Yesterday was a day of issues and challenges. Two to be precise. Two challenges that I had no idea I was going to come home to. Both require lots of energy and some decisionmaking. After 24 hours of fretting and feeling sorry for myself, for us, it was time for action. Action, in some cases, is a number of phone calls, messages left and then patient waiting. So a measure of frustration gets added to the mix, but I posted on Facebook and also on my neighborhood listserv about the appropriate issues and the response from neighbors and friends has been so supportive. And I really needed that. A hazard of living alone, no one to vent to or commiserate with. Online friends are not the answer to all the hard situations of the world but it felt good to keep one eye on Facebook responses as I started cutting down my beloved garden.
Sitting on the front porch, drinking a giant glass of iced coffee and eating a very sugared scone, both of which I have sworn off and desperately needed this morning. After inhaling the scone and sucking up half the coffee, I begin to feel humanity seeping back into my bones. I look down to see the nose of a squirrel about six inches from my foot. I startle at exactly the same moment as the squirrel—I know this guy, he spends many a morning on my porch. He moves around me, not quite out of sight. This is his porch as much as mine. I feel my heart beat quickly after the startle and I imagine I see his racing in his chest. We are not friends, both wary of the other, but not exactly unfriendly either. I put my plate of scone crumbs on the floor six feet from my seat, half the distance between us. He is still; his eyes on me. I sit back down and he advances to the plate much more quickly that I would have advised had I been his mother. He eats. I do not offer him a sip of coffee but wonder if caffeine would have made him a squirrel-ier squirrel this morning. Continue reading
Rainy, damp, more March than April and my internet connection is very weak. My desk is cluttered with unfiled detritus. I’ve noticed that my couch, the uber comfortable nest of family life, is looking rather shabby. Bought for another house with a bigger living room, it has always been a bit of an elephant in this living room. Something to be slightly squeezed around especially when the clothes basket goes downstairs or a big box is delivered. For a millisecond I wonder if the money that I just spent on airline tickets “should” have gone into some household item—Ach, the driveway!—but the cloud passes very, very quickly.
I bought airline tickets for Italy.
Written 13 November 2014 and once again too fell asleep before getting it here. A pattern emerges.
Didn’t write yesterday because I was . . . um. . . um . . .cleaning. I don’t at all mean that I am ever a slave to my house but there are a few weeks in the spring and the fall when the garden takes precedence. The garden might always take precedence if I lived somewhere where I could garden year round, but Wisconsin demands an obvious respite from the garden in the winter and somewhat of a respite when the bugs of high summer ignore clothing and chemicals to feast on dedicated weed movers.
During those weeks when I am “taking out the garden” and then “putting the garden to bed,” I passionately want to be doing those earth based chores. There is little that is more satisfying than emptying the compost bins and covering a bed with a few inches of that gold. Or clearing away what is left over from the late fall and seeing the smallest shoots appearing.
Laying in bed this morning, waiting for Julia to wake up to begin the day. I am sore and a bit achy in the body after pushing myself yesterday to plant 400 bulbs. If I bought next autumn’s bulbs the day after I planted, I would probably have many fewer tulips and narcissus in my garden. And yet, I am so very grateful that my optimism and passion for the garden has returned. Actually, it has been around the whole of this planting and weeding year.
Last fall, after a rather dreadful emotional summer, I seemed to emerge from the heavy years of grieving. Last year, around this time, I realized that I was walking around with a lighter air. I did not trust the feeling and kept looking around behind myself to see if the gloom and doom goonies were waiting to pounce. I waited for the inevitable sadness to descend when something attempted failed or someone said something, did something, something something to remind me of the life I lost. I was metaphorically shifting my eyes from side to side checking.
And of course, the time from then to now has not been without feeling sad or lonely or yearning for what I cannot have again. But the burden of carrying that baggage around does not weigh on me as it did. Perhaps I have earned a wheeled suitcase with expanding handle to haul around my baggage. Wheels help.
