effort to try again that much harder. It’s the smallest cuts that hurt the most; and a life with autism is death by a thousand cuts. With lemon juice squirted in for good measure. And a dash of salt.
So, while the rest of the world expands its horizons this weekend, I am weathering the storm at home, licking my wounds and trying not to be pitiful. Much.
Hopefully by next Friday, I’ll be ready to meet my childhood alter ego on the silver screen. I’ll have my silver arm bands ready and my lasso of truth set for introspection and self-revelation. And forgiveness. And I’ll be Wonder Woman once more.
*Internet Rage Fest–It’s the modern-day equivalent of Andy Warhol’s 15 minutes of fame except that it lasts forever and is shared until it reaches obscure corners of Outer Mongolia and beyond.
**Go ahead, try and scrapbook that image!
***Which my son would no doubt find oddly pleasing. He prefers odd numbers to even. He thinks numbers divisible by two are the devil.
Missing Easter eggs–taken from fridge–still not found?
This too shall pass.
Two teardrop shaped containers of food coloring found in son’s bedroom. Two still unaccounted for. Mattress now looks like Jackson Pollock vomited there.
This too shall pass.
No clean clothes today…most of child’s pants cut up by scissors or missing. Must remember to check the heat ducts later…
This too shall pass.
Looks in fridge. *Stares blankly* Where’d the chicken go?
This too shall pass.
If you are a happy parent, please stop reading here. If you find fulfillment of life in nurturing and raising your beautiful, perfect little yous. Go away. This is not the blog you are looking for and I won’t be nice about it.
If, however, you have had dark thoughts on miserable, cold days. If you haven’t showered in forever and aren’t entirely sure whether it’s Tuesday or the apocalypse. Join me, comrade. And welcome.
While studying to get a degree in Russian Studies*, we were assigned the work One Day In The Life of Ivan Denisovich by Alexander Solzhenitsyn. Its simplistic, yet brutal reflection of the miseries of life for prisoners in a Russian gulag are played out in a single day for the title character Ivan Denisovich. What I did not know then, while reading about the struggles of someone trapped in a cold, cheerless existence, is that it could just as well be a metaphor for what it is like to parent a special needs child.
This too shall pass.
This has become my mantra. This reassurance every time my son finds a new and inventive way to make me regret the wonders of fertility treatments: the bad moments pass. It is a lifeline when you feel you are drowning and desperate options rear their suggestive, ugly heads.
This too shall pass.
Sometimes you find yourself sitting by the side of the road weighing bad to worse choices. Because bad are the only choices you can see.
This too shall pass.
I took my son to a birthday party Friday for the son of a longtime friend in the Autism Community. Little Man refused to enter the building. When finally forced to enter, threw a massive tantrum, beating himself and biting his arms, until he realized he wasn’t getting his way and we were going to stay. He sat rigid, refusing to join in—in a place where other children played jumping on trampolines and swinging from giant swaths of spandex dangling from the airplane-hangar-sized ceiling beams. He tolerated it until I would let him go home again.
This too shall pass.
We traveled to the delightfully grey and 40-degree weather in Traverse City, Michigan. I drove for three hours. Got fifteen minutes in the hot tub of the hotel before my son screeched his regrets and left the pool; I took him for his requested walk to the nearby lake where he promptly wanted to leave; returned to the Comfort Inn to sleep to dream of wifi only to be woken at 6:00 a.m. because someone next door took a shower. This was a good day. No major meltdowns.
This too shall pass.
Then yesterday happened.
I took my son to an event sponsored by the school celebrating a program that is intended to engage children like mine with the neurotypical kids. The ones who can play the games and take part in ordinary life. The children not like my son.**
I run into his teachers and classroom aides.
“Little Man had a really good day today.” One person tells me.
“Really, he was very happy.” Another stops to greet my son.
This too shall pass.
They don’t hear it. They don’t hear the bell ringing, the tolling, sonorous carillon signaling the shift from happy child to frantic, exhausted, terrorized hulk.
Neither do I.
This too shall pass.
We win the most patriot looking red-white-and-blue cupcakes at the cake walk—on only our sixth or seventh time around. *Thank goodness.*
I coax my son into a bizarre game where marshmallows—a food my son loves—are tossed back and forth to be caught in cups. None of the marshmallows are supposed to be eaten, however, because they keep hitting the floor. My son sneaks one anyway, confused that he couldn’t eat them in the first place. Has no one heard of cotton balls?
