Beautiful Hannah Rose

MinnieHappy Birthday my dear sweet Hannah Rose! 

Eight years ago today you came into the world at 11:10 pm on your actual due date, making you the first female in our family to be on time for anything.  Dr. K. said it was the most perfect birth he had ever witnessed, and I *knew* that God was right there in that room with us.  When you were born, Dr. K. put you in my arms and you raised your little head and looked straight at me.  It was the happiest day of my life!

I love you more today, eight years later, than I could ever have imagined then.  You have brought a magnitude of hope and sunshine into our family.  I admire the way you see the world, your sense of humor, your gratitude and appreciation for life.  I am honored that I was chosen to be your mother and I just want you to know I so enjoy the life we have together.

This morning I noticed the note and picture you left on the fridge.  You drew yourself with me, Alex, Aubrey, Dad and three little dogs, and wrote:

“I love my family each and every day.”

hannah ballerina

Ditto, beautiful Hannah Rose– we love you too!

Happy Birthday Hannah Rose!

autism home rescue 0510201201Dear Hannah Rose,
It is hard to believe it has been 7 years since you were born, my beautiful Hannie Bananie!  I am so proud of you in so many ways that I’m not sure I even have words for them all.  I still peek at you sometimes when you are sleeping, just so I can marvel at how tall you are getting and remember how tiny your feet once were.  You are a wonder and you constantly surprise and delight me with your views on the world and your creative ideas.  For your birthday today, I want to put into writing just a few of the many daily reminders I have about how incredibly lucky I am to have you as my daughter.

Over the last year there have been many changes in your young life.  You went from living in one home to having two homes- from living with Dad, Alex and me to alternating between Daddy’s house and my house and having Alex live away from us.  You welcomed Aubrey into our lives with open arms and a big smile.  You became an excellent caregiver for two chihuahuas and two new geckos.  You said goodbye to Mom Mom.  All of these changes had challenging moments, sadness and joy.  And we navigated them together and helped each other.  You helped people in ways you didn’t even realize, you helped just by being compassionate and thoughtful, trying again & giving people the benefit of the doubt when conflicts happened, and making us all laugh sometimes when we most needed to!

Each night at bedtime we say prayers.  We always start with something we are thankful for, and remember that we’re lucky to have each other and be a family together.  These are the things I am grateful for today:

  • the way you stole Aubrey’s hat, then told us that we could be a rock band because I had the sunglasses, Aubrey had the tattoos & you had the hat & could sing
  • your gentle pat on my arm this morning to wake me up
  • how you crawled into my lap after I lectured you about using nice words, and just put your head on me for a minute so I knew you heard me even if you were too stubborn to admit it right then
  • how eager you are to help and be part of what’s going on
  • the pictures you drew of all of our family members and how you told me that family is the people who are special to you, no matter where they live and if you were born with them or not
  • the way you talk to animals with respect and understanding, and how you always make sure they are as okay as the people we are with
  • your love of science and nature and your willingness to try new things, even if your first instinct is to stick with what you already know how to do

These are tiny examples, my beautiful Hannah Rose, of the many, many things that make me feel proud of you!  If I listed all the things I could think of, this letter would be as long as a big, fat dictionary!  For now, I’ll tell you one more thing and then I’ll leave my computer and go back to hanging out with you:

The picture below was taken at a little coffee shop a few weeks ago, on a day when you didn’t have school and we got to hang out for the whole morning together.  It was a Mom-Hannah day, running errands and laughing and planning and plotting.  When we stopped for this break, we shared a scone and you tasted my piece of quiche lorraine.  We talked about the decorations on the wall and what we liked about them, we made observations about the weather & the plates & tried to figure out what the other customers might be going on to do in their own days after they left.  We were just there, together, enjoying being mother and daughter.  It was somehow “timeless” for me, just a random moment that felt so good not for any particular reason, but because I love you and you love me.  And as you always tell me, that’s what really matters.

autism home rescue 0510201202

I love you Hannie Rose!  Happy Birthday!

:~) Quote for the Moment (~:

autismhomerescue11241101“Miss Rhode Island, please describe your idea of a perfect date.”

“That’s a tough one.  I would have to say April 25th.  Because it’s not too hot, not too cold, all you need is a light jacket.”

~from the movie “Miss Congeniality”


A re-publish of one of my favorite posts:  One hour in another time ….

 autism home rescue 0104201101

:~) Quote for the Moment (~:


We can only be said to be alive in those moments when our hearts are conscious of our treasures.

~ Thorton Wilder

Our first teacher tribute: Tigger Takes a Swim

… important things i do remember …

Happy Birthday Mom Mom!

