The Visit: Longest and Shortest Day of My Life.

We went. We visited. We came home.

We got the best hugs ever and spent much of the day just soaking up the feeling of being together again. It was hot and humid and so group activities where we could socialize and learn more about camp just seemed impossible – we strolled off in search of a breeze and found it on a hill overlooking the lake.

One look at his cabin made me feel so proud of our boy – living in close quarters in that heat (lots of fans) for so long would test the best of us. And of course this is no ordinary group of boys. They are quirky and sometimes challenging kids, and fortunately the counselors are young men with good hearts and lots of energy. It is clear that he copes by drawing  – the walls next to his bunk are plastered with art in which every part of the paper is colored. Our girl found a little note written on the wall next to his pillow: “6 weeks can take forever and all summer.” At that moment it was hard not to whisk him to the car and bring him home, until I asked him what he missed most. He looked wistfully away and sighed. “Wireless internet.” Okay, he can stay.

And the reality is that he showed us he has the tools to stick it out for another couple weeks, and do so happily. His knee is great, he is taller (I think), more muscular (for sure), and much more self sufficient. He swims twice a day and has learned to water ski. He got and wrote some terrific letters; there’s an impressive pile of them next to his bunk. I am overwhelmed at the generosity of all of the friends and family who make the effort to write to him and send him care packages. It is an unexpected blessing of this whole enterprise that so many people would take the time from summer work and travel to think of him – he got packages and postcards from Europe, Ohio and California representing family, friends and teachers he has known at every age all the way back to preschool.

Our world – his world – is bigger than we thought. That alone is worth the price of separation.

Letters? Oh…you mean theeeese letters…

Naturally just before Parent’s Day they get the kids to get caught up on their correspondence – just in time to ask you to bring them stuff. You know they’ve been sitting around his bunk for a while because there’s no mention of the knee injury. Doesn’t matter – I live to see his distinctive handwriting (best in family), which I keep trying to make into a font.

You can tell that the bulk of his letter-writing experience has been to Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny because he’s got the gift requests down pat – very specific, down to the materials and manufacturers. The boy understands how to communicate when he wants something – he includes visual prompts. He drew the cookies he wants me to send.

Awesome.

Take Me to the River

It is easier to leave than be left. When you are the one leaving there are no empty spaces to fill – you can become immersed in the going, in new environments and sights and experiences. And so I took the opportunity and, for a few days, we left our partially empty nest and explored a brand new place. I chose a destination that I always wanted to visit but that held no particular sway for my boy and would at least not completely bore my remaining children: the Hudson River Valley. It had the added appeal of being a place I know my father would have loved, with the river, the railroad and the legacy of FDR. This post, 20 years to the day after he passed, is for him.

Let me say now that my kids were fabulous sports and that I told them this repeatedly as I stuffed them with food they loved.

Everyone deserves to get their way sometimes, and I made sure that we all had a say in what happened each step of the way. I fed my inner history geek with visits to Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt’s sites, the Vanderbilt Mansion, historic Hyde Park and charming Rheinbeck, NY. The weather was sweltering but the views were fabulous, and I will never forget a golden hazy afternoon driving down the Taconic Parkway toward the river – we were the only car on that undulating road, and it was as though we were moving through time toward the bygone days of FDR, the Vanderbilts, and the railway chugging along the river, with each view painted to perfection by someone perched upon the hills. Oh, that I had been driving something other than a minivan, but no matter.

I was determined that this summer would mean something more to us than surviving camp and preparing for college. I wanted to give a little of what I got from my childhood, trailing my mother though cities and museums and restaurants, only half listening but loving being part of something that seemed bigger than me. I like being where things happened, I like knowing about those places, I like sharing what I see and marrying it with what I read. All of this generally requires a lot more talking than the autistic mind would prefer, and so my inner narrator has in many ways become the blogger (see also, Lettershead).

The complicated story of the Roosevelts was not lost on me as I toured the vastly different homes of Eleanor and Sara Delano Roosevelt. Each of them doggedly pursued the agenda life set before them, with many changes of course and myriad joys and disappointments along the way. Both raised in privileged surroundings, one used money to exert power, the other to buy whatever freedom she could get for herself and selected others. We looked at their things, looked at their spaces, and talked about their influences on the presidency and the nation, independently and through FDR. It reminded me that there is only so much you can plan, only so much you can expect to preserve, and that if anything is to prevail it is the spirit. All else is fleeting at best.