In a celebratory but slightly achy mood, I feel like I can finally announce with glee that I’ve started reading again! This too has been coming on slowly. To lose the pleasure of reading and to live without it has been awful. I’ve always read. It is an activity that defines me — not that when someone asks what I do, I announce passionately that I read, but to myself and for myself, it has been part of my definition. After David died, I lost the ability to be lost in some story as if I had lost the ability to understand my native tongue. And it took so very long to come back that at times I worried that it was a permanent loss. What if I became that kind of person who never browses for book, who travels on vacation with a bunch of movies loaded on my iPad, who has no interest in the NYTimes Sunday Book Review section? When I look at these fears, I admit to feeling a wee bit pretentious. But hell, yes! That is me and I was really scared that that was never going to be me again.
And many times during this time, I been the kind of dinner guest who sucks the air out of a room. I had no questions to ask new acquaintances, nothing to add to conversations and when I listened, my eyes glazed over and forgot everything the speaker said almost before the words were out of his/her mouth.
And I wondered if this was forever. What if my best slightly intellectual, perceptive, pretentious years were behind me? How long could I fake it with my faithful friends who must have noticed my less than sparkling repartee?
At the beginning of the summer, I started reading again. I was gentle with myself and went back to my reading roots — biography and science fiction and a bit of memoir. I read with that same looking over my should feeling. Was this just a season of reading that would pass? Towards the end of the summer, a friend asked if I wanted to come to a book club meeting. She invited me because it was a new group and she knew that I had not liked the memoir that the group was reading. Was I really the person to invite to spice things up? But I went, just glancing at a few chapters to insure my disgust. At the meeting I voiced my feelings and listened to the passionate defense of the piece. Last year I had forced myself to read the book, after the meeting, I re-read and changed my mind. At least for the most part.
And I liked the people in the group, so I read the old Barbara Kingsolver book that was the next one up, and last months I read The Orchardist (by Amande Coplin, and very good). I seemed to be able to contribute to the discussion, ask questions and listen to opinions. Along the way I indulged in the guilty pleasure of all of the Hunger Games and Divergent. Literary merit be damned, I was having fun. Just yesterday, I looked up Connie Willis because I could not remember the full title on one of her books (To Say Nothing of the Dog: or, How We Found the Bishop’s Bird Stump at Last which is very funny and well done) and discovered that she had published two books since I stopped reading and was struck with wondering that the world had run so far ahead during my healing time. What else will I discover?
So, I come back to words on the page and screen (almost understanding the intricacies of Overdrive — gotta’ stop by the library one more time to connect my devices.) with such gratitude that this gift has returned and also with a new and growing list of must read titles.
I rarely bring flowers inside from the garden. I used to all of the time. Perhaps one day, I shall again. But these were on the rose bush branches I trimmed as I cleaned up with front garden beds. I could not just relegate such loveliness to the compost bin immediately. Each bud has bloomed and each flower gives off delightful scent. Rich gifts at the end of the season.
I cleaned the last of the beds, cutting back perennials including a Sweet Autumn Clematis the takes over one railing of the front deck and has a sort of spooky look in the fall and serves as an excellent background for Halloween pumpkins. Then I raked out the front beds and most of the front and side lawns. My beds and lawns are not that large but the trees that drop leaves on them are large. I have at least another raking hour or two for the back garden and then a few hundred bulbs to plant. This is the time of year when I wonder what I was thinking about when I ordered the tulips and narcissus.
I don’t clutch at winter. I like to gaze at new fallen snow from the cozy overstuffed chair near the fire, but once the snow begins to fall, the skies are full of it and I find no reason to over cherish any single falling. Summer is the same, the days unfurl one after the other, blue skied, hot enough to swim, too buggy to garden but armed with the appropriate chemicals, lovely to swim or walk or bike ride or star gaze. Even during the few absolutely perfect days each summer, I enjoy them and let them pass through me, I don’t wish them to stay longer than their 24-hour cycle. Living in the moment, in the present. Pretending to be an accomplished buddha.
Ah, but not so with the autumn and spring. Transitory, sensuous delights and seasons so short that I can’t help but long for more when they finish. The early crocus, blue bells in the lawn, tulips, daffodils, peonies that debut and fade at full tilt. Every year, I resolve to let it flow through me and then find my heart aching to hold onto the delicate Fritillaria Meleagris for just one more day in the middle of May.