“Beauty is a heart that generates love and a mind that is open.”

~Thich Nhat Hanh

Today is my mother’s 67th birthday.  Happy Birthday Mom!  My apologies for plastering your age all over the internet.  But the thing is, I think 67 is pretty darn young.  Be proud of it, you are beautiful.

This morning as I trekked to the train station in a foot of snow, the wind rushing through the trees sounded just like the ocean.  Each step forward, my boots sank into slushy snow and my ears heard another wave crash onto the beach as “ocean spray” stung my face.  It seemed fitting considering we had all spent Christmas together at my mother’s house at the Jersey shore.  Midday on Christmas day we took a drive along the boardwalk and watched the ocean.  My daughter and I played a game of “which do you like better?” and concluded snow and sand are equal in her book.  …..

hope owlWhen I logged onto WordPress this morning to write a new post for my mother’s birthday, I found the above already written from last year.  Begun, but never published.  Isn’t that the way life goes so often?  Projects started, plans made, but we’re all ultimately following our noses from one moment to the next.  That doesn’t make me feel sad, I think it’s actually the way things are supposed to be.
This year there is no snow.  Christmas was very different.  I feel optimistic about my family’s future.  And I know 2012 will bring wonderful things.  So to honor my mother on what would have been her 68th birthday, a list of the important things I do remember:
  • God is always present.
  • Love never dies.
  • No matter what happens in relationships, the connections we feel & the memories we have are ours to keep forever.
  • Cats are companions, and they are not as aloof as dog-lovers would have you believe.
  • There’s a way to dice onions into perfectly square pieces & this is how they should be cut for Grandpa’s turkey stuffing recipe.
  • If you love it, buy it– it will work.  Trust that the colors & patterns you love will work together as long as you are following your instincts & the finished creation makes you smile.
  • Scents carry memories.  Cinnamon candles & Obsession perfume bring you back to me, Mom.
  • Everything has its place, and you can always make room for the important things you want to keep.
  • If it makes you feel better to be a little obsessive about keeping track of things, go ahead & do it, no one’s gonna mind.
  • Most everything can go in the dishwasher.
  • People who don’t like to sit on the porch & enjoy the weather with a cup of tea or a glass of wine just haven’t done it enough to really appreciate this simple pleasure.  Try Tension Tamer tea or Woodbridge Merlot.
  • Take every opportunity to travel the world & meet new people!
  • Take lots of pictures, keep your notes about trips– your friends will appreciate these reminders of happy times.
  • Laugh often.
  • Love much.
  • trust-your-heart-sampleThere is a plan for every one of us.  Trust.
  • Be respectful of your neighbors.
  • A couch in the kitchen is the best place for an afternoon nap.
  • Give people the benefit of the doubt.
  • Women are just as capable as men.  If someone thinks otherwise, prove them wrong.
  • No matter what you remembered or forgot to buy to *cook-decorate-fix-or-update*  a  *meal-home-thing-or-outfit* you can always improvise and make something beautiful with what you already have.
  • Keep a spare key just in case.
  • Share.
  • Take a deep breath when people drive you nuts, and try your best to hear where they are coming from.  It doesn’t mean they are right, but it will make you feel better.
  • There’s always a Plan B.  Trust that truth, and don’t panic.
  • Be proud of your family traditions & the good things about your own culture & background– celebrating diversity means celebrating *everybody*
  • If you have hard day or you get stuck in a bad habit, destructive pattern or depression, forgive yourself & start over.
  • It’s okay to use cuteness to your advantage.  A sweet smile goes a long way.
  • You will remember everything that is important.  It will be okay.


tree of lifeIt is raining today, but still I am grateful.  All the people I’ve spoken with for work have been cranky & depressed & difficult, but still I am grateful.  I didn’t run, I had a crappy breakfast, I’m kinda tired & coming down with a cold.  But still, I am grateful.  My son is in residential treatment, family members are struggling with finances & lay offs, my dad is being treated for cancer. 

But I am oh-so-grateful today!!  Wanna know why?

Because today I saw a facebook post from a friend who is cancer survivor.  She said her friend Rachel is “hanging on to see her baby turn 3 tomorrow.” 

“Cancer sucks, I’ll say a prayer.” I thought. 

So I looked up Rachel and I started to read her blog.  Just a few sentences changed everything for me today.  Go read about her journey, you will find inspiration.  Because of a brave, honest, beautiful woman I have never met, my gratitude list is longer today.

