Category Archives: Lives in the Different Lane

The Journey: My Deepest Regret

aidan portland zoo

“I always felt like I was the older brother.”

“I knew I couldn’t count on you.”

“You met my physical needs but that was it.”

These are things I’ve heard over the past few months from my younger son, the one who doesn’t have a developmental disability. He turned twenty this month, and we’ve had some difficult discussions about him growing up with a special needs sibling and a full-time single parent. Prior to hearing these words, I hoped I hadn’t done as badly as I feared. I had hoped he would be okay, that he wouldn’t resent me for the areas where I had failed him.

I was wrong. I honestly did the best I could with the limited support I had. But I should have tried harder.

*

I’ve heard from different sources (including a seminar I recently attended) that kids who have special needs siblings either overachieve to compensate or underachieve as perhaps a subconscious way to get their own needs met. And for those in the latter group, the worst time is supposed to be after age 18, as they’re entering adulthood. Their development seems to be in a holding pattern; they are stymied, directionless, depressed. Many of their needs weren’t met while growing up, and it affects them, more than most people realize. More than I realized.

Yes, many children have far worse childhoods, some full of abuse and trauma.  So, no, having a special needs sibling isn’t the worst that could have happened to my son. But he has a right to feel the way he does, to view the whole experience the way he did, and the need to be validated for it.

The special needs sibling? His needs were met twofold, as evidenced by how well he’s doing in adulthood (with daily support). But what about the sibling without the disability? Weren’t his needs just as special? Just as crucial to be met?

*

He’s twenty, and I’m just now teaching him to drive. For whatever reason he said he didn’t want to when he was younger. But the sad truth is this: I was then, as always, preoccupied with meeting his brother’s needs. So he’s ready to learn to drive now. He needs to. And this is a need of his I can fulfill.

So help me, every day I will look for more.

[Image: Aidan, age three, at the Portland zoo] 

Answering “So What Do You Do?”

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She tells me that her 11-year-old son, who is on the autism spectrum, hits her and laughs. When he watches a DVD he will put his Mario Brothers backpack next to him on the couch and talk to the backpack. He carries it around and hugs it. He dumps all the shampoo down the drain. She tells me that he holds knives to his throat and threatens to kill himself.

*

As a Behavior Consultant I go into people’s homes and talk with them about some of the most difficult aspects of their lives. I am part confidant, part counselor, part troubleshooter, part scapegoat. I work with families, foster providers, and agencies. I create and implement behavior supports for people with developmental disabilities, ranging in age from 3 to 62. I use visual supports to provide structure and consistency for those who have great difficulty functioning without it, often resulting in challenging behavior to try to meet their needs, especially if they are not able to communicate through speech.

Here’s a sample of what was on my calendar this past month:

  • Write a Functional Assessment for a nonverbal 5-year-old whose grandmother is his primary caregiver
  • Via a sign language interpreter, teach sex education to a 23-year-old deaf woman who has Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder
  • Drive an hour and a half to a different county to work with a 4-year-old girl with Down Syndrome who hits her head on the floor
  • Create social stories and checklists for two different teenagers and three preteens, all having significant challenges with emotional self-regulation
  • Develop strategies of positive reinforcement for a ten-year-old boy with FASD who exhibits physical and verbal aggression, property destruction, and other difficult behaviors
  • Teach a 2-day workshop on positive behavior supports and protective physical intervention
  • Attend a 3-day conference on dual diagnosis – people who have both a developmental disorder and a mental disorder, like my son (who has both autism and bipolar)

It is equally an honor and a challenge. [Troubleshooter.] But sometimes it’s a huge challenge. Some people expect me to have a magic wand. I make a suggestion and they try it once or for a week and get frustrated when it “doesn’t work.” [Scapegoat.] Others want to spend the entire hour talking about personal things that have nothing to do with their child. [Confidant.]  Some people cry when they’re describing what they go through and how isolated they feel, and that’s when I look in their eyes and tell them I’ve been there. [Counselor.]

