I'm visiting my parents with the kids this weekend and my mom asked me to read something she wrote in her writing class... it was a five minute assignment on the word "Resignation"....
And this is what she wrote.
The crash in the living room, followed by the wail of six year-old Jack, sent 'chalk on blackboard' shivers through my body. In the middle of the floor, a shattered crystal dragon reflected rainbow designs onto the wall. Jack self-imposed the time out and stood in the corner, head hung, repeating 'sorry.'
What are you doing in the living room? I wanted to scream. Instead I began picking up shards and knew they could not be glued back together.
'I know you are sorry, Jack.'
He turns to me with wet, blue eyes. 'I wanted to dance with him. The dragon wanted to shoot fire... I heard it say that... we had an adventure... I didn't know he would break.' The sentence ran on with a few breaks, a few tears, and the never ending chant of 'I'm sorry.'
I put the dragon tail back on the shelf and went to Jack. I knelt before him and pulled him close and held him tight. 'Shush,' I say. 'I know it was an accident.' He is shaking violently as I remind him, 'Breathe. Slow breaths. In. Out. I rock him until he finally goes limp.
In my mind I repeat, it is a piece of glass, it can be replaced, it's only broken glass. But I can't help noticing the beauty of the prism reflected on the wall.
I study Jack, my 'broken' grandson with autism and say, "I can't fix it, but it is okay."
And, my dear love, I can't fix you, but you are okay.
Wednesday, August 14, 2013
It happens at the strangest times. You start a new school for your son and things are working well. And then you see it. You drop off your daughter at pre-school, have a quick chat with her teacher. Smile graciously and accept the compliments about how great she's doing. You remember how hard it was for Jack at this same pre-school. You remember the time the teachers came to you and said "we know his 3 year-old check-up is coming soon... here's a list of concerns" and presented you with a list of behaviors and quirks to pass on to his pediatrician.
I remember how angry I was at first, then how amazingly grateful I was.
You wave good-bye to your baby girl. She says "I love you, daddy. Keep it real (yes, I taught her that one)". You remember that you picked up coffee for you and your wife at home, and it's waiting in the car. You look forward to lazing on the couch at home and slowly caffeinating yourself toward your day. Even the thought warms you.
And then you hear it. A child crying. A little girl standing in the doorway between the 2 and 3 year-old class. She must miss her mommy. But the wail continues as you walk by and smile. It gets louder, more hysterical, and you look for a teacher. Then you notice the hand-flapping... and the tippy-toe walking... and the lack of vocabulary... and your smile fades.
As you walk to the lobby to sign in your child you see the teacher talking to a mother. This was Jack's teacher when he was two. She shoots you a look. A look you've seen before. A look that simply says "help me".
You slow your pace to eavesdrop a bit.
"It's only her second day. She's never been away from me before. This is normal, right? She doesn't like to be touched. She doesn't talk much. Her pediatrician described her as 'Universally Delayed', but it's not Autism"
You feel a little guilty as you sign your child in and you say to yourself "yet".
But this isn't your child. This isn't your problem. This isn't your journey. I'm not a physician, what could I possibly do? I'm sure there are enough busy-bodies in the mother's life that this child is being assessed already... she said a pediatrician described the child as universally delayed... she must be on the road already. What can I possibly do?
As these thoughts cloud your head you realize you have already instinctively gone back to your car. You start your car and wait for the car in front of you to leave the circular driveway. It belongs to the mother, who is climbing into the driver's side quickly.
She doesn't start her car. As you get ready to tap your horn you look again. Her face buried in her hands, crying.
Her journey has just begun. You remember those mornings. I remember rushing away from drop-offs and appointments to hide in my car... and simply cry.
I open my car door and walk over to her window... yep, she's a mess. She hastily and tearfully rolls down her window and starts to apologize for not leaving.
I cut off her apology and hand her the coffee I had bought for my wife (she can get another). And it all came back to me. And I remembered something someone said to me at a birthday party when we still weren't sure where Jack's journey was going. A party where my wife and I had taken turns all afternoon following/directing Jack's maladaptive behaviors. The grandfather of the child who's birthday we were attending introduced himself as a psychologist (when he wasn't drinking beer at a birthday party). And he said to me perhaps the most important and heavy words I've ever received about my son... and I took a deep breath and repeated them to this mother:
"You deserve to be here. She deserves to be here"
I went back to my car. She smiled and waved back as she drove off.