This too shall pass.
I drag my reluctant child to a photo room where mustaches on sticks and leis are strewn to give families props to stage silly portraits. I manage a few with my unsmiling teen and he drags me out after thirty seconds.
This too shall pass.
He attempts to leave the building by several exits. We have only been there a half hour, but he wants out.
I ‘encourage’ my son to participate in a game in the library and he balks.
“One game. Candy Land…or Yahtzee. Then we can go.” I plead.
It is too much for him.
He is desperate and begins hitting himself violently.
Thwack. Thwack. Thwack.
It is the sound of someone testing a melon for ripeness. It is the distant sound of an axe biting into wood. It is my son’s fists cracking against his skull.
He is crying from angst or anger or frustration or stress or some combination of all of these emotions. Or none. Perhaps he is drained and all that is left is the hollow drum upon which he beats an empty tattoo.
This too shall pass.
I push him into a cozy nook for readers to sit by a pretend fire where a painted tree grows to spread its branches overhead. Or so my vague memory suggests. I was too busy dosing my child with a sedative so I could get him out of the building without scaring or hurting anyone.
This too shall pass.
As I am driving him home, I am blinded. Blinded by regrets that my son cannot take part in fun activities. That I don’t get to be the parent encouraging him to stretch his limits, but instead failing to recognize them in time to prevent catastrophe.
It is as if his emotions have spilled over from where he sits in the back seat tearing strips of paper to calm himself.*** He winds the paper around his fingers and I think, “At least he’s finally using all those summer workbooks I purchased.”
I am crying now for the pain he feels but cannot express. For the fact he can never, ever make any real friends because he has such devastating limitations.
That he is so broken and so am I.
This too shall pass.
I pull off the road because, really, I can’t see now. I can’t see the point in continuing.
I park in an empty florist’s lot. The strip of grass that divides my car from the busy traffic is a green wedge of nature slipped between asphalt boundaries and a Panera coffee shop.
I am tired. I am listening to the recording of my parenting failures skipping and repeating in my head. And before anyone thinks to tell me what I great mom I am. Stop. Just stop.
Because you don’t know the thoughts I had.
This too shall pass.
You don’t hear the insidious little fucking voices in your head telling you that there has got to be an easier way than this. That life shouldn’t be this hard. That life shouldn’t be this…
This too shall pass.
You all think there are programs to help families in need. You all think we are getting help to make it through the every-fucking-day struggle of making yourself get up when black thoughts drag you down.
Maybe there are. But you know what? I don’t qualify for them; barely anyone does. You apply through miles of red tape, applications, certifications, interviews, and, if you are lucky, you are put on a wait list to try and get one of the 450 some slots the entire fucking state has to help people with severely handicapped children who don’t qualify for Medicaid.
You heard me. 450 slots. For a state with a population approaching 10 million.
You all think that there must be someone out there helping families like mine make good choices and to step in when things get bleak or despairing. You would be dead wrong.
This too shall pass.
This is the problem with real life. Ugly thoughts are like rancid cheerleaders rooting for destruction. There are no angels to balance you out. Sometimes the monsters win.
But not today.
This too shall pass.
I watch the robins bobbing on the slender manicured lawn that is trapped on all sides by concrete barriers and the threat of chemical castration or decapitation by lawn mower for any daring weeds. The little red-breasted birds are rejoicing in the abundance of rain-forced worms.
This too shall pass.
I turn on the book on tape I’ve borrowed from the library.
In writing this, I was reminded that in college, I found One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich to be uplifting. Despite all of the misery, Ivan Denisovich finds moments of grace—not religious—but humanizing that help him to eek joy from the life he does have.
Ivan Denisovich got fish eyes in his soup.
I got robins bobbing for worms and the lyrical beginnings of a musician who might be a magician. Or vice versa. I’m not sure yet. The story has only begun.
I’ll have to listen for another day.
Asterisk Bedazzled Footnote:
*Because I’m all about collecting useless degrees. Ask me about my aborted career as a teacher. Go ahead, *cocks imaginary pistol* ASK.
**The normals (aka The Little Fuckers.)
***The real reason why I donated my son’s books to the school—because watching him destroy something I love and had hoped would connect us is too painful.
