One of my pieces out today in the Washington Post. I hope the kids aren’t sick of being my muses . . . But today–totally appropriate.
This has been an unpresidented campaign season. We the People still have no idea who will be occupying the oval office next January. No one has hit their delegate count yet, and political fervor and favor morph every day. It’s still true that a candidate will say and do just about anything for a vote, but the pandering has hit a new level. I’ve seen hyperbole on both sides of the aisle, and enough locker room vulgarity to last me until the next election cycle. Nothing is shocking anymore, nothing is surprising. Except for maybe the fact that this year is unknowable and unpredictable. Even the polls are getting everything—including us—wrong. I yearn for the days when you could walk down the streets of your town and profile your fellow citizens perfectly. You could nail them—what their religion was, where they liked to eat, what their hobbies were, where they liked to shop, what music they enjoyed, and so on, by their political yard sign.
I remember what I said to my daughter years ago when she asked me why I didn’t park closer to a convenience store way off the highway in the North Carolina countryside. I rolled my foreign car into an obscure spot under about 32 trees. It was an election year and I told her I didn’t want to offend anyone with my bumper stickers. In reality, I didn’t want anyone to key scratch my car when we were inside the store.
Now, you can’t presume anything about an individual based on the candidate they’re supporting. Even if it seems obvious. As a nation most of us have been forced to settle a bit when it comes to our current crop of candidates. You might vote for someone in a primary just because they are the lesser of two, three, or four evils. You might vote for one candidate simply to negate another. There are exceptions of course. I’ve already spotted a few unapologetic Bernie signs around town. They’ve been mounted by the young, the idealistic, and the vegan. Okay, that’s not fair, but I like to stereotype. (However, my teenage daughter is a relentless Feel the Bern fan and she’s been a vegetarian for over five years now.)
The great irony of all this is that I’m old enough to remember wearing Nehru collars, maxi dresses, and elephant bell pants. I listened to the Cowsills, collected Aquarius posters, and filled my room with incense and peppermints. And I’m still not 100% sure of my vote. Is it because I also own a pair of cowboy boots, enjoy skeet shooting, and was born in Houston, Texas? This has been a crazy election year so far for We the People. One filled with bemusement, soul-searching, and ambivalence. Some of us won’t be able to cast our ballots with the same enthusiasm as in years past. Maybe because we’re confused about our own political yard sign. In most cases—at least in the primaries—we might be forced to just hold our noses and pull the lever.
I made a 2016 New Year’s resolution to be nicer this year. Like I used to be. Of course that all ended with a predictably snarky comment I made on January 2nd. I can’t repeat it, but let’s just say it was a slightly cruel criticism of an acquaintance. The kind of comment I wouldn’t want my daughter to hear. I cracked it like I was superior or something. I shared the joke with my husband and we both got a cackle out of my pithy observation even though I knew my laughter instantly made me a phony two-face. Of course, I’m sure people make fun of me all the time but that’s beside the point. This individual was the innocent butt of my joke. I’m not saying he didn’t deserve my derision, (he really is an ass) but I should’ve kept it to myself until at least 2017. BTW, all politicians are exempt from my failed resolution.
I feel doubly guilty about my habitual snark because I am doubly guilty. I made a similar promise during the Jewish High Holidays not to be two-facey or hypercritical of other people. But I can’t help myself. It must be my muted self-flagellation that compels me to insult others. (And the fact that it’s fun.) Anyway, I promised God I wouldn’t be bitchy this year. Or as bitchy, and I prayed He/She would hear me. I want to be inscribed in the Book of Life because I am deathly afraid of death. Classic thanatophobia.
What a disgrace to blow two opportunities—two New Years—to be kind. Blowing it doesn’t give me full reign however, to be my true self the rest of the year. (My mother would argue that I’m not really that mean.) I’m still going to try to be less annoyed with people. I’m going to try to be more loving, empathetic, and patient. The way I try with my family. (Especially my teenagers.) After much self-analysis I’ve figured out that if I didn’t beat myself up so often–about parenting, caregiving, wifely duties, spaciness, bad time management skills, etc.–I wouldn’t be so mean. (My mother disagrees with my daughter about my level of meanness.) It was a tough year but I shouldn’t take it out on others. All that’s going to get me is another lecture from my persistently jolly husband. Blech.