Photos: Overlook of the Hudson River from the Vanderbilt Mansion, Hyde Park; The Eveready Diner, Hyde Park; The stream at Val-Kill; Corner walkway of Springwood, the Roosevelt Home; View of the Stone Cottage from Val-Kill from Eleanor’s Val-Kill cottage, with ramp for FDR in the foreground.

Tromping Back to Camp

We love the Hallmark characters Hoops & Yoyo, and have for many years. They provided our first family doubled-over-in-front-of-the-computer moment, and our youngest memorized all of the dialogue from their tale of The Runaway Marshmallow (watch them all – you won’t be sorry). But even as we continue to buy Hoops & Yoyo greeting cards it has been a while since our marshmallow moments. Now our older boy is going to camp – sleep away camp – for a long time. We never really thought we would find a camp that would meet his needs and still be camp. It has been a long process to get to this point and I still can’t write about it quite yet except to say that the dialogue from The Runaway Marshmallow is all that stands between me and tears when I think about separating from my boy. We know that it is the right thing; we know that he will love it; we know it will be hard for all of us to not be together as a family for a large part of the summer. And so we make light of it by making all references to camp as “tromping back to camp!” I hope I will be able to write about it in a good way, and if not, well then I’ll be be back in September. The tromping begins next week; wish us luck.

Mother’s Day: Instant Respect!

Any holiday that results in the world being filled with flowers and slightly burnt toast can’t be all that bad. Our mother told me that some of the best days of her life as a mother were when her own children had kids of their own and felt the weight of responsibility that comes with holding a newborn.  She paused for emphasis and raised her hand with a flourish and proclaimed: “Instant respect!!” And she treated all of us like people all the time – no talking down – never really couching her guilt trips (there were many; they can be useful) in a way that diminished motherhood itself.

A feminist who disdained the very word, she understood the power of matriarchy and wielded its grandly. And her belief that children are gifts from God, given to us to teach us about ourselves as part of a the pursuit of the divine was probably her greatest lesson to me. She believed in everyone having a divine purpose and often said that pride was her biggest obstacle to pursuing the path laid out for her. I get that.

Mom said she had to remind herself that she could neither control nor shape the fates of her children (though that really didn’t stop her from trying) but the more powerful thing she said was that her belief in divine providence reminded her that she could neither take credit for our successes nor blame for our mistakes. And while there were times I thought that statement was a cop out, I can see how she thought that when I look at my own children; I don’t know that much more about them today than I learned in the first 24 hours in the hospital after each of them was born. They have all been so much themselves from the very first moment we met, and yes, I factored in the autism. Certainly we must give them all the tools we can to release the full potential they have; to keep them healthy and safe but most of all to help them know and understand the power and meaning of love.  It sounds simple and it’s pretty straightforward until you have that moment as a mother where the greatest love means letting go.


You’re a Pretty Cute Kid but Your Feet Don’t Match

That’s what my Dad used to say to me all the time.  The first time he said it I was very small and absolutely horrified, and I heatedly insisted that my feed DID match.  Then he took my tiny toes in his hands and pointed out that my big toes were on different sides and that if my feet truly matched they would look exactly the same.  Stubborn as I was, I did not like to be teased in this way and for a long time I scowled at him every time he said it.  The older I got it became progressively more annoying until – poof! – it it became endearing, one of many stock phrases he could be counted to toss out in the course of a day. And eventually I started saying it to my own kids, and they find me annoying.   Surprise.

Last Sunday morning it came to mind when my boy padded into my room and slipped into bed with me, taking up the spot usually occupied by his traveling Dad.  As I snoozed on my right side, he lay on his left side playing with his iPod, and he lined up his feet so that the soles of his matched up with the soles of mine.  An excellent case of respecting personal space with me, as I jealously guard the few weekend mornings when I can sleep in.

I used to think more than I should have about the matching feet thing – it took me longer than usual to grasp the concept of symmetry, I guess.  It bothered me when I was little, because I was the youngest and hardly ever in on the joke and thus took everything so literally (case in point: I thought the guerillas who terrorized the Olympic village in 1972 were men in gorilla suits). Sometimes I still miss the cues and can be gullible, which makes me love living with this boy even more because his syntax and receptive language are all over the place – it can be hard to know when he is being silly and when he is earnest.  He relies quite heavily on scripted speech and so some of the mashups that come out are priceless.  A few weeks ago after being rude and subsequently scolded he asked, “Did my popping off cook my goose?”  The latest favorite happened when he got into the car after a long bike ride with a friend:  “Man!  I have a splitting butt ache!!”

Our feet might not match, but I think we understand symmetry.  And, unlike his mother, he has very nice feet.