I didn’t set out to work in this field, in this position. I didn’t want to be this when I grew up. But at different points in my life I wanted to write, I wanted to teach, and I wanted to be a counselor. And because my 21-year-old son has multiple disorders, and because I wanted to support other parents so things could be easier for them than they were for me, after years of writing and volunteering and connecting, this position was offered to me. I am now all those things I wanted to be when I grew up. And I have a really cool response to that cocktail party question.

*

She speaks Spanish, and we communicate through an interpreter. I tell her I understand, that my son went through a period of time when he would bang his head on the floor and wanted to “rip the autism out” of his head. That I found him one night threatening to hang himself. I ask if she would like my son to come and talk to her son, tell him that he felt the same way but came to terms with it, with being different. She says Yes, tears forming in her eyes. I explain to her that her son views Mario as his friend; my son felt that way about Winnie the Pooh. A squeeze bottle with water and a little dish soap inside solved the shampoo problem. If only they were all that easy.

5 Questions for a Parent of a Child with a Rare Seizure Disorder

Hope for a Sea Change cover art

Sometimes Life in the Different Lane pushes you further than you ever thought you could go. I’m honored to interview my friend Elizabeth Aquino, author of the memoir Hope for a Sea Change and A Moon, Worn As If It Had Been a Shell, her blog. The exquisitely written Hope for a Sea Change chronicles the first year of her experience with her daughter’s life-long struggle with epilepsy. I am indebted to Elizabeth for her candor, openness, and generosity in doing this interview.

1. You had mentioned that you came to like people you “wouldn’t otherwise have dreamed of knowing or even liked.”  What other aspects of having a child with a disability have you experienced that you wouldn’t have if Sophie weren’t in your life?  

I honestly look on my life before I had Sophie as another one entirely, so everything that’s happened since seems marked by her presence. I know that I would never have made my home in California and discovered the part of the world where I am happiest despite however many hardships I face. I love the Pacific ocean and the temperate air and the easy access to desert, mountain and sea. I also love the accessibility of progressive ideas about health and natural medicine and acupuncture — alternative medicine in general — that I never would have learned about nor embraced had I not had Sophie and sought alternatives for her.

2.  What was it that caused you to feel “a strange sense of relief despite having handed my baby to a stranger,” especially since it sounds like you hadn’t gone into the room with her?

It’s difficult to articulate how powerful and life-changing Dr. Frymann was and became in our lives. She was old and very stooped and small, even then nearly twenty years ago, yet she exuded peace. I’ve very much learned to trust my instincts since meeting and entrusting Sophie to Dr. Frymann. I think she embodied all that was inarticulate inside of me, my dread at how Sophie was being treated, my intuition that she was being harmed and not helped, etc. When she took Sophie from me, I felt relieved somehow of the burden, that someone was finally going to help us.

3.  You had written if someone told you that you would eventually make California your home, and that you would have two more children there, you would have “shaken my head and laughed.” At what point did you decide to make the move?

I made three trips out to southern California for six weeks at a time over about two years when I was still living in New York City. The osteopath’s treatments were really helping Sophie, and I found going back to dark and cold New York harder and harder, even though I did love living there. Sophie seemed to thrive during her times in California, so my husband and I thought it might be good to just move out temporarily to give it a go and commit to treatments twice a week for as long as it took. When he got a transfer and promotion with his job, and his company actually paid for our move, it seemed destined. Still, we didn’t expect to stay forever, but one year turned into two and then three — and now we’re working on the seventeenth!

4.  Did Sophie’s disability affect your decision to have more children?

Yes, it did. I’ve written quite a bit about that, but deciding to have another child was both terrifying and entirely impulsive. I knew that I had to have more children. I wanted more children. When Henry was born and developed normally, I began to think that I should have at least another so that we weren’t always defined as the family with one disabled and one not — that sounds terrible to me now, but at the time I wanted Sophie to not only be a part of a larger family (more people to love her!) but also to give Henry support as we aged. That kind of thinking came much later, though, when it became more and more apparent that Sophie would be dependent on us for the rest of our and her life.