I’ve actually come up with another New Year’s resolution. And it’s not a sanctimonious one. I’m going to practice what I preach to my kids about having a positive attitude. I’m not saying I have to bask in a sunny disposition, (my mother would argue that I already have one) I would just like to redevelop an outlook on life that reflects positivity, good will, and strength. Seriously. I’ll repeat to my soul what my mother repeated to me over and over and over again when I was young: Make lemonade out of lemons, (that one’s annoying) don’t try to control what happens to you, but rather your reaction to it, and have the wisdom to recognize the flow and then go with it. Maybe I could actually flow with kindness. Nah. The one thing about a resolution is reality. Only promise yourself what you can deliver. Happy New Year, and best of luck with your resolutions.
I haven’t written a ‘Tis the Season blog in over four years because I was dazed by my autistic son’s puberty, seizures, and behaviors. But our situation with Josh has greatly improved. (Oh, how I hope I’m not tempting fate.) So I would especially like to thank my blessings this year and give praise to the phrase, “This Too Shall Pass.” I’m happy to say I’m grateful that:
1) Josh and I didn’t fall apart when his twin sister went off to college. (Okay, that’s a lie. I fell apart.) Josh is low-functioning and non-verbal but he has a very high EQ. He senses that his connection with “Sissy” is permanent and unconditional. I wanted her to go to school on another coast so she wouldn’t worry about him so excessively. Her fears wouldn’t be as immediate. But she didn’t fly away, she chose a college close by because after all it was her decision and not mine, etc. I’m secretly thrilled, (okay, not secretly) about her choice.
2) He’ not as aggressive. It could have been his meds, it could have been puberty, but whatever it was he’s not unkind to us anymore. The Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde days are over. (For the most part.) Josh’s sweet, playful personality is back and we can take him out in the community again for extended periods. Especially to restaurants. I’d love to blame my weight gain on him but I’m pretty sure it’s all the cookies and candy I hide in my closet.
3) He still likes me. And not just because I’m Mom and he needs me. He recognized in some intuitive way that I couldn’t handle any extra trauma last year. He had most of his seizures safely at home rather than on the pavement at school. And I wasn’t as stressed when we just sat in his man cave/therapy room together and watched his favorite Teen Nick shows. Over and over and over again. I’ve memorized every single episode of Drake and Josh, Victorious, Zoey101, and iCarly that has ever been produced. I’m going to contact the network and tell them we deserve a frequent viewing card.
4) We have renewed hope about his epilepsy. He might not be a candidate for another brain surgery, but after two seizure labs and guidance from some exceptional neurologists we are exploring new avenues. We might even consider getting Josh a service dog. If our Alpha cat will allow it. Though I’m pretty sure I’ll be the designated dog walker when it’s 5 degrees outside.
5) I had Thanksgiving at my house again. Like other ASD parents I’ve experienced some painful holiday dinners. Two years ago I just leaned over at the table and broke down in front of my guests. All it took was a well-meaning comment from my mother. She had observed Josh going nuts for about two hours. “Shelley, if anyone can handle it honey, you can.” Um, no, not really. It had been an evening of Mr. Hyde. Josh circled the table shrieking, he knocked glasses over, and he chased after me with teeth bared. He took his therapy room apart and couldn’t self-calm. There wasn’t a single minute when everyone was together at the table at the same time. We had to take turns driving him around just so we could eat. At least it wasn’t like the year before when he set off my mother’s burglar alarm between bites of lime jello and green bean casserole. The police officer lectured him on her front lawn. “Son, we don’t set off alarms unless we have to.” (I didn’t tell him Josh had set off two fire alarms the week before.) “Do you understand me?” Um, no, not really. My kid couldn’t stop grinning and I was mortified. (God, how I wish aides worked on holidays.) But it’s okay. I finally learned about wine, and I am truly grateful. Good luck to all of you this holiday season, and may our new year be merry and bright!
The holidays make it difficult to concentrate on anything, (except shedding unwanted pounds) so I’m relieved I could submit a piece for this book before I decked the halls or lit a menorah. Thank you Megan Woolsey and Alison Lee for including my essay. I’m proud to be part of such a distinguished group of writers, and of one of your literary projects. I hope I’m able to meet you one day and thank you in person!
(So much to blog, so little time. Hope everyone has a great week!)