I am no better this time of year. One day there is a golden arching of leaves and sunlight and the next skeletons with barely perceivable buds. Today, there is a lazy shower of red and orange and tomorrow the ground will rustle brown and children will jump in leaf mountains. The very water turns steely while I walk the bay path. Julia and I raked and composted leaves yesterday. We will do it again and again, perhaps until the week after Thanksgiving, as our trees let go of their bounty. The leaves falling in the back garden to go into my compost piles and those in the front raked and piled awaiting retrieval by city composters. I know the round of autumn duties outside and in – the cutting back of perennials and pulling of annuals, the cleaning of beds and mulching of a tender biennials, the storing of equipment and making garage room for the wintering of the car, the pulling down of storm windows and listening to the silence of one more layer of glass between the neighborhood and myself, the piling of wood and setting out fireplace tools — and all the while I wish for one more day, one more minute, one more gazing up and taking in of sights and sounds and smells that even now have dimmed. What I have is never enough. I want more and I don’t want to let go.
I have not clutched at the unfolding of a happy life. I celebrated milestones without formal portraits. I did not video Cheshire’s concerts or Julia’s gotcha day. I allowed myself to depend on memory and rely on a partner to help me recall what I had not retained. In a happy life, it is easy to be the accomplished buddha.
The present, however, is no longer a time of assumed accomplishments. It is a laboring time. Not of painful clutchings and releases but of shadows and ghosts that linger. I no long struggle with sorrow although sometimes, while aiming for joy I stumble and forget the places that it hides.
Today, like other days, I seek guidance and find it Rumi’s words:
“Your task is not to seek for [joy], but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it.”
“The wound is the place where the Light enters you.”
“What you seek is seeking you.”
And into these words I breathe.
I wanted to journal as soon as I dropped off Julia at school today. Instead, I came home and browsed around the internet letting the postings about 9/11 bounce off or sink beneath my skin. Our Black Tuesday, Pearl Harbor and Kennedy Assassination — our days that changed everything. Why do we need those days to change everything? Why . . . Perhaps I should ask why don’t I change before it is forced upon me. When I get the ‘why’ for me, perhaps I’ll comment on the bigger us.
Fall creeped in today as well. Not creeped, although under cover of darkness. Danced in with trumpets and streamers is more like it. Last shorts worn yesterday, both of us in socks this morning, sweatshirts that will probably stay on all day, wondering whether I will get plants put in the garden before tomorrow’s predicted rain and the slight possibility of frost.
A gray day. Working hard not to let the sad significance of the say stick but damn it is hard when the sky is so dreary and lights need to be turned on at nine in the morning.
A day of tasks preparing for dinner guests by clearing and a vacuum. Wash needs to be folded and then outside to over seed, hoping it is not too late for that, planting new perennials and the Japanese iris I dug up yesterday. Dividing perennials is always a thrill after the work of digging and dividing is finished. What I dug up yesterday was a newly planted patch five years ago that should have been divided last fall.
Each year First Unitarian Society (FUS), our church, has an art show/fair. Art in the Wright Place — Wright because it is held in the space designed by Frank Lloyd. I filled out an application for Julia this year. The summer’s art work lends itself to sale and Julia could work on both money and social skills at the sale. The response to Julia’s tee shirts has been great and more people are asking if they could order one and so, I thought that we could also make some shirts for the fair. However, Julia did not make the cut. The reasoning was that the art fair wants to attract quality artists and customers beyond our congregation. If they open the door to Julia, other kids may want to participate forcing the PTB to pass judgment on kid art. If any kid who applied is accepted, that would change the tenor of the show, professionals will be less likely to want to participate and the fundraising focus will diminish.
The particular power that sent the message also asked if she could order a dancin’ dino shirt because she had only become aware of them when some of the folks around her received them. When I explained that the shirts were part of a limited time fundraiser and that I had hoped to offer some shirts at the art show, she suggested that I check out ways to keep the tees coming. I momentarily thought about it but “the reason for the rule” tapped me on the shoulder.