5.  If you could go back and tell your younger self anything to prepare her for the parenting experience ahead of her, what would you say?

Hell, I don’t know. Run away now to Bora Bora and don’t look back? In all seriousness, I’d probably advise my younger self to get marriage therapy and individual therapy sooner. I’d accept help — any kind — and I’d exercise more.

Thank you, Elizabeth!

5 Questions for a Sister Contributor

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I’m delighted to announce that one of my essays has been published in Sisters Born, Sisters Found, an anthology celebrating sisterhood, edited by Laura McHale Holland. It’s a lovely book about the love of sisters, biological or not. I recently had the honor of interviewing one of my fellow contributors, Catharine Bramkamp, a writing coach, professor, and author of many works of fiction, non-fiction, articles, essays, and poetry. For more info about her, please click here.

 

1. How would you describe the vision for your writing, present and future?

One of the reasons I chose to write Future Girls and focus the story as a YA – and Science Fiction is to influence my readers. I think YA readers think more, and understand more about both their own reality and better – the future, and sometimes the best way to convince a reader that the world needs to change is to offer the worst case scenario.  What I want to demonstrate is you can change the future;   It doesn’t take much, a word here, an invention there – and we can create a future that is  best for us, for both women and men. The theme of the book is that if society isn’t good for girls – it’s not good for anyone.    Oh, and my own future is tied up with Future Girls books:  the second Future Girls – Future Gold, will be out this next fall and I’m writing Future Run.  So the future is all about the future!

 

2. It sounds like being a Realtor/Broker inspired the Real Estate Diva Mystery Series. What inspired Future Girls?

Future Girls was inspired by a visit to Saudi Arabia. There wasn’t much to explore in the small town we were allowed to visit, so we ended up at a shopping mall. In the mall stood women’s stores, side by side.   The first store featured long burqas, coats, full head scarves available in every color ranging from black to navy.  The second store looked like Fredrick’s of Hollywood on steroids.  Brightly colored bras and negligees vied for attention in the store window, dresses fit for prom or Quinceanera in brilliant orange, purple and pink sequins, frills and tule spilled out of the shop doors and danced along the store front.  The male guide explained that their women liked to look beautiful for their men in the privacy of their home.

Which was bullshit.

Women don’t dress for men. Women dress for other women. And that was my trigger. If Saudi women were dressing up and showing off to their women friends in the privacy of their homes, and indeed, far away from the men in the family, what else are they doing in the privacy of their home? If the men of your society have marginalized you so completely that you are only able to communicate with other women, ever, what would you communicate?  What would you plot?  Once the women tired of dressing up, what was next?  In my mind, it was science, time travel, changing their situation in a way that circumvented the men in their lives.  The essential idea is:  if you can’t join the club, change all the rules for membership.

 

3. How do you create balance and engagement in your blog posts with having both fiction and non-fiction readers and clients?

Often the skills that we need to use for fiction, good story telling, also applies to non-fiction writing.  So my advice, and many of the subjects of my blogs, is to encourage my clients both working on fiction or nonfiction, to tell the story.  Tell the story about your business, or your clients (names changed) tell the story of your fictional characters.  It’s all about the story, and so the skills we need for fiction and non-fiction are often the same.

 

4. I love your poem in Sisters Born, Sisters Found. Did you ever “formulate the perfect transparent exit strategy”? What else can you tell us about your sisterly relationship?

I grew up with just one brother, so I have been delighted with my found sisters!

I wrote the poem after my Sorority (Chi Omega) big sister visited me in California, The poem summed up many years of friendship and sisterhood found.  We have been sisters now for longer than we’ve been wives or mothers.    I treasure this idea and I treasure her!  I sent her a copy of Sisters Born/Sisters Found and she loved it, and was very moved by the poem, it was a tribute to her and how important our found sisters really are.