Because my spring and early summer were rough I completely skipped Autism Awareness Month. I didn’t put out the blue light, I didn’t write anything, I didn’t care. I’m going to post something now—six months later—because I do care, and I want to acknowledge the month. I wrote this short journal essay almost fifteen years ago. My family and I have come a long way since then. . .
There But For the Grace of God Go I (2001)
I firmly believe that my son and family provide a service for other families. And we really don’t have to do much . . . but exist. Our struggle with his severe autism makes people feel grateful they’re not us. We strengthen marriages, provide a shining example of what not to expect when you’re expecting, and we shed light on the true meaning of dysfunction. It’s funny, (not really) when I’m having a conversation with someone and they’re bitching about all the petty stuff going on inside their home–maybe their kid stepped on his retainer, or the air conditioner went out, and then I suddenly sense the eureka moment. The Look At Her It Could Always Be Worse moment. They don’t have to say anything. I hear it in their uncomfortable silence, and it doesn’t bother me. Really it doesn’t. I’m gratified when my family members or random grocery shoppers or airline passengers breathe a sigh of relief after they’ve observed my non-verbal, “testy” child crap on the floor or scratch my skin off in public. A sigh of “There but For the Grace God Go I” relief. I’m grateful that in some small way I’ve made a contribution to somebody else’s well being. My life makes them feel lucky.
Now, what I don’t like is the silent treatment I get from friends. I need to hear about all the shitty things they’ve gone through that day. They don’t have to feel guilty because they couldn’t possibly have it as bad as me. Please– people have it as bad and much worse. Everybody has something. Everybody. I am still your friend and confidante aren’t I? Nothing’s too “trivial” for me. Don’t make me feel worse than I already do because you don’t think I can help you. Or listen to you. Tell me what’s happening in your life. I WANT to hear bad things. And good things too. Please provide me that service. It’s okay to be happy around me. It makes me feel human again.
It’s time to go home. The escape-away has been successful and I’ve actually completed a few projects. Kind of. I’m beginning to wonder if I have some adult form of ADD. I have to reward myself with a food item or crappy TV show every two hours just to get anything done. In the old days I could sit for hours and hours and work or read or write. Working now on a bed or in a chair just makes my back hurt.
And speaking of hurting, this break has slowly melted away some of my anxiety. My arms aren’t itching all the time, and I can move my head from side to side. Useful when you’re trying to drive. Before, the muscles in my neck wouldn’t allow me to turn my head.
I’ve decided that I almost like the beach. I haven’t minded the cold, rainy weather at all. I’ve enjoyed my routine of combing around barefooted in 55-degree weather. I walk in the water because it’s actually warmer than the sand. It would’ve helped to bring some sort of coat or sweater, but the “briskness” has kept me alert. And you should see my biscuits! My sea biscuits. They’re a thicker form of the sand dollar. I’ve gotten greedy about my treasures. I go scouring at least twice a day to snatch them out of the hands of dog walkers. Usually my only competition are the metal detector people.
So, I’m ready to leave and see my family. I miss watching Scooby Doo with my son and arguing with my daughter. Nobody’s missed me though. Jordan’s only called me once. My husband has called me three times. He wins the prize. Every time I phone home my various family members are visiting with my mother in rehab. They put me on speaker, but I know they don’t want to talk to me. They’re deep in conversation and preoccupied with Mom’s health and they ignore me. How cavalier. The only thing worse than me not getting attention, is me not being needed. I didn’t realize how needy I was about needing to be needed. But I must admit that I’ve appreciated just being by myself. Last night the waiter felt so sorry for me when I walked into the restaurant and said, “Just one,” that he gave me an extra nice table near the window and winked at me all night. Funny how people assume you’re kind of pathetic when you’re eating alone. One is not the loneliest number.
Anyway, with just a few hours left I’m going to really, really concentrate on writing. And I will not snack in front of the TV. Speaking of, I’ve discovered yet another show. It’s so awful and fake and ridiculous that I’ve become addicted. It’s called, Botched, and it’s about a bunch of really screwed up people who go to a pair of media hungry plastic surgeons who can fix their screwed-up screw-ups. (I’ve learned not to eat when they show the actual surgeries.) I realized when I observed these people—most of them look like they’ve been made out of clay–that it might not be such a good idea to get work done up the road. Dammit. Something to ponder on the long ride back home.