I am fine. It was just a bad moment. We all have them. Do not contact the authorities or the Department of Human Services. I shared this to let the world know we have a problem with our resources and mental health care assistance to families in need and maybe to let other parents of special needs children know they are not alone. We just need support.
If you want to act, check out our local Autism Support of Kent County (A.S.K) agency http://www.autismsupportofkentcounty.org. They have helped my family as well as others in various outreach programs and financial aid for summer camps and therapies. Their Annual Walk for Autism is Sunday, May 7, 12:00 noon– at John Ball Zoo, 1300 Fulton W, Grand Rapids, MI 49504. If he’ll go, I’ll be the one leading my son around with a bag of marshmallows.
Just after posting my celebratory hurrah about our South Haven Adventures last week, I get home and decide to compound my success by being a ‘good parent.’*
“C’mon son. Let’s go for a walk.” I say.
I’m thinking of a brisk stroll, fresh air, and then getting back to the house to tackle some work. It is a good game plan.**
As I have mentioned before, my son is a runner. He would explore a lion’s den given half a chance. Like Austin Powers, his middle name is “Danger.” Unfortunately, this evening is no exception. As we walk, he keeps pointing out buildings he would like to ‘visit’ and even writes house numbers down on his papers when I don’t seem to pick up on his subtle signals when he tries to drag me to the front door.
The night is turning colder when I spot the Grand Villa in the distance. This is a local restaurant which goes by the nickname “The Dungeon” because of its subterranean locale. If I had seen their website beforehand, I might have taken heed of the warning they post in their tagline:
Teeth chattering, I haul my child away from the housing complex he is lunging toward—a nondescript giant block of apartments in what once was a large family home. Seeing as my son is now 5 feet 6 inches tall and weighs as much as an overindulged Great Dane, this takes some effort.
I lure him in with the promise of chocolate milk.
Twenty minutes later, warm again and well quaffed, we gather our things to go. Then I consider the nearly mile-long walk back to the house…in the cold…and decide the bathroom should be our first stop. I send my son into the men’s room and wait for a few seconds…before deciding I’d better make sure myself and pop into the ladies.
I swear I peed in less than a minute and was back out to wait for my son. A MINUTE. That’s all it took. My clever, devious, Machiavellian boy was gone.
You can pretty much predict the rest. After a frantic and futile search of the area, I’m on the phone with 911. While talking with them, I see a police car pull up alongside the road. I hail them while I’m on the phone with the operator.***
Now I’m babbling at two different sets of people—neither of whom can understand me—when someone calls out:
“We’ve found him!”
Another police officer escorts my happy, oblivious-to-the-chaos-he-causes boy to my weeping embrace.
My son is returned safe and sound and, though he had broken into a home, no one is hurt. A few papers are stolen and have to be retrieved. He’d even had time to scribble calendars on the back as a memento to the family he invaded. I hope they frame them.
In those interminable minutes he is out of my grasp, I imagine enough scenarios to make my heart stop a thousand times. I am honestly surprised it doesn’t kill me.
Once home, my child goes to bed with no complaints. I think on some level he recognizes mommy has had it. I turn off my phone and tune out the world and spend the evening overwrought and shaking.
The next day, I find the energy to call my mom.
“Hey, mom…Little Man is okay, but I have to tell you something that happened last night. Understand, I can’t take any comments about what might have happened. I still feel so emotionally raw I can barely breathe.”
My mom knows about loss. I had a sister—Robin. She died of crib death before I was even born. As a result, mom has had a super-charged paranoia about any dangers we faced as kids and I think this has multiplied exponentially for her grandchildren.
I re-live the night before as factually as I can without breaking down. She lets me vent. It is what I need—a shoulder to cry on without judgment. It is phone call catharsis at its best. Mom says she’ll check in on me later, but she has something to do first. I ring off feeling a shade lighter than before.
My mom stops by that afternoon, carrying a cooler. I unpack it while she tells me a story of her own. When I get to the table with a warm bundle wrapped in a towel, she is drawing me a map as she talks:
“When I was a little girl, my father took me to the ice cream shop at the Occidental Hotel in Muskegon. It’s torn down now, but it was located between Clay and Webster Street downtown—it’s in the same area the Frauenthal Theater and the culinary school are now.”