Gratitude girl

Today I am grateful for:

  • The rain.  It makes me have to be more aware of where I’m driving, it is cold & wet & I can feel it on my skin.  I have to react to it, have to experience it, and it reminds me I am part of a bigger world.  Nature surrounds me every day whether I agree with it or not.
  • Difficult people.  They call me at work because they need help.  When they don’t have the strength or ability to be calm & rational, sometimes I can be the calm they need.  I could hate my job today & complain about them.  Or I could see their crankiness as an opportunity to do something positive or at least to find the humor in my daily grind.
  • Residential treatment.  I saw Alex yesterday on his birthday.  He was freshly showered, had soft new pajamas, was in good spirits.  A bunch of the guys there– all kids around his age with autism– were watching “Alvin & the Chipmunks” (Alex’s favorite movie) in the common area outside his room.  One of the staff turned the overhead lights down so the lights from the newly decorated Christmas tree were sparkling, making the whole room pretty.  The kids were smiling– and yeah, some were flapping or jumping or rocking, but in a happy way.  Alex’s room felt cozy, he liked his Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup plush pillow I brought him, he gave me a hug.  I told the staff the place felt peaceful.  And when I left, I felt peaceful, too.


Thank you, God, for giving me this life and not someone else’s.  I am so grateful for my physical health, for my home, for the material things I have that give me comfort.  I can hug my kids, I know that they are safe.  I have love in my life, I have friends & family who sustain me through challenging times.  I am a child of the universe & I can feel that & know it.  I can recognize miracles & have the ability to talk about them and share my good fortune.  Thank you, thank you for all of that. 

Please Lord, help me to remember how blessed I truly am and to never take these things for granted.  Amen.



Happy 11th Birthday Alex

charming alexDear Alex,

Last year on your birthday, I wrote a blog post which included some of my favorite memories of you through your first decade of life.  This year, as you begin your second decade, you are living away from me at a residential treatment center.  My heart is torn about this whole situation.  I love you so very much, I want you to be home with me & with Dad more than anything else.  But at the same time I know that the people where you are living now can give you tools for healing that I am not able to give you by myself.  This year I don’t care so much about organizing your birthday letter to make it memorable or sweet or funny.  This year I just want to tell you from my heart all that I love about you, how much I believe in you, how no matter where you are a part of my soul travels with you and always will.

Do you know, my beautiful boy, that I have always believed in you & your abilities?  You have never liked it when I’ve talked about you to the doctors, teachers, specialists.  I know that you understand every word I say and that you & I have a special almost-psychic connection.  Just like any boy with his Mom, you get embarrassed when I boast about your talents, you get frustrated when I talk about your challenges.  Sometimes you roll your eyes when I try to kiss you in public, or you pretend you are too cool & don’t hear what I say– but I know you take in every word.  When I need to talk about you, I choose my words very carefully.  I feel that if I need to convey important information, it is my responsibility to represent you in the most respectful, truthful, loving way possible.  To you maybe it seems like I disclose too much information, but please know that no matter what words I use, in my mind you are standing right beside me whispering to me all the thoughts you aren’t able to speak yourself. 

Do you know, my beautiful boy, how much I admire you?  Whenever you have been faced with new situations, you have always made the best of it.  I remember the first day I took you to preschool.  You weren’t sure what the heck I was doing, but you didn’t cry that first day.  You put your game face on, you jumped right in and tried it, and you made it through to the other side.  The second day you were a bit taken aback that I was bringing you to school again, but you weathered that day, too.  After that, we had all the typical separation anxiety & insecurity– just like any little boy would have– but you got through it just fine.  In your short life, you have had to be more adaptable & flexible than any other person I’ve known.  Change isn’t easy for you, your life circumstances have often been confusing or scary, but you have always bounced back from the rough spots.  Your resiliency inspires me.

alex hannah snowy dayDo you know, my beautiful boy, how proud I am of you?  Wherever you go, you make new friends.  You help other people.  You remember your little sister.  You make people laugh.  You invite others to play.  You give hugs freely.  You use the words you have to express the important things.  You ask for what you want.  You have a compassion for others that is deep & amazing, and when you hear someone in pain, you want to know that they have friends, that they are being helped, that they will be okay.

