Monthly Archives: August 2011

Fifteen

I woke up this morning, blinking my eyes and stretching, with “Let It Be” running through my mind. You know – the song by The Beatles. I lay there a minute, listening, absorbing, wondering why it was in my head, and then I knew. It was a really big day, and I couldn’t be there for it.

Aidan, my younger son, my baby, is fifteen today. And today is also his first day of high school. Those two things are big enough already, but here’s the piece de resistance – his high school is in Los Angeles, 700 miles away from me. He is fifteen, and he has chosen to live with his father now, a decision that I accept with love.

For nine years (perhaps longer, subconsciously), I knew that this day would come. I remember the summer that he turned six, the first summer that he went for several weeks to visit his dad, who had moved to L.A. from Oregon six months before. Aidan came back to Oregon after the visit confused and angry that he had to leave his dad to come home, that his dad lived far away. At age six, Aidan was not able to identify and verbalize his emotions surrounding this, and he lashed out at me and told me that he didn’t love me and didn’t want to live with me. I knew that he was hurting, and that I was the parent he could take it out on. He was just six years old, and it was the only thing he could do. I ached for him more than myself. And it was then that I knew – one day, he would go.

But I knew for sure last year in September, when he started talking about it in earnest. Not just talking about it, but telling me that he planned to go to high school in L.A., and that his dad was very happy about it. Although supportive, I put off dealing with it emotionally, thinking that things might change, but deep down, I knew. And in January I realized that I had just six months left with my younger son in my daily presence and decided that I needed to focus on him. I alluded to that in my final blog post at Teen Autism, and from then on I spent about five evenings a week with Aidan – playing board games, reading together, talking, or watching movies and X-Files episodes.

And my beautiful, sweet son not only wanted to spend that extra time with me, he made it a priority. He cut down on his X-Box Live time with his buddies in favor of board game nights or movie nights with Mom. And I wasn’t the only recipient of his familial attention. Aidan made it a point to spend extra time with Nigel, really hanging out with him doing the quality time gig, and doing it sincerely. He got down on the floor and built Lego worlds with Nigel, doing something that most teens (himself included) had outgrown years ago. Aidan talked with him about movie ideas and patiently offered suggestions. Without verbalizing it (at least not when I was around), he seemed to realize that the longest he and Nigel had ever been apart was five days while Nigel was at Scout camp. I wasn’t the only one who would be affected by this big change, and Aidan knew it.

But that’s the kind of person he is – empathetic, patient, intuitive, proactive. Like his brother, he’s a different sort of teen, but in different ways. He couldn’t care less about sports, but he loves to bodysurf. He reads voraciously, mostly science fiction, but also National Geographic, J.R.R. Tolkien, Get Fuzzy, and Game Informer. He’s not into any current music – whatsoever. He can’t stand most of what his peers listen to. Aidan’s into old rock (CCR and AC/DC) and classic metal (Black Sabbath and Dio). He even likes Journey and still loves Bob Marley. When I mentioned that today was his “Golden Birthday,” he didn’t know what that meant and didn’t care. And I love that. I love his hair and his clothes. I love his mind and his heart. I love everything about him, even his rigid eating habits and his nonchalance about his grades.

This is the baby who slept in my bed for nine months. This is the three-year-old who wasn’t talking and needed speech therapy. This is the seven-year-old who said he feels like he has two lives. This is the ten-year-old who told me he’s always felt like the older brother. This is the teenager who needs the space to carve out his own identity. And this is the same six-year-old missing his father.

And so, I am letting go and letting it be. That’s what the past year has been about – preparing for this moment. For a while I tried to fool myself by pretending that he’s going away to college four years early, but I don’t need to do that anymore. I miss him, of course, terribly so. But he is doing what I have always known he would need to do, and I honor that. He is fifteen, and he is on his path. He always has been.

Happy Birthday, Aidan, my amazing son. I am so happy to be your mom and so blessed to have you in my life. I love you more than words could ever say.


The Life in a Number

at a castle in Hungary with my sister, Anastasia, and our dad, 2007

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I was filling out a medical form today, doing the family history section, and for the first time since his death almost four months ago, I had to fill in the “age-of-death” box for my father. Sixty-seven. I know there are people, children, unfortunately, whose parents die at considerably younger ages than that, but the very sad fact is that I’d hoped – expected – to have about twenty-five more years with him.

I tell myself how grateful I should be that I had the time with him that I did, that, in my adulthood, we developed a very positive relationship. And I am grateful. Because some people don’t even have that. I appreciate every moment I had with him, every memory that I hope will linger the rest of my life.

But that doesn’t make me miss him any less. That doesn’t make the grief go away, the wishing he was still here.  Wishing he could read the new book I’m writing. Wishing I could pick up the phone and talk to him, hear about his most recent international trip, tell him I love him.

I take a break, go make and eat my dinner. I’m by myself while my boys are visiting their dad, so I read this month’s National Geographic while I eat. There’s an article on Myanmar, a country Dad loved. He’d been there twice I think, perhaps more. I look around my home and see so many lovely international souvenirs that I inherited from him – the silk rugs from China (where I watched him diplomatically haggle), beaded tapestries from India and Thailand, an embroidered pillow from Greece, an alpaca chullo hat from Peru. I remember climbing the Eiffel Tower with him on one trip and, on a later trip, watching him try not to cry as he embraced relatives in Slovakia whom he hadn’t seen for forty years.

I remember Dad taking my brother and me to Dodger games, how he held me up over the waves at Laguna Beach, how he sang so beautifully at church every Sunday, how he read bedtime stories to us. I remember the day that he taught me to ride a bike, jogging along beside me, letting go when he knew I was ready. And then there was the year and a half that he babysat his grandsons for two afternoons every week, because Nigel had been rejected by various daycares due to his autism.  There are all the trips, all the phone calls, the plays Dad and I saw together. All those memories add up to so much more than a number on a form.

I think about how much that little box on the medical form really holds. Not just the things he’d done with his life and the places he’d been, but the love. So much love. “67” in a box that says “age of death” above it only says that he didn’t live a very long life. It doesn’t say how much life was in those 67 years. And if the box took up the whole page it still wouldn’t be big enough.

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Grief, I’ve come to learn, cannot be confined to a time period or a schedule. It’s a lot like love in that way, which continues on long after death. And, like life, it won’t fit into a little box with a number scrawled inside it. It’s big and it’s full, consuming and unapologetic. I’m making my way through it, holding onto the memories, feeling the love.