I pull up my computer to help in the search for yesteryear landmarks. We have a doozy of a time since mom—who has a much better sense of direction than me—apparently can’t reorient her mind to the north-on-top directionality Google maps insists on presenting.
“Anyway, they had a famous hot fudge sauce that I absolutely loved. We didn’t go out very often so it was a big treat to go there. So I made this for you!”
As mom is saying this, she’s unwrapping the towel to reveal a small Corningware casserole dish wrapped in plastic wrap with a band of duct tape for extra insurance. (She’s not messing around with spills!)
“After you told me about your adventure, I thought you could use a treat.” Mom says.
She makes me sit down with a big bowl of ice cream and a dollop of the chocolaty, silken sauce melting over the white caps of vanilla-y goodness.
She then tells me more about our connections to the famed hotel with the equally famous sauce.
“Do you remember the lamp your father brought back when they sold off the property and its belongings?” She asks.
I would have been eight in 1975, and home furnishings weren’t a high priority in my experience, so I shake my head and take a bite. I swallow her memories with each taste.
“It was a heavy iron lamp and we put it in your room with the flowered Crosscill bedspread and curtains—you remember those?”
I had loved that frilly bedroom set up until I left for the Army. It was gone when I got back home four years later and I truly mourned its loss. I nod and lick the spoon. No words are necessary when you have hot fudge. Mom continues to wax nostalgic about the past:
“I was nineteen in 1959. I remember going to a Valentine’s dance there once–sponsored by the Elks, I think. A boyfriend, Jack Boles, took me to a ball at the hotel when we were dating. Do you remember the beautiful dress you borrowed for school that was stolen?”
This I distinctly remember. It was my first experience with theft. I borrowed it for a theater skit for a character in the show. It was gorgeous red dress of some kind of stiff but silky material. I have never quite forgiven myself for losing that dress.
“It was a play, Mom. We were performing at the elementary school. The dress disappeared from the prop and costume boxes before we finished the shows.” I interject. I’m apologetic—it’s a script we’ve enacted whenever we rehash the event.
“It had a square bodice and the style was so grown up. The sheer overlay matched the underskirt perfectly. Do you remember the fabric?” Mom holds her hands out as if measuring the width of a belled skirt.
“It had a swirly pattern—nothing distinct, like paisley, but more like the swirls you see when oil floats on water.” I say.
[A hunt online produced similar styles but nothing is exactly like what she had:]
Close but no cigar!
Similar tulle overlay
Now it’s her turn to nod.
“Yes! I wore it when I was in the beauty contest at the ball—you’ve seen that picture, right?”
It is a small, black-n-white snapshot of three women in ball gowns. Mom was the first runner-up. In the photo, she stands to the left of two other women—all dressed up and carrying bouquets of now, long-dead flowers. It was a night of beautiful memories.
The fudge sauce is slowly disappearing as we reminisce. We look online trying to find a photo of the ice cream parlor that existed before The Occidental Hotel was imploded in 1975 to make way for a parking lot. But all we can find are details of the implosion. The article is an epitaph for a leveled landmark torn down in pursuit of a mall that would later close of its own fiscal demise.
The ice cream is gone and I scoop up the remains of the cooling, lava-like gooeyness to store in the fridge.
“Be sure to hide it from the boy or he’ll eat it all!” Mom warns before giving me a hug goodbye.
It’s after she’s gone and I’m cleaning up that I realize what she’s done. It is what all mothers do—try to make it better. When you skin your knee, she offers a kiss. It is a little sugar to take away the bitterness that life sometimes hands you. I may be an adult, but I am not immune to the sway of childhood remedies or memories—be they mine or my mother’s. The sweetness cannot stop the pain, but it can make it better. And when those remembrances come with chocolate sauce—it surely does.
Asterisk Bedazzled Footnote:
*Being a Good Parent—a laudable goal that, when I try to do it on purpose, results in immediate failure.
**Life is out to get me most of the time and rarely needs a good reason. Still, I thought, in light of my good intentions, the universe was being a real shit not to reward me.
***No matter how many times I have called 911, I do not improve with experience. I am just as hysterical and useless each and every time. I owe sincere apologies to the people who man those phones…and probably a fruit basket.
———–You read this far bonus—————–
I just had to include this photo. It is the entire line up of contestants from that long ago Valentine’s beauty pageant.