Dad and AlexDo you know, my beautiful boy, that you are loved?  Ever since you were born, the world has embraced you.  You have a big, close, loyal family.  But more than that, you have helped to build a truly remarkable village which surrounds us all.  There are many teachers, friends, neighbors, doctors, helpers from each year since you were a preschooler who regularly check-in to see how you are.  Many of them read this blog because it is important to them to know that you are okay because you touched their lives in such a big way that they will always remember you & love you.  There is quote from my favorite movie “It’s a Wonderful Life” which goes “No man is a failure who has friends.”  By that standard, at age 11, you are the most successful person I know.

mom and alexDo you know, my beautiful boy, that I will always be with you?  From before you were born, you & I have had a special, unique connection.  When I was pregnant with you, someone told me that “to have a child is to make the decision to forever have your heart go walking around outside your body.”  That probably sounds gross to your 11 year old ears, but what it means is that no matter where you are or where I am, I feel our special connection.  When you are happy, it makes me happy.  When you are sad, part of me cries too.  It’s like that feeling you get when you hold hands with someone and you know they are right there next to you.  That connection between us will last forever. 

alex workbookDo you know, my beautiful boy, how special you are to the world?  When you were very little, we started saying bedtime prayers together as a family.  Each night we would start with the same words:  “Dear God, this is Mommy & Alex, and tonight we pray to say thank you for making us a family together.  Please watch over all the people we love & keep them happy & healthy & safe.”  I told you then that God can hear all the words, even the words you have inside your head.  That is because you are important to the world, and everything about you was made to be unique & special.  I prayed that you would come into my life & be my son.  When you were born, I felt blessed in incredible ways.  But as you grew, I began to understand that Dad & I weren’t the only people blessed to have you in our lives, we were just the first two.  I realized that you are a gift to the world and that just through your being the person you are, you will change the world for the better in many ways.  

alex and mom in the mirrorDo you know, my beautiful Alex, how grateful I am to be your Mom?  I love you more than words.  I believe in you all the time.  And I look forward to sharing the next decade of your incredible journey with you.





Does everything happen for a reason? You decide.

… my second teacher tribute …

My friend Susan commented to me that she had read my last post, I was amazing, and I always made her cry.  After a snarky comment back about how it was my goal to cause her eye makeup to run down her face, I told her seriously how much I appreciated her encouragement and how I wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for her.  This blog would not be “Autism Home Rescue,” my life and my children’s lives (my son’s life especially) would not be the same, and my perspective might be vastly different were it not for my friend Susan.  So for this post, I’ve decided to write my second teacher/mentor tribute about how Susan and I came to be in each other’s lives today.  Does everything happen for a reason?  You decide.

A wrong number phone call changed everything.

When Alex was a little over one year old, I decided I wanted to take him to a “mommy and me” music class.  He loved music (see “Music is a language all its own” to read about our first musical conversation) and I was committed to reaching out within the stay-at-home mom community and finding friends and activities for our new family.  I had browsed through some parent magazines, but wasn’t really making much of an effort to find a class when one afternoon the phone rang.

“Hello, this is Margie from Music Together.  I’m wondering if you and your daughter Olivia could switch from the Thursday class to the Tuesday class?”

Wrong number.  No daughter, no Olivia, no class registration.  I could have politely hung up.  But I didn’t.

“Well, you’ve got the wrong number, there’s no Olivia here.  But I have a 14 month old son, and we’re looking for a music class.  Can you tell me about it?”

She described the class, it was perfect.  Then she literally said (and no, I am not making this up) “It starts tomorrow morning, around the corner from you.  Why don’t you go?”

I got chills.  I looked up, scanning for some kind of angel keeping watch, and said “Okay.”

The next morning we arrived at Music Together.  It was wonderful, we had so much fun.  During that first ten week session we met Sabine and her mom Rose.  A year later little Sabine would help me understand more clearly than anyone else how to reach my son as he began to retreat into autism.  (Read the story of Sabine’s lesson here.)  A couple sessions after we met Rose and Sabine, Alex and I met Susan and her daughter Lauren.

From the get-go, Susan told me I looked familiar.  My response was, “Yeah, I get that a lot.”  One day she met me in the parking lot. 

“Seriously, you really do look familiar.  Are you sure we don’t know each other from somewhere?”

“Did you go to high school around here?  When did you graduate?”  I asked.

“Well, I graduated in 1986, but I didn’t go to high school in this district.  I did go to the local elementary school though.  I was vice president of the school in 5th grade.  See how far that got me?”  Susan looked around and laughed.

“Wait, wait.”  I gave her a quizzical look.  “You couldn’t have been vice president of the school in 5th grade.  Because I was secretary of the school in 5th grade and…  Susan B?”

“Cathy M?”  She replied.

Amazing.  I was reconnecting with a woman I hadn’t seen in over 20 years.  In a totally new world, we had everything in common again.  Each week we sang and danced with our kids, we shared family stories and parenting advice.  As time went on, things seemed okay on the surface, but underneath the happy-new-mom facade I tried so hard to maintain, the ground on which I was standing was beginning to crumble.  No one noticed.  Except for Susan.