“Reason for the rule” is short hand for something a law school prof proposed — if the reason for the rule does not apply to a situation, then the rule should not be imposed.
The reason for making more shirts was for Julia to get social skill and money practice with people at the show. Doing any more by mail order doesn’t give her the practice that was intended, and to be honest, although she is thrilled that people are wearing her shirts, she is not impressed that her art is on a shirt. She doesn’t need the ego boost. To keep the shirts coming through some private printing might be only fanning my own vanity. The shirts are fun but I’m not interested in setting Julia up in business just yet. Most of the work would fall on me and I’m not interested in setting up a Julia-related art business just yet. I hate saying ‘no’ to folks who are asking for more shirts, but . . . there is such a pull to get sidetracked by endeavors that slide so far from original purposes.
Our dancin’ dinosaur tee shirts arrived by mail yesterday. Julia was tickled and couldn’t wait to wear one of hers today to school. Lots of friends have ordered shirts and are posting pictures on Facebook. Every picture puts tears in my eyes. Three teachers from Randall posted a picture, all three of them with dino shirts and “I love Julia” scrawled on the board behind them. There are no thank you’s enough. And I pray that this is a beginning, not the highlight. I hope that this incredible talent is yet to be developed and will carry her far.
Who knows what can come, there is no way to capture a moment and keep it close. I ride this small happiness, Julia’s small accomplishment and hold on to hoping that her life will unfold gracefully and with much happiness and independence. I know, I know, it is the same with all kids but it is different when it is not assured that your kid will grow and mature and come into their own. It is different. And hard. And joyful.
This being a mother of a kid on the autism spectrum is not for weaklings and scaredy cats.
Some notes on the first day beginning of middle school that I began last week:
Day one is over and day two begun. Actually today, day seven is almost over.
Julia liked her first day. In her assignment notebook she wrote on the first page that she loved Wright Middle School. This morning she remembered the names of her homeroom teachers (one is her special ed teacher) and her SEA (aide). She ate chicken nuggets and french fries for lunch and also loved them. There was perhaps also an apple that she ate. There is no sign that she is interested in bringing healthy lunches and at least at this point it is not worth any fight on this one.
She continues to like her school and the experience. The first set of challenges are about listening to bells and whistles that start or end classes and activities, and also at moving independently from room to room. At Wright, the sixth graders only move among a very few rooms but it is still very confusing for Julia. I think that part of the confusion is about the new sounds — noise — and stimuli that distract her terribly. If she continues to be confused and unable to move from room to room, I’ll ask for some help there. Although I want her to be independent, I want to her to learn content as well as independence. And I think content should come first.
Julia willingly is willing to get up and dressed in the morning. We have not laid out clothes each night like we did it all last year. This year she wants to pick out her own clothes and pending my approval, she does a pretty good job. Have school begin an hour later than at her elementary school is really golden! I am so much happier to get up at 6:45, than 5:45. At 5:45 I can hardly drag myself out of bed, and I am not effective at dragging someone else.
This morning I dropped her off — a bit later than planned but that was more due to my own confusion about when bells ring than to our morning routine — by the gate of one of the playgrounds. It is probably not called a playground in middle school. Other students were already walking into the building. She very cheerfully hopped out of the car and joined in the throng walking in. She immediately struck up a conversation — perhaps started talking is a better way of saying it — with two girls who were probably not sixth graders. I watched them look at her and then say something that I couldn’t hear. Oh god, I hope there are kind kids in this school! Julia has developed into a very friendly/talkative kid but so much of what she says is border line inappropriate or unintelligible. She needs more listeners who make sense of what she says.
Last week, Julia took the tapes off her cello. Yikes! She was jubilant; I was/am terrified. Her teacher do not really believe in taping cellos. The tapes I’m talking about are very narrow bands of sticky tape on the finger board of the instrument that mark where the first three or four notes are. It is a guide for beginning students and it seems to be quite a security blanket for me. Instead of using the tapes to figure out where the fingers go, Julia (and I) will need to use our ears. At lesson, she took the tapes off and played two tunes better than she ever has played them. Ok, I get it. But I hope it works at home. I am skeptical. I can’t help it. I am not a musician. Her teacher says she has a good ear. I don’t think I do.