Our exit strategy is all about eliminate the damn holiday fuss.  It’s been hard slog, I got out of decorating a live tree this year, but she didn’t!

 

5. In what way might you find yourself in the “Different Lane”?

I love what you do here on this blog, telling the story of how people find themselves, sometimes quite abruptly, in a different lane.

My lane change has been all about shifting out of the middle lane of self-improvement. I’ve been clutching the steering wheel, freaked out that the fast lane to the right is passing me by but the slow lane is not acceptable and so I’ve been traveling here in the middle, not relaxed, and not appreciating my life.  So I’m switching lanes and going on a self-improvement diet.

It’s so easy to default to fixing ourselves, taking another class, joining another Master Mind group, attending another self-improvement retreat.  And I thought, I’m switching lanes, I want to move forward without all the drag of self-help, without – dare I say it? – Making myself all that much better.  So I’m moving out of the know-yourself-better-take- this-test lane and into either the fast lane so I can reach my goals faster or maybe even the slow lane so I can enjoy the scenery. I’d let you know how it goes, but if I succeed, I will not have changed a bit!

 

Hope: Is It in You?

In the past week, I have met with a Vocational Rehab counselor, written a visual support social story about going to doctor appointments, created multiple visual support schedules, and contacted an agency that provides long-term in-home support for people who need assistance meeting their needs. Last week, I left work and picked up my 19-year-old son and took him to sign paperwork for his case manager – twice, because the first agency that was supposed to provide the in-home support fell through, so my son had to come in and sign another release authorization so that his Functional Assessment could be sent to the new agency. His previous case manager asked if we could go to her office to sign some other freaking paperwork. She offered to mail it and I said Yes, please. Next week, I go to our state capital for a six-month course I’m taking called Partners in Policymaking (more about that here). It’s a four-hour drive one way, and I do this every month, so that I can learn how to help my son have the most fulfilling adulthood possible.

This is some of what you do when you have a child with a disability and he or she is transitioning to adulthood. Other parents have to change their adult child’s briefs, or feed them by hand, brush their teeth, help them bathe, or carry them up the stairs. Others look at residential homes for their child, as I did last year. And when they’ve been there for two months and the caregiver calls you and says, “He’s not functioning here,” you have to move him again, back home, and then the process starts all over as you try to find something else.

I go out in the community and see my son’s previous classmates. They are also 19 years old and working their way through college. Some of them live at home still. But they register for classes themselves and take themselves to dental appointments and don’t have Functional Assessments and their parents don’t have to constantly leave work and pick them up and drive them to various agencies to sign release forms. If they have to sign anything they go and do it themselves.

I have been doing this – parenting a child who has had years of therapy appointments, IEP meetings, behavioral challenges, and other issues too numerous to list – by myself for 15 years. And it’s not over yet. It may never be over. I don’t think there is a word to describe how I feel. Exhausted doesn’t begin to cover it. Drained is part of it, but there’s more to it than that. And I have another child, so I know that when there’s no disability involved, you still have to do all the regular things that parents do for their kids, but it’s so much easier. Believe me, it is.

I’m guessing there are other parents out there who feel as I do. And I don’t like to write about it because the last thing I would want is for my son to feel that he’s been a burden to me. He has taught me many things, and I am a better person for it. It may not sound like it, but I’m very grateful. In fact, it’s not so much him and helping him to meet his needs as it is doing it by myself. If being a parent is “the toughest job you’ll ever love,” what is being a single parent? What do you call it when you’re still doing it and your child is an adult?

I realize that I’m not sounding very gracious, like I’m feeling sorry for myself. Maybe I’m venting. But something’s got to give. When you don’t see a light at the end of the tunnel because the tunnel never ends, how do you keep going? I meditate (when I can fit it in), I pray, I have a mantra that I say to myself throughout the day, I go to support group meetings, but I feel like I have nothing left, like this rodeo has kicked my sorry ass, and I have to keep getting up and getting back on that horse, over and over again.