Each week she quietly watched us.  Each week she saw the changes in Alex that I was trying hard to keep under wraps.  At Alex’s second birthday party (a music party of course), he did not respond to his name.  His grandmother clapped loud behind him to see if he would react.  He did not.  I snuck upstairs after the party and made a secret phone call to my aunt-in-law, who is a speech pathologist, to get some information on typical speech development and whether or not to have Alex evaluated for early intervention.

Each week the mothers, teacher, kids and I sang and danced.  Each week between classes I made calls to experts, set up evaluation times, tried to get my game face on, to tackle the puzzle, to figure out what the heck was attacking my precious little boy from the inside out.  Where was he going?  Why was he all of a sudden so strange?  Who knew the answers?  Who could help?

Alex’s increasing strange behavior and occasional outbursts were scary and embarrassing, especially since I had no way to explain them.  I felt terribly alone.  That session of music class there was a lullaby called “The River is Wide” of which the teacher was particularly fond.  I think it was adapted from an old hymn or spiritual poem.  The words were:

“The river is wide, I cannot cross over.  And neither have I wings to fly.  Give me a boat that can carry two.  And both shall row, my child and I.”

As I type this, I can hear the music teacher’s voice and the gentle sounds of the guitar.  Tears are slowly making their way down my cheeks.  I remember so clearly that song and my desperation.  I used to hold Alex on my lap at the lullaby time and rock him, trying to make sure he didn’t see me cry.  It was a sweet, beautiful song for naptime for everyone else.  But for me, it was my life.  Where was that boat?  How in the world would I cross?  All those two years I thought I would live in Italy, now I found myself almost to the shores of Holland without a guide.  I had no one, and no wings.

What I didn’t realize was that I was not alone in my struggle.  Susan was there, too.  She saw my tears and she knew why I cried them, even though the other moms didn’t.  Right around the time Alex was being diagnosed, Susan stopped me after class.  She asked me how I was and I started to cry right in front of her.  I couldn’t hide it. 

I choked, “They think it’s autism…  We had an evaluation…” 

Susan didn’t ask me about the doctor or the tests or the plan or anything anyone else had asked.  She simply put her arm around me and said:

“You remember my daughter Rachel, right?  She’s Lauren’s older sister, she’s been here a few times with us.”

I nodded.

“She’s beautiful, right?  She has fun in class, she participates and she responds.  She’s okay, right?”

I nodded again, tears still flowing on my cheeks.

“Rachel has autism.  And she is just like Alex.  I know who is going to help you.  There is a behavior specialist named Mari.  She works with Rachel.  She will work with Alex, and she will help, you’ll see.  It will be okay.”

I didn’t question, and I didn’t need to look up.  I felt that angel watching.  I simply said, “Okay.” 

What I needed more than anything right then was that promise that it would be okay.  There was a boat, there was a teacher, I would learn how to row.  The water was wide, but there were other people crossing too.  No one could tell me or make me believe.  But Susan could.  And more importantly, she did.  In a way that only my dear friend Susan could do, she explained how it was with Alex, how he was like her Rachel, and how the universe was going to bend to connect me with all the right people and knowledge I needed to help my son.

When I contacted Mari a short time later to ask her to begin a home program for Alex, neither Mari nor the agency for which she worked had an open space for him.  On the way to the agency interview (which I begged for anyhow), buoyed by the confidence I borrowed from Susan, I prayed.  Through those prayers and– I firmly believe– Susan’s sheer force of will, the universe bent and the connections were made.  As I walked into the agency– the best ABA therapy practice in our area at the time, the one with the 25% full recovery rate from autism and the most encouraging outcomes for kids on the spectrum– the director was just hanging up the phone. 

“Amazing.”  She said.  “I just had a cancellation.  We have one spot left.  Alex can have it.”

Does everything happen for a reason?

I believe so.  Maybe you don’t see the world that way.  Or maybe things happen differently in your life.  And that’s okay.  But for me, yes, I believe there are no coincidences.  Just as I had no explanation for what was happening to Alex when he was two years old, I have no explanation for the wrong number phone call that led me to a friend from grade school whose child was helped by the same woman who would become a true angel to my son.  Mari and Susan are now a forever part of my family.

I’ve never asked her, but when I think back, I wonder if Susan knew exactly the words to say that day in music class.  There certainly had been many, many people speaking to me about Alex and our family.  Much of the time I didn’t understand their words, it was like a different language.  Yet Susan’s reassurance and gentle guidance reached through my confusion and pain, and gave me hope when I most needed it.