While her cello teacher was giving me the rational for removing the tapes, Julia was figuring out the next tune in the Suzuki book, “Go Tell Aunt Roady.” So her teacher assigned the song as long as she memorized the one she has been working on by next week. Julia said, “sure.”
We also may be renting a cello from her teacher instead of from the school. That means that her practice instrument will be a lot better than what she has now. I think she would appreciate that.
I am starting something new on the iPad. Julia wants to play games on it and she also wants to get back to playing with her wii. It dawned on me that game time needs to be reward time. And also limited. I decided to link game to to writing prompts in her iPad journal. I’ve been giving her three: three things she did in school, what she ate for lunch and how she felt after a day at school. I began by sitting with her as she wrote and then correcting grammar and spelling (mostly capitals) when she was finished. This week, it was best when she did it in the car on our way to her therapies. Best because it is close to the end of the school day and she can remember better what she did than if we wait until she gets home close to dinner time. I’m also not looking for a lot of writing. She really can’t do that well and stay on topic. And some of what she is writing is funny. I am sure that her social studies teacher did not mean to emphasize the importance of using shampoo to clean hair. I’m not doubting that he said that, just the importance he put on it. I put her picture from the first day of school on the first page. I want pictures to be a part of the journal, (We used pictures alone last year. ) but I don’t want to burden her teachers with another task until everyone is more settled. For writing, she gets 20 minutes of game time to be used as she likes. Right now, she plays the HP lego game on her iPad.
Fall is always the beginning of a new year for me. Another go at improvement and reinvention. Or at least a refinement of ideas, processes and goals. This year is no different.
Towards the end of the summer, my meditation practice really fell off. Too much Julia time or rather my perception that I had to spend time on addition instead of meditation. Probably a mistake. Immediately correcting that one.
The garden needs attending and I want to seed the lawn. The next few weeks are crucial. The compost needs emptying. I found some great perennial bargains at Builders Square. Also, I have perennials and corms to dig up and divide, as well as an over abundance of hollyhock plants to move from the front to the back.
Interesting thing about my hollyhocks. I love them! And I’ve managed to get quite a good backdrop of them in the front terraced garden bed. But this year for the first time since I planted seeds, I’ve only gotten plants and not flowers. Since hollyhocks are biennials that bloom only in the second year, I usually have some flowers and some plants every year. I am not sure what happened to my flowing two year olds this year. Was it the awful winter? I need to thin the plants and dig up some that are in inappropriate places. Hopefully, next year, I will have flowers in the front AND back gardens.
Contacts have been made and interest pursued. It looks like I may be leading a mindfulness group for caregivers – parents, grandparents, sitters — at IDS. It would be my toe in the waters I want to wade waist deep in. I’ve sent a mock up of a flyer to my contact at IDS and I await the PTB’s approval. Even if I get it, I know that there is a decent chance that no one will sign up for the circle. It happened last year with the Special Ed PEG group. I hope this is different. It would be a lovely way to begin.
Julia and I are moving on with our knitting. She is making a red and yellow scarf. Yes, Gryfindor colors. I am ready to make a hat. It is rather amazing to me that one of my newish friends is a master knitter who is very willing to teach, advise and answer questions. Perhaps others will not see this as amazing but the saying “the teacher appears when the student is ready” keeps running through my mind. I’ve believed in this idea before I ever recognized that it was happening to me. These days, it seems to be happening all the time. Often at least. And I am deeply grateful. I am also struck that I have done so little to merit or deserve or warrant such attention. When another friend called me to urge me to come to a newly formed book club, I felt the same way. How did she know that I really wanted to join a book club even though I had done nothing about looking for one? I have the feelings of being cradled in community.
This feels like a long, overdue letter to a friend who needs to be caught up on every part of life. It needs to be put in its envelope and sent on its way. I’ve promised myself to write every day — just 200 words but write. I am hoping for rebirth.