And somehow I do. I push through it and keep going, with a little venting, a lot of patience, and the hope that I’ve got it in me to continue.

 

Image courtesy of www.http://fccowasso.com

Roller Skating in the Different Lane

My first pair of roller skates, a gift for my eighth birthday, looked very similar to the ones in the picture except the toe clamps on mine were a bit larger and covered with red vinyl. I loved having roller skates. We lived at the top of a hill in a suburban residential neighborhood in L.A. County, and I would skate down the hill on the sidewalk, occasionally crashing on random front lawns when I got going too fast (notice the absence of toe brakes on these things). I would spray WD40 on the metal wheels when they got so gunky they wouldn’t turn evenly. But after a while that didn’t help much.

And then Xanadu came out when I was almost 10. I wanted nothing more than to have a pair of leather shoe skates, preferably white, like my friends had. I was as embarrassed by how my old metal skates looked as much as I was frustrated by how often the wheels got stuck. After a while a friend of mine received a new pair of skates for her birthday and offered to give me her old ones. They were white leather shoe skates with orange wheels and toe brakes! I was ecstatic and figured with these skates I would finally be able to learn to skate backwards (impossible to do when wheels get stuck).

I had to loosen the toe brakes and turn them around because my friend had worn them down to nearly nothing on the front. But for a girl who had managed for almost three years with no brakes at all, it wasn’t even an issue. They did, however, come in handy while learning to skate backwards. I would spray WD40 on the wheels and man, those skates were fast. They were a bit big, though. I had to stuff the toes with paper towels so that my feet didn’t slide around too much. By the time I grew into them, the toe brakes were completely gone and I had started using the sides of the wheels to brake, so the wheels were getting lopsided and I would thunk, thunk along instead of roll.

And finally, I think for my twelfth birthday, I had my own pair of new white leather shoe skates. They were beautiful, and they fit me for about a year. And when I grew up and had kids and my nine-year-old son indicated an interest in roller skating, I bought him inline skates that were adjustable (I specifically researched this). Because I had learned a few things from roller skating, and not just the need for them to be adjustable.

I learned that sometimes one skate is operating fine and the other skate becomes stuck. One skate is going along, functioning, and the other skate has some issues. The other skate is a long-term single parent. The other skate has a special needs child, or a spouse with a terminal illness, or a family member with an addiction. The other skate has lost its job or has a significant disorder. And so, gradually and over time, the other skate gets stickier and stickier, until you have no choice but to drag it along or to go in circles.

Sometimes you can trade off doing those things for years. For a while you keep dragging the stuck skate, trying to move forward. Then you get tired so you let the stuck skate stay put while you keep making half-circles around it, wishing that it would become unstuck. Finally you sit down and put a bunch of oil on the stuck skate. You’ve already done that, but you can’t think of anything else to do. So you get up and drag the stuck skate so you can keep inching forward.

But there’s something interesting about that. In order to keep moving forward, you have to push off using the stuck skate. You go forward a ways and then you have to position yourself so that the stuck skate can provide the leverage to propel you forward again. Yes. The stuck skate can actually help you move farther (and in a different direction) than you would have otherwise gone.

So accept that your stuck skate is the way it is. For however long it will remain in your life, learn to work with it. You are stronger because of it. And without it you wouldn’t be the person you are today.

