Monday, February 19, 2007

Losing Mrs. L.

K. wept through breakfast, whimpered like a puppy all day, and cried himself to sleep.

Mrs. L., his afternoon E.A. (educational assistant), found out Friday she's being transferred to another school. Budget cuts. Seniority issues.

I waited till this morning, crawled into K.'s loftbed with him, and tried to break the news gently.

Today was their last day together.

K. and Mrs. L. had a special bond. She was waiting in the wings in case he didn't make it through the Christmas concert. When he did, she met him back in the classroom with hugs, grinning and holding a gift wrapped box full of toy dinosaurs.

K. brought home a photo today of the two of them. In front of them, K. had spelled out "Mrs. L.," in Tinkertoys - backwards.

K. still cries that he misses the red car we used to drive and he begged me not to donate the ratty yellow sofa downstairs to charity, because "they had sooooo many memories."

It's going to take us a long time to get over losing Mrs. L.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

don't go down with the ship

It happens in bleachers, at spelling bees, and in pageant dressing rooms: parental rivalry. It's passive, polite and usually ugly. But what you may not know is that when parents of autistic children meet, the compulsion for comparison bubbles in our bellies too; except instead of listing test scores and soccor goals, we climb aboard the sinking one-DOWN-man-ship.

If someone were to write the script it might look like this:

Mom 1: My son needs his meds to cope with his anxiety attacks, but I'm really struggling with giving them to him because they make him suicidal. Last night he said he wanted to kill himself and me.
Mom 2: Just be happy your son can speak. Every time I tuck my daughter in I wish she could say 'I love you' but she's nonverbal. All I've ever heard her say is "Ahhhh."
Dad 1: Well, at least your daughter sleeps. Mine is awake from 3:00 - 6:00 singing showtunes.
Mom 2: Just be thankful she didn't nearly drown on the same day your EA and respite workers quit and your husband left you for the cable weathergirl with no income and a $4000 occupational therapy bill...


I just met another mother of an autistic child and as she was sharing her struggles I was thinking, "Wow, I wish we'd been diagnosed that early so we could have gotten all those therapies and supports she had."

And the Divine Director whispered, "psst,'ve got the wrong script! Let me write you a new one."

Why can't we just admit that autism in all its forms is tough? Why can't we all agree that we wish all our children could speak, sleep, smile, live free of fear and medication, and play piano, tag, trivial pursuit, baseball, rock-paper-sissors or whatever, just like other kids?

Where is the empathy? We're shooting ourselves in the foot. What good is it if the only people who understand what you're going through are insanely jealous of your child's every accomplishment? Instead of locking arms, we're bolting the door on joy, gratitude and compassion.

Autism is a lonely, isolating condition. For the parents it doesn't have to be.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

If a dress falls in the closet, does anybody hear?

Who decides that something is valuable?

When we were first married we belonged to a struggling little church of college students and retirees, in constant danger of losing its historic building. We held a rummage sale to try to raise money for the mortgage. I donated my grad dress, navy satin with pearls across the back, because I wanted to value God's people over my own sentiments. I thought it could bring in at least $50 for the church.

It was put on a rack of clothes labelled $1 each. By the time I found out it was gone.

I still wake up at night sometimes mourning that dress. I wish I could show Gemma Mommy's special dress. (I guess I didn't succeed in squelching sentimentality.) I lie awake imagining who bought the dress. Did they treasure it or have they thrown it out by now?

When Jesus saw a widow put a penny in the donation box he told his friends she'd given more than anyone else, because she gave all she had. But how much could a penny do? It couldn't send an aid worker to Africa or build an homeless shelter. It's not even enough to stock the temple with paperclips and post-its!

I need to know: If I sacrifice something of great value to me that does nothing to benefit the recipient, is it still generous? Or is it foolish?