Christmas Gratitude List


Today I am grateful for:

  • A perfect gingerbread house made by Aubrey’s mom which looked exactly like the ones my mother always got for our Christmas table.  And the fact that Aubrey’s mom sent it home with Hannah after dinner.
  • New family.  I feel so welcomed & accepted into Aubrey’s life, and I am so grateful for that!
  • Smiles of acknowledgment.  Alex liked his gifts, he liked being home again for Christmas morning.  And I am grateful I could tell!


What are you grateful for this holiday season? 

Share the stuff you think everyone else may have overlooked!

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.



How far would you go for a smile?

… musings on the creation of pure delight…

So really, honestly how far would you go to see someone you love light up like a Christmas tree, fourth-of-July fireworks, and birthday candles all at once? 

A friend of mine calls it “creating delight” and it is all-at-once thrilling and satisfying and just plain joyful.  It begins in that moment when you really truly hear another person, when you recognize that you know what would bring them joy. 

ingredients & candlesNot the moment when you think of the “perfect” gift on your own. (“Hey!  Dad loves the ties I buy him, if I got him another for Father’s Day he could wear it with that blue shirt!”) 

Not the moment when you listen to someone, add your own theories, perceptions or worries, and then come up with a gift you think would be good for them.  (“Sweetie, I know how much you want to finish school, so I’ve enrolled you in night classes and I’ll watch the kids while you study.”) 

Not the moment when you are wildly excited about the possibility of a gift or good deed but so absorbed in your own creative genius that you actually forget to pay attention to what the person really needs or desires.  (“I got you the little flowerpots to match your kitchen and you can plant the seeds by the window, and then while you’re cooking…”  “… um, Mom?  I’m allergic to plants remember?  Mom?  Did you hear me?”)

marbles & lettersIt begins when you are not thinking of something that would make you happy, but of something that would create delight for another person *even if you don’t understand why on earth it would!*  I love those moments.  I have often found myself seeking out such opportunities.  As I was planning my son’s upcoming birthday party, I had such a thought.

Alex turns 10 next week.  My big guy, my love.  We’re going to have a real birthday party (at the cooking school I mentioned in my first post, “I am no warrior mom …”) and with that will come birthday decorations, friends & family, presents, games and of course cake!  Several years ago we abandoned full-blown birthday parties for Alex because they seemed to be fun for everyone *but* Alex.  They were often crowded, loud & chaotic, no matter how organized we were or who had planned it all out, and most of the time they caused severe sensory overload and dramatic meltdowns.  This year, however, Alex has been obsessed with celebrating birthdays (particularly Mom Mom’s birthday at the end of this month) with parties.   He also has made several close friends at school and has been asking to invite them.  So party it is.

Tonight I found myself pondering the possibilities of a cake.  I could do cupcakes with different letters to spell a message… a traditional cake from the bakery decorated with a superhero theme… something with his actual picture… different flavors or colors… When all of a sudden wham!  The idea hit me so clearly.  (Which apparently is often associated with this cooking school place.  Heck, were it not for that first birthday party, I might not even be blogging!  Go back and read all about my inspiration!)

wafer cookiesBesides pretty girls who appreciate his goofy sense of humor, there are only two things that come immediately to my mind that (at least this year) could make Alex stop what he’s doing, sit up and take notice.  One is a Reese’s peanut butter cup.  The other is a well-constructed marble run or rube goldberg machine.  In order to make a cake that will get more than a passing glance from Alex, it will have to be something which will truly delight him and have significance in his world.  Which means it will have to somehow be a marble machine.  (Or yes, a gigantic peanut butter cup.  But I’m trying to lean more toward the fascination factor than the tummy-ache factor, okay people?)

k-toos & pretzel ringsAlex knows I love him, but I think he sometimes doubts I “get” him.  Whenever I have truly heard him or taken into consideration only his feelings and deep-down desires, I have been blessed with the most amazing smiles of recognition and connection.  I am addicted to them, and I’d do almost anything to elicit one.  Sometimes it takes a few minutes for Alex to comprehend a gift (like that famous pause on the old TV show “Friends” when Ross and Chandler watch as Joey’s mind deciphers the punchline “and … there it is,” the smile of recognition lights on Joey’s face) but once the pieces come together, there is that unmistakable “You did this for me?!  Wow!  You really know!!” eye contact, hug and grin.

The beauty of creating delight is that you don’t even have to know how you will accomplish the task you set out to do.  You only need to recognize the moment when the idea springs to mind and respect it in its own right.  Where there’s a will, there’s a way.  If you know in your heart you want to do it and it feels right, just begin it. 

ingredients & candlesYears ago I decided to make my first quilt from scratch for someone I loved very much.  My friends said, “Wow.  I didn’t know you knew how to make a quilt!”  I said, “I don’t.”  They said, “You do know how to sew don’t you?”  I said, “I earned half a sewing badge in Girl Scouts 20 years ago even though the skirt was kinda crooked.  Does that count?”  They rolled their eyes and laughed it off, another crazy project by an overambitious dreamer.  But I can tell you today, I dreamed that quilt right into being.  Somehow the resources and materials and ideas and people I needed magically appeared at just the right time.  All I knew in my heart was that the gift would create delight; I focused on only that.

So what does this mean for my weekend?  It means that I’m going to be taking all of the ingredients pictured on this page, and one way or another, creating a preferably-workable-definitely-edible marble run on top of a sheet cake.  Yup.  I can picture the smile now, there’s no turning back, I’m already high on the promise of seeing those big brown eyes light up….

Um… does anyone out there know how to bake?

all ingredients