 

Sisters, Traditions, and All the Good That Comes with Them

IMG_4390There is a trio of closely grouped volcanic peaks in the Cascade Mountain Range in central Oregon called the Three Sisters. Each one is over ten thousand feet, and they have 15 named glaciers among them. North Sister, the oldest of the three (real-life counterpart: me, the writer and special needs advocate), is the most eroded of the three, with towering rock pinnacles and glaciers. Middle Sister, the next oldest (Macrina, the Forester and wild land firefighter), is the smallest, shaped like a cone that has lost its east side due to glaciations. South Sister, the youngest (Anastasia, the actress/craft food chef in Los Angeles), is the tallest (often due to platform heels) and has a summit crater that holds a small lake known as Teardrop Pool. By some coincidence (for my family, anyway) there is another peak in the group called Little Brother (whose real-life counterpart is our brother, Lex, an actor/theater group manager also in Los Angeles, and who, incidentally, is “little brother” only to me and “big” to the other sisters).

I’m sure you don’t come here for geology lessons, but I thought it would be an interesting way to describe my siblings, two of whom I got together with recently for our annual Sisters Rafting Trip. Yes, every summer for at least 12 years the Sisters have taken a 3-hour rafting trip down the Rogue River in southern Oregon. (The Brother, always invited, usually comes up to Oregon at different times of the year, and has never made it on the annual rafting trip. However, since this year we took pictures of how much fun we have, he seems motivated to join us for future trips.)

The Rogue flows about 215 miles in a westward direction from the Cascades to the Pacific (sorry, more geology). I would venture to guess that it’s one of the colder rivers in Oregon, and I’ve been in several of them. And parts of the Rogue are quite wild, which make it one of the original eight rivers named in the National Wild and Scenic Rivers Act of 1968. Parts of The River Wild were filmed on it. Almost every year people die on it.

The Sisters don’t raft those parts. No, we raft the 3-4 mile stretch that is affectionately known as “The Booze Cruise.” We laugh that there might be one Class 2 rapid on that part. The wettest you get (unless you voluntarily get in or someone pushes you off the side of the raft, where you had been innocently lying in the sun, unsuspecting) is when your teenage son or one of his friends decides to start a water war with neighboring rafters and begins exchanging fire using the 3-foot-long water gun tubes. And that’s when you lean over to the sister nearest to you and say, Next time we take that kid rafting, he’s going in his own tahiti.

I probably don’t need to explain this, but it’s called The Booze Cruise because that part of the river is so mellow that many people would pack ice chests (these are big rafts) full of beer – drinking and rafting – before it became illegal a few years ago. Not that we ever did that, of course. And if we ever did, at least we kept all of the cans and bottles in the ice chest to dispose of properly. No, seriously. We had a few beers in our day. And Mike’s Hard Lemonades.

The boyfriends and husbands made sure of that. And when you get three sisters together over a period of that many years, there will be several of them along the way – the significant others. I tried to count them just now and decided to stop. A few times we’ve invited friends, we’ve included my two sons (my niece and nephew aren’t big enough yet) and their friends, and once we went with our mom and aunt, neither of whom had been on the Rogue and were quite wary, due to the deaths they’d heard about.

We have experienced a few injuries on the Sisters Rafting Trip, none of them as a result of alcohol. A few years ago it rained on the designated day of the trip, which involves reservations and travel time for two of us. We had a husband (Macrina’s) and at least one boyfriend on that trip, and we all thought that we’d spent enough of our lives in Oregon to be able to tough out a little rain. Rafting in the rain – yeah! So we got out there, all gung ho, and within 20 minutes decided that this was an ill-conceived idea. Even though it was raining, the river was low that year, and as we rounded a bend and hit a big rock, I, seated on the edge of the raft with my back to the water, didn’t brace myself since I didn’t see it coming, and flew out of the raft. Like a falling cat, I quickly righted myself just as I hit the water and saw a huge boulder racing toward my head. I stuck my hand out to cushion the blow and smashed my hand between my forehead and the boulder. Momentarily dazed, I felt myself being pulled back into the raft. Completely soaked with no way to dry off in the rain, I sat there shivering for two more hours. Later I noticed that I had broken two blood vessels in my hand. And we all vowed that we would never go rafting in the rain again.