Does everything happen for a reason?  You decide.

One hour in another time

I’m loving this “post-a-week” challenge so far.  It’s kinda like a high school essay contest without the grade anxiety and the dreams about not being allowed to graduate because you showed up late to your midterms in your underwear…  or.. .um.. .was that just me? …  *ahem*  … anyway…   The blog topic question proposed by WordPress today is:

If you had a time machine that only let you spend one hour in a different time, what date would you go to?

Maybe this question is easy to answer for some people.  But for me it opens up a world of ponderings.  There are so many hours I wonder about.  Some moments I would like to revisit because I want to re-experience them, some moments were crossroads where I am now curious about the consequences of the choices I made.  Some moments are old snapshots from family albums, a look at my family heritage.  And some moments are merely dreams of the future, patches of time I would love to peek at so I can add their insight to the inspirational pictures on my vision board.  Let’s set aside all the “Back to the Future” consequences and double people and all that, shall we?  Here are my top picks (so far):

Alex’s 30th birthday.  One hour with grown-up Alex to visit with the young man he has become.  To ask him questions, to enjoy his company.  Who knows if I will be around to see that day in real life?  It would be my honor to get a glimpse into his future.

The hour Hannah arrived in the world.  Just to be able to experience again the greatest moment of my life as a woman, giving birth to my baby girl.  That may seem strange to some, but I would relive it– labor pains with no drugs and all– in a heartbeat.

Baking bread with my mother when I was five.  I am like my mother.  I have her hands.  I have her expressions.  She says to me that the way I see Hannah is the way she sees me.  That just as Hannie is “my little Boo” so I am also her “Boo.”  I would be honored to witness my mother as a young woman at the beginning of her family life.  To appreciate all over again the blessing of being a loved and cherished child. 

September 1938.  I would like to meet Pauline, my paternal grandmother whom I never knew.  Pauline died when my father was Alex’s age.  In September 1938 she would have been near age 25, immersed in her teaching career and surrounded by family in her small town community.   She would be five years away from having my dad, 15 years away from her untimely death from cancer, probably hopeful for the future and motivated enough to change the world for the better.  I want to know what she’d tell me about life.

The day my grandparents met and/or fell in love.  My maternal grandfather, with whom I was very close, always told a story about how he went to a high school concert on a date with another girl, saw my grandmother in the choir and immediately fell in love.  My Grandpa was well-loved by everyone (especially the ladies), always a gentleman, and the spitting image of Santa Claus when he was older.  My Grandma got Alzheimer’s at a young age, so by the time I was old enough to know her, she wasn’t really the person she had been most of her life.  I want to see what their lives were like, who my Grandma really was and how charming and/or typical, funny or quirky my Grandpa was when he swept her off her feet.

My last birthday.  Okay, I admit it.  Sometimes I read the last chapter first.  And yes, I have been known to peek at presents before Christmas.  But come on, aren’t we all a little curious about how it all goes in life and what’s around the corner for us?  Notice, I didn’t say “the day I die.”  I’m not that morbid.  I kinda hope my final birthday celebration will be a huge party with a hundred friends and relatives dancing and eating chocolate cake. 

There are other days of course.  Some single moments, an hour at a time, that I revisit from time to time in my head.  Or daydream about when I am quiet and alone with my thoughts.  I also have my hopes for the future tacked up on a little mental vision board.  They all stitch together into one big quilt.  And when I’m centered and happy, I can wrap that around me and be warm and comforted while I remain firmly rooted right here, right now, in the present.

Happy Birthday Alex!

alex ten years oldDear Alex,

Today on the occasion of your 10th birthday, I thought I’d write about some memorable moments together over the past decade.  You are getting so big that by your next birthday I’m sure you’re going to be taller than I am!  Tonight I am going to indulge myself in memories of you as “my little guy.”  I hope that when you read this as a teenager you won’t roll your eyes too much.  Once a mother, always a mother— even when you are completely grown up and on your own, a part of me inside will always remember you as my baby boy.  I love you more than all the words I have.

Special moments I remember with you…

December 6, 2000.  You arrive in the world and I become a mother.  You are the first grandchild on both sides of the family, and the joyful fuss made about your birth is almost overwhelming—in a mostly good way.  Holding you in my arms your first night on earth, I tell you, “I was born to be your mother.”  The comment seems strange to me, but I know it must somehow be truth because it wells up so strong inside me that the words come out automatically.  Little do I know that years later I will recognize that first comment as the signal of the beginning of our out-of-the-ordinary journey together.

