Wednesday, December 29, 2010

A Wish for 2011

It has been ten Christmases. Almost ten New Years. You were born in January of 2001 and it is hard to imagine that it is almost 2011. I miss the boy I thought you were going to be. The handsome red head with broad shoulders and laughter. Someday you would break your mother’s heart as you grew up and grew away. I would pine for the soft baby I held in my arms, with eyes fixed on me like milky green-blue marbles and pink, perfect lips. You would grow older and wiser and leave me empty and alone.

But it has been ten Christmases. And almost ten New Years. And you are still a little boy, soft and tender. I have had to let go of the boy you were supposed to be – a heart throb and charmer and remain in love with the boy you are, frozen and still, a five year old trapped in all the makings of a ten year old.

I watch other children watch you in wonder and amusement, your body hopping and snapping like a muscle spasm in a giant’s thigh. I want to protect you and cover their eyes and tell them they don’t know the mighty heart that beats within the walls of your small chest -- a boy who, to know fault of his own, lost pieces of himself, as easily as gritty sand falls through fingers on an ordinary day at the beach. You were somebody one minute and somebody else another.

I loved you from the moment you were born, a twisting, wet seal pup on a scale with a flash of red hair and a determined holler. You were a piece of me, ordered up at a deli counter to be weighed and wrapped and snuggled in my arms, newspaper print leeching onto my fingers, tattooing your story forever on my palms.

If I could make you whole I would. I watch you struggle and cry and I stand helplessly – no parent should go through that. I wish a mother’s love could mend the cracks and repair the seams and keep you whole once more. I can’t help but feel that I have let you down, somewhere along the way and for that I will always feel the rugged braid of scar tissue that interrupts the smoothness of my heart.

But who is to say that it is all final, that you won’t rise like the stealthy Phoenix from gray ashes and shake off the blinding dust. That you might soar once more, your heart and soul scraping against the belly of the sun. It’s the least you deserve, little one, for the frightening and dark world that you have grown to know. Let this new year offer you more hope and opportunity to feel more akin to those who love you and live in this world. Let this new year welcome you home to the arms of those who never tire, waiting patiently for your return.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Band of Mothers

Tonight I went to my oldest son’s holiday performance at the school he attends. The bleachers were pulled out and folding chairs were lined up and down the fading, scuffed gym court. There were performance by violinists, a jazz band, a choir and a singing group. All the oldies and goodies and some old songs with a new twist. I arrived with Sean in tow, my husband travelling for business and no kid sitter available.

Sean was antsy from the start. He needed to go to the bathroom but wouldn’t because the school was too crowded. He pulled and yelled at me and I tried to manage him in an ocean of unfamiliar faces. My nerves buzzed like angry wasps circling a nest and I felt myself perspire under my arms and on my neck. I wrestled him into the gym and found a spot on the bleachers next to the exit. I took off his jacket and put on his headphones to help muffle out some of the noise of the crowd settling into the gym. I could feel the sting of tears burn in the backs of my eye sockets, swallowing hard and trying to breathe my way around the curb of pain that parked in my throat.

He stood up suddenly with his arms opened and said my neighbor’s name softly. I saw her walk up and hug him, his body softening and the edginess fading. He told her he wanted to hop and she asked if it would it be okay to take him for a little walk. I said of course and quickly handed Sean off to her realizing that what she offered to do was quite a favor considering Sean’s uneasiness with the crowd and the difficulties that come with managing an autistic child in a nightmarish situation.

As they left I thought, “What am I thinking? Why did I just pawn Sean off on her like that? That wasn’t very nice of me to do that.”

She came to watch her daughter but instead she was throwing a line into the swell that had gathered around me and she kept me from drowning. A few minutes later she came back with Sean, his hands wrapped in hers and all of his tenderness leaning into her. He was so thrilled to see her there (and so was I).

Shortly after, one of my very closest friends walked up and Sean hugged her too. Another remarkable soul telling me that she could take my oldest home (completely out of her way) if it was too much for Sean. I felt the stress slowly lift with the steaminess of the gym air and felt my heart rate slow down to a more reasonable pace – thankful for the comfort of friends.

We watched the kids sing and dance and I thought how fun it was for my oldest and then I became a bit sad for Sean realizing that he wouldn’t have the same experience. Without the kindness and regulation of my neighbor’s arms around Sean I don’t think he would have even stayed to watch. She kept him in his skin and allowed me to see my oldest perform. I watched Sean watch the older kids, his red hair ruffled by his headphones, his cheeks ruddy and his eyes clear and polished. And I did feel a pinch in my heart - -another rite of passage that he most likely wouldn’t take part in – the idea of a crowd of such size in a packed gymnasium with drums and trumpets and sweetly high-pitched adolescent voices – the stimuli too great for my youngest to ever endure. He would most likely never be a boy in black slacks and a matching shirt swaying and singing with all his heart on a stage with friends. This is one of those moments that I probably took for granted when having children and the reality of the difficulties that my son will face throughout his lifetime leaves me at a loss for any useful words.

He lasted the whole hour and some minutes, much thanks to my neighbor who held him closely and rubbed his back. He was excited to see her daughter who gave him a high five and a warm smile. I couldn’t help think how five years ago, when we moved next to this family, I had no idea how much their friendship and support would mean to us – how much we would come to rely on the goodness of their hearts.

And I am reminded of my dear friend who gave Sean a hug and me a “get out of Jail” free card; who four years ago came up to me after Sean kicked me and yelled at me in front of a crowd at my oldest son’s soccer game and put her arm around me and just walked with me while I cried out of embarrassment and shame. I had only met her once before when our boys got together to play. She rose from a crowd of people that didn’t quite know what to make of the scene unfolding near the swings and with such tender compassion and courage saved me from public heartbreak and gave me a soft place to hang my head and cry.

I am amazed at how the people that mean the most to me in my life are people that I have connected with through Sean. That somehow he is my beacon, a sweeping light in a sea of darkness bringing into focus all the details of survival and constantly reminding me that all we really have in the end is each other and our innate ability to help when we see panicked arms hit the air. That without this little boy in my life I might not know such truth and beauty and strength in people and what a privilege that truly is.

As a teacher reminded me in class the other day -- stars are out all day long but it takes darkness to actually see them. That we are able to see the moon so well in the winter because the trees have lost their shaggy coats and offer up more space between their naked arms. And that without Sean and the chaos that often comes with his disability, I wouldn’t recognize such incredible peace and deep friendship so readily. He is a blessing. I have to remind myself of that, particularly during the dark days, he is a blessing, a torpedo of silver lighting up even the gloomiest night.