I wrote an entry — a very long kvetch about all of my very first world problems. I did not publish it right away because I ran out of steam before it was completely finished. I expected to do it the next day but I just did have the heart. By the end of the week, every one of my problems, save changing all my dead light bulbs, was corrected and in addition to acknowledging just how inconsequential my concerns are/were, gratitude had crept in with bells and whistles. No, nothing is perfection but sometimes there are blessings even in the challenges.
For the months of our cold winter and chilly spring, I’ve been writing and thinking even more than I’ve written it, that if only I could get outside in the dirt and the world would turn green, I would be happier. Those ‘if only’ wishes rare hold true but here is one that does.
I was ready to dub this my favorite gardening time of the season. Peonies — four varieties out right this minute — Japanese iris, perennial geranium and another purple whose name I can’t recall. The intensity of the blues and pinks feed me. But I feel the same way when the daffodils are out and later on in the summer when the hollyhocks bloom. I don’t understand not loving a garden. At least, not for the way that I am made.
Yesterday, I went on the last field trip of elementary school. We went up to Devil’s Lake — the entire Randall fifth grade, a bit more than 100 kids. Our kids filled two buses and we saw another 8 or 10 buses up there. Lots of chaperones to allow for many activity groups. Lots of kids wanting to spend time together. I was with a group of 8 girls with two other moms. The girls decided to hike — half was an easy walk along one side of the lake and the other half was not difficult but a tiring path along higher rocky slopes. By the end of the day, I was so exhausted that my usual 20 minute nap did nothing to relieve my tired body. Really brought home the fact that I am in awful shape — as if my carting mulch for the garden has not pointed that out.
Julia did pretty well. She did really well. Three years ago, she would not have made it along the easy walk along the lake and would not have had any interest in staying with her group for most of the day. Two years ago, the up and down of the rocky path would have defeated her. She did do a little complaining and sometimes she was at the back of the pack, but generally she kept up, she was by no means the worst complainer of our group and sometimes she was out in front. When the hike was over, Julia did not complain at all. Something she would have done even a year ago. She was tired like everyone else and afterwards she sat at a picnic table and read as most of her group played a sort of tag football. Most of the girls from this group were very nice to Julia, keeping her in line, soliciting her opinions and dealing with her outbursts.
First thing this morning she began closing her ears and letting her worst impulses take over. Where typical early teenage independence and spectrum behavior meet is a hard call and, it goes without saying, that I am not looking to squelch every bit of her spirit. Still, when I asked her to set the table for breakfast, she took out a spoon and dipped it into the honey jar for a big spoonful. I don’t want her eating from the honey jar. Before attempting to set the table she managed two other diversions and, I admit it!, I was ready to blow!
I remembered the seminar from a few weekends ago — Julia was making ME feel badly and it was going to be her job to make me feel better. There were clothes in my room that needed to be folded and put away and a load in the dryer that was finished. She had to haul it upstairs and fold all of the clothes and put everything away before breakfast. She complained a bit, I did not relent. Then she did it. And it didn’t take forever — she was hungry. It wasn’t a perfect job but she got our clothes separated — they were mostly hers — and my socks in my sock drawer.
She had clinic in the afternoon and on our ride over, she started telling me a dinosaur story in her very muddled and without narrative flow way. I walked her through getting a narrative with an introduction — Mom, I’ve made up a dinosaur story. — characters — of which she was one as a person who could cure a dino with a virus — a problem — the very sick dino — and a solution — pills that she made the dino take. We ended with a feeling — I felt good — why — because I like making a dinosaur feel better. This is not complex imbedded story telling but an extension of what she’s done in speech and what we’ve done all year in her weekly paragraph. It is hard for me to see her progress in this right now, but I am pretty sure I could not have even walked her through a narrative form a while ago — at least not when it was just talking. Perhaps she was doing it to humor me — so she didn’t have to put away any more clothes.
Later, we did a conversation about me. What my plans were for her clinic time. She is sooo not interested — Not because it is me but because she doesn’t recognize that kind of interest as something that will do anything for her. This interest behavior is very Asperger-like. I walked her through the interchanges — feeding her questions to ask me and then answering her. At two points, she generated her own questions which was great.
This is hard. This can be exhausting. Please, please, please, let her learn how to be a good friend!