December 7, 2000.  I am dozing in the hospital as you lie in the bassinet at the foot of my bed.  All at once you start to kick and giggle.  I open my eyes to see a golden glow in the air around you.  You seem to react to it as if it were a friendly, familiar presence.  I whisper, “Nana” remembering your Dad’s grandmother who died while I was pregnant.  A couple days before Nana died, she told us that she dreamed I was pregnant and that I was going to have a baby boy.  At the time, no one even knew I was expecting!  I later tell Dad and Big Pop that I think Nana’s spirit visited you in the hospital.  Big Pop says he too feels his mother’s spirit is watching over our family.

Three months old.  We take a trip to Hilton Head with Mom Mom and friends.  I’m not convinced I’ve got the hang of this motherhood thing, but somehow we manage to travel well together— after packing every baby gadget imaginable into the back of Mom Mom’s minivan. 

Nine months old.  We take another trip to Maine with Grandpa and Nana Lisa.  This time I pack a bit less junk, but take my new favorite thing:  A blue and white striped baby sling.  On the morning of September 11th, 2001, we wake up to news of the collapse of the World Trade Center.  Later that day, we take a picture of me carrying you in the new sling.  Somehow being able to hold you close to me brings me more comfort that day than anything else.  The sling will turn out to be a symbol of comfort for both of us.  Years later, before you have the words for “hurt” or “pick me up” or “sick,” you will pull the baby sling off the doorknob and bring it to me time and time again to tell me when you need me.  You’ll even offer it to your little sister when you are a big 4 ½ year old and she is a fussy, crying newborn.  (To this day I’m not sure if when you looked at Hannah and handed me the sling you meant “Aw, she’s sad, maybe this would help” or “Excuse me, could you please keep that thing quiet?”  Either way, it’s a big gesture.)

Ten months old.  We take a sign language class together.  You learn the most important words first, like “milk” which becomes both the sign for milk in a bottle and also the sign for nursing.  I’m struggling with whether or not to let you “cry it out” in your crib at night.  I haven’t yet discovered I’m 100% a family bed attachment parent.  Silly me.  One night when I am trying this awful “cry it out” thing, waiting in the guest room with tears streaming down my face as I listen to you wail, I give up.  I come to your room exhausted and frustrated and say quietly, “Look, buddy, you just gotta sleep in your crib.  That’s what everyone tells me I should do.  What’s the matter?  What do you want?”  You look me right in the eye and, watching me carefully to make sure I see, you hold out your little hand and make the sign for “milk.”  I know you do not mean you are hungry, you mean you want to cuddle.  You’ve told me you need to be close in the way you know I will understand.  I hear you and I finally feel calm about the whole family bed thing.  I take you to sleep in with me and never again let you “cry it out.”

One year.  We arrive at Christmas dinner in New York.   You wear a little Santa suit with a hood with a white pom pom on the end.  (I’m sure you’re rolling your eyes as you read this, but no matter what you say I’d do it again.  You were too adorable for words.)  The night before, at Christmas eve mass, you charmed everyone in the church, then got completely showered with gifts.  As we walk into your aunt and uncle’s house, you run directly for Mom Mom and give her a big smile.  Your aunt is pregnant with your cousin Ryan and with her round belly she dresses up like Santa Claus to surprise you.  You scream bloody murder.  (And of course, everyone laughs.)

Two and a half years.  Our first musical conversation, humming Mozart together as I described in a post called Music is a language all its own.” Moments like this will sustain me through all the times of unanswered questions and “expert” opinion givers who wonder about your future.

Three years.  We see a homeopathic doctor and begin the gluten-free, casein-free diet.  Three weeks after starting this new special diet, you say your first sentence.  While driving across the George Washington Bridge en route to see your grandparents in New York, you spontaneously announce, “I go see Grandma and Big Pop!” joyfully from the back seat.  Your father and I are absolutely stunned.  You look at the traffic ahead and say, “Daddy, clean up cars.  Put on shoes.  I go see Grandma and Big Pop!”  In this moment I know we are somehow on the right path to helping you be the healthiest you can be, even if I don’t yet have any answers to the autism mystery.  Your first words bring me hope.