The part we raft is only about three miles long, but it takes three hours to get to the pull out point because we make a couple of stops along the way. There’s a suspension footbridge that we used to like walking on, but that is now prohibited. There was a small fork of the river that had a slow-moving area with a rope swing that we stopped at years ago. And there’s a huge rock, sort of like an island, that we used to pull over at and jump off of. But our favorite place to stop along the river is a country store/burger joint where we often eat lunch. It’s right on the river! And the best part is that they have this old wooden outhouse right next to the chemical toilets that is rigged to make a dummy dressed in long red underwear move inside when someone opens the door. Whenever we have a newbie along on our raft trip, we always make them open the door. And we always laugh.

We always. That’s the phrase that surrounds traditions, makes us feel connected, part of a group. It means that there were shared experiences in the past, and there will be more in the future. It means that we laughed together, drank beer, got squirted, jumped off of rocks, and shared all of it with others. It means that no matter where we live or how different we are, we’re always sisters. Many people have gone on our annual rafting trip with us, faces and circumstances have changed, a lot of water under the proverbial bridge. But one thing has remained the same, one constant – the Sisters were always there. Sort of like those three mountains. (Because I had to work them in at the end somehow.) Here’s to sisters and traditions and all the good that comes with them!

100_2068Five years ago at Anastasia’s going away party when she moved to Los Angeles. She’s the one in platforms.

The Unprodigal Son

IMG_0962bI was told once, many years ago, that someday he would break my heart. And two years ago, when he moved 700 miles away to live with his father, it was assumed that the person who’d said that was right. Of course I missed him unceasingly, had this relentless longing for my sweet, easy boy (even though he was the most difficult child to feed), but instead of letting fear get in the way, I let him go with love and unending support to do what he needed to do. And that boy, the one who was predicted to break my heart, has done nothing all his life but mend it.

*

Aidan is seventeen today, and we are going out to dinner to celebrate. He moved back to southern Oregon two months ago, said “the city” (what he calls Los Angeles) was fun for visits, but he was tired of living there. Next week we register him at the local high school where all of his friends from middle school have gone. They, along with Aidan, have two years left. It’s been so enjoyable to watch him get back in touch with everyone, social person that he is. He’s reestablishing his identity here.

And he has been reestablishing his relationship with me as well. He’s never been more open with me as he is now. There is an ease about him, a level of confidence, of generosity. He healed one wound and now that we, for once in our lives, have some one-on-one time, he is perhaps healing another. I can’t imagine how it was for him, all his life, living in Nigel’s shadow, getting only a fraction, a sliver, of time that other siblings could reasonably expect from other single parents. And now, he has me. Like the Biblical father, I couldn’t be happier about his return.

*

I sit at my desk, slumped over spreadsheets, and sigh. Aidan walks in behind me, talking about his video game du jour, sees the state I’m in, and immediately puts his arms around me and kisses my head. “You okay, Mom?” It’s all I can do not to cry as I realize what a gift Aidan is to me. I had grown so used to Nigel never soliciting hugs and stiffly tolerating them when I, desperate for contact, would reach out to him. And I know he couldn’t help it and he did the best he could, and still does. I love my boys equally, always have. But the inescapable truth is that whether Aidan has anything to heal in himself or not, whether he knows it or not, he is healing me.

When the Going Gets Hot

MacLightingAir conditioners go out in the middle of summer. It’s like Murphy’s Law. But when it happens in the middle of a 100+ degree heat wave, it feels like a sick joke. Even though it’s 102 degrees, I try to get outside and run errands because I can do them in my air conditioned car. And because the grocery store is air conditioned, I go there more often than I need to.

So it’s been six days since the air conditioner died at my apartment, and the property management finally has someone coming to put in a new one tomorrow. After work (which does not have air conditioning but mercifully the temperature does not exceed the high 70s because the building is green, as in, ecologically designed), I drive to the grocery store for about the fifth time in as many days. It’s a large chain that has its own gas station, and I pull in to fill up. I roll down the window and a furnace blast of air overtakes the car. A middle-aged man comes up to ask me what I’d like (because there is no self-service in Oregon – I think it’s a job thing) and I realize something.