And I placed my face in my hands and cried for her.
I'll be there for you.
Monday, August 12, 2013
I've probably hit you over the head with that Jack is going to a new school... you're probably tired of hearing about that. Yep, Jaye, we get it. Transitions are tough. So, today, I give you an entirely different and self-indulgent blog. I'm going to let you in on a little secret...
Transitions are tough on parents, too!
My wife and I met with Jack's teacher, his RSP teacher, and the school principal on Friday afternoon. It was great. Everyone was really nice and seems interested and excited to have have Jack start on Monday. But, as we were leaving, I couldn't shake the feeling that transferring schools was a mistake. I was looking at every little thing at the new school as a potential pitfall. And then my beautiful, intelligent and insightful wife said it.
"You'll do fine"
Yeah. She was right. I have to transition to a new school, too. I had become accustomed to the old school. I knew the IEP team well, saw them every day. I knew Jack's teacher(s). I knew the other kids, and their parents. I never had to explain anything anymore. I had my "wolfpack" (the other Stay at home Dads I had befriended over the years). I had my morning coffee friend.
I had my routine.
And now there is the chaos of the unknown. Do dudes hang out at this school? I only know three families here! I still have to walk Jack in, where the heck do I park? The 7-11 is almost two blocks away and that's the closest coffee, for cryin' out loud.
So, last night, my family is in town visiting to go to Disneyland today, and we had a BBQ at our house. Sounds routine and comfortable enough, right? 14 people... six kids and eight adults... all who know me well and who know Jack well.
But, for some reason or another, Jack was not having a very good day. Sometime around the start of dinner, I took him for a drive to escape his personal mayhem. We went to the aforementioned 7-11 (a convenience store for those international readers) to grab a soda and I drove him by the new school one last time in the hopes of familiarizing him...
And there was a bake sale! So we went to the front lawn to meet the PTA, the Foundation, and some other parents and kids.
And I bumped into one of the moms from the three previously mentioned families I knew there. This family used to live across the street from us, and moved about a year or so ago and have a son Jack's age that I knew went to the new school. Anyway, I saw Rachel (the mom) at the Bake Sale and said hello. She could not have been nicer. She had weighed in on the last blog I wrote (This one) and said she looked forward to seeing us at the new school. She told me, among other things, this. "This is a really good school. You're going to be really happy here".
And that's all I needed to hear. On a disappointing side note, Rachel is a party-planner/caterer/lifestyle guru and all of the baked goods she had brought to the bake sale had already been sold. Damnit! I would have liked one of those.
I had bumped into one of the families I knew. A family I admire. A family I adore. And they gave me their blessing. The second family I knew (and their daughter) was back at the BBQ, so I had already received their welcome.
This morning I took Jack to the new school for the first time. I realized how nervous I was, but I brought my secret weapon, my calling-card for conversations, my rock... my wife!
This post isn't about Jack, so I'll simply say the drop-off went fine... better than fine, it was good.
There was a coffee and donuts event for the parents in the cafeteria. We went. And I bumped into the third family I know. She has a son at the new school on the spectrum. We share a time at the OT clinic, so I have spoken to her many times in the last two years. She came over and sat with my wife and I and was happy to see us. She said what I needed to hear, again, "this is a really good school. I think you'll be very happy here".
Then, something very cool happened. A husband and wife came over to our table. The lady said "you came over from White Elementary, right? I've seen you around there." She turned to her husband "This guy writes the blog I was telling you about."
How the heck did she know that?
They were a new family at the new school, too. Could not have been nicer.
So I left feeling happy. I left feeling welcome. I left feeling assured, and I left feeling, most importantly, optimistic.
This may sound funny, but I can't express enough how grateful I am to have such a kick-ass wife. She's really just a lot cooler than I am, and can throw herself into any conversation with ease. Thanks, Baby Love.
Transitions are tough on our kids. They're tough on us, too.
I, too, embrace the comfort of routine.
It's 1 o'clock now and school gets out at 2. So if you'll excuse me, I'm going to go a little early and see if I can make a friend.
Thank you, as always, for reading.
Jack and I on OUR first day at the new school.