Four and a half years.  The day after your little sister is born, you meet her for the first time in the hospital.  You want to give the baby a kiss, but you’re not sure exactly how to do that since she is so tiny.  You decide to kiss her on her nose, but you are so big your kiss covers her entire face.  It is such a cute and funny display.  I think to myself that more than the gift that Hannah is to me or your father or anyone else, Hannah herself is a gift to you.  She is the first person who will not wonder about your language or question your quirkiness or analyze your sensitivities.  She will look to you with high expectation and think you are great.  She will love you unconditionally as you are because you are her big brother, and she will want to be just like you.  (At least, she will in the very early years of siblinghood…)

Six yearsTigger takes a swim and you begin music lessons.  You play drums and piano.  You watch a video of Tony Royster Jr. performing an amazing drum solo and you imitate his movements, even twirling your drumsticks.  At your birthday party, you and your cousin rock out on drums and guitar while the whole family cheers.  I get my first glimpse of “teenage Alex” that December and I imagine you as a rock star one day.  I’m still convinced it would be the perfect job for you.  You could be the handsome drummer in the band, the one who doesn’t talk much but can bang out a perfect rhythm, make all the girls fall in love, and occasionally get away with trashing a hotel room because your fans will forgive you a few eccentricities. 

Seven years.  After a rocky start in public school, we enroll you at a private school for kids with autism.  The school is based on principles of Applied Behavioral Analysis and their expectations for you are sky high.  Even though I know how smart you really are, I worry that you will doubt yourself because of your still-limited expressive language.  Kindergarten was rough because no one quite knew your potential or how to bring out all the knowledge locked inside your head.  At your new school, things are different.  They get you, and they know how to teach you.  I breathe a sigh of relief that you are finally in the right place to learn.  Your self-esteem blossoms.  Over the next three years, you will surprise me again and again with the simply amazing things you are achieving.  When I call your teacher one day from the bookstore to ask what kinds of books would make good gifts for you, I cry tears of joy when he says, “He likes the Magic School Bus series.  The Butterfly Battle is his favorite, I think” and I realize you’re not only reading on grade level, but you have favorite books!

Eight years.  You begin writing, cooking, drawing, doing chores around the house, taking care of your own stuff.  Your teachers help you bring home the things you learn in school.  You go from being my “little guy” to being my independent, responsible “big guy.”  Whenever I ask, you give me the biggest hugs, squeezing me tight.  You and Hannah make up your own games together.  You even team up to get in trouble.  You are often the instigator and Hannah is the spokesperson.  It goes like this:

(sounds of giggling behind closed doors)

Me:   “What are you guys doing in there?”

You:   “Okay.  Go sit on couch?  We stay here.”

Hannah, peeking out the door:   “It’s okay, we’re fine.  Don’t come in.  Nothing to see here.  You go in the living room and we’ll come out later, okay?  Okay.  That’s it.  I love you.  See you later.  Bye.”

Hannah closes the door again.  A few minutes later you guys are discovered un-potting a plant or taking everything off the bookshelves with very happy, but guilty conspiratorial smiles on your faces.

Nine years old.  Your engineering skills grow.  You build incredible marble machines, sometimes researching ideas by first watching YouTube videos, taking notes on what other kids have tried, finding materials and creating new functional works of art.  You begin to write your own stories.  You make lists of your favorite things.  You read recipes and start expertly cooking quesadillas, baking muffins, trying new food combinations.  One day you read the Domino brown sugar box, copy a recipe for cinnamon rolls, and title it:  “Schedule for Mom to make the cinnamon rolls Now” sending me on a quest for the perfect gluten-free ingredients.  More valuable to me than anything else about your writing ability is the window it gives me into your thoughts and feelings.  You write stories about our home, our family life, your wishes, worries, even dreams.  You are less frustrated about the words, and more persistent in describing things so I can understand you.  Again, I feel grateful for your persistence and your faith in me.  You show incredible patience as we play “20 questions” to help me understand what you are asking for or thinking about.  You teach me each day how much you remember. 

Especially these interactions make me realize that nothing that I did as your mother over the last ten years was meaningless.  You remember the choices I made for you, the places we spent time, the values and life lessons I tried to convey through the books we read and the games we played.  You remember the fun we had with friends, the challenges we faced as a family, the way we always come back to unconditional love no matter how big you get.  A decade later and I still believe, as I wrote in my six-word memoir post, that I was somehow “born to be your mother.”

marble run cake at school

Ten years old today.  You smiled at your big guy Timex watch birthday gift, which helped you know just when the bus would come.  You shared cake (yes, the marble run cake!) with your friends at school.  You used a gift card present to pick the exact thing you wanted at the store (a shiny silver desk lamp).  You asked me to play with you and I did and I treasured it.  You hugged and kissed me goodnight and snuggled a bit when no one was watching. 

You are my rock star.  I wish for you a lifetime of feeling-good days.  Not perfection, just appreciation for the little things and the ability to take each moment as it comes.  I am proud of you and I will always love you.



Previous Older Entries