This gas station attendant, who is older than I am, is in the heat all day long. There’s no air conditioner. There’s no ecologically-designed cooling system. All. Day. Long.

And as my tank begins to fill, I glance out across the parking lot and notice a man, a store employee, collecting the shopping carts. When I was twenty years old I did that one summer, and I remember how hot and exhausting it was, wrangling a conga line of carts. But this isn’t some guy in his twenties out here. He looks like he’s in his fifties, perhaps doing the only job he can find. And it’s 102 degrees.

I think of other professions requiring a lot of outside time – construction workers, road crews, military. And the hottest, most grueling job of all – firefighting. When you think of Oregon, you think of rain – the green Pacific Northwest, right? But southern Oregon is considerably dry (compared to the northern parts of the state), and our summers get very hot. Add lightning storms without rain (or other causes), and you get forest fires.

This past week we’ve had 5 forest fires raging here in southwestern Oregon, and I am proud to say that my sister (in the photo above) is one of the firefighters working to contain them. These are the people who run in when everybody else is running out. They put themselves in harm’s way, and even though they are specially trained to do so, horrible accidents happen, and firefighters lose their lives. Our family mourns the tragic loss of the 19 members of the Granite Mountain Hotshot Crew in Arizona who died just five weeks ago. Our hearts are with their families as we support my sister, a member of the Redmond Hotshots of Oregon, and all other dedicated wild land firefighters who bravely carry on.  They love what they do and they do it well. Whenever it starts getting hot here in southern Oregon, I think of them with gratitude and respect. And a good helping of sisterly pride.

Most Likely to Survive a Zombie Apocalypse

zombie2bThere are plenty of things for which I am proud of my son. But this, by far, is the coolest.

A few days ago Nigel came home with his yearbook, and I began flipping through it, gawking at all the kids I had watched grow up with him during our eleven years in this district. They are adults now, graduating this weekend (more on that next week). Then I got to the superlatives page for the senior class – Most Likely to Succeed, Best Smile, Most Artistic, Most Athletic. There were twenty categories, each listing the boy and girl who had won. And there on the right-hand side was listed a category called “Most Likely to Survive a Zombie Apocalypse,” and Nigel and a girl who I remember from his second grade class were pictured.

Yeah. That’s my boy.

zombie4bWho better than someone who faces the challenges of autism every day of his life? Who better than one who stares down the demons of epilepsy and battles the reality of bipolar? Who better than someone who has dealt with rampant bullying? Who better than one who powered through years of sensory bombardment and came up with a filtering system so that he could ride his bike on a noisy highway? So that he could be in a loud, echoing gym with his peers? Or even just walk down the hallway between classes like everyone else?

Then again, he’s always been kind of a badass.

There is a story that in his early grade school years, some boy had been teasing him and Nigel held him by the shoulders, swung him around, and shoved him away. On the third day of school in seventh grade, two boys ganged up on him. When he verbally tried to defend himself, one of them socked him in the face. The fight was broken up before Nigel could retaliate, but lots of kids saw him take that punch, and he didn’t back down. In high school he rode his bike to school, by choice, nearly every day for four years. For someone like him, that took courage and fortitude. During what was probably a manic episode, at lunch time he would climb trees and fences and rode his bike in front of the school on the sidewalk, forcing people to jump out of the way. Not cool, and of course that behavior was reprimanded, but still, it was the kind you might expect from one most likely to survive a zombie apocalypse.

Not only that, he’s conveniently memorized all of the original Evil Dead movies. So we’re set. It’s our variation of “most likely to succeed,” and it rocks. I am the proud mother of someone most likely to survive a zombie apocalypse. It’s good to have the bases covered.

zombie6*image credit: Cierra Hoover