Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Sam and Nana

Today is my mother's birthday. November 1. All Saint's Day. But this isn't about her birthday or the fact she was a saint (trust me, she was). This is about fondly remembering a night together almost 13 years ago.

It was a night like any other. Straightening my mother's kitchen, me at the sink, admonishing my mother to sit. My mother responding, "Janet I am not an invalid."  

I remember it now as a series of snapshots: the ever present crossword puzzle. The sparkle of my mother's ring. Her white china. Her casual elegance. The steam on the windows from the February cold. The blue denim of Sam's overalls. Carol. The hazel-green of her eyes. The smile that accompanied her low laugh.

It was a happy night. We were talking of spring and planning for when the weather improved. We spoke of of ordinary things, most long forgotten.

Soon it was time to go home. "Say good bye to Nana," I said expecting Sam to plant his usual goodbye kiss on her cheek.

This night's goodbye was different. Sam cheerfully dashed across the kitchen and climbed onto my mother's lap. Wrapping his legs securely around her waist, he grabbed her forcefully by the ears and yanked her face tightly into his. Then he planted a lengthy and exaggerated kiss on her lips, accompanied by the obligatory smacking sound.

Satisfied with his efforts, Sam pulled his face back. Locking eyes with my mother, he flashed a big smile and said, "Good bye, Nana!" He scrambled down and ran to meet me at the door.

With a bemused expression my mother said, "Well! I've just been kissed." “Yes you have!” I responded as I began to laugh, “Like you've never been kissed before.” “True,” she acknowledged. Within a moment she was laughing, too. We parted then, still laughing.

I didn’t think much about Sam’s goodbye once we left. There wasn’t any reason too. It was simply one in a series of greetings I expected to continue for many more years. It wasn't to be, of course. It was Sam’s last goodbye to my mother.

Today on her birthday I am remembering that comical goodbye, the delight of my mother's smile and I am smiling too.

Happy birthday, Mom.

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Wednesday, October 24, 2012

On the topic of hugs

I didn’t start out as the best hugger. A tentative hugger at best, I was saddled with certain reserve that prevented me from recklessly falling into an embrace. As someone of Italian decent, hugging should have been part of my DNA, like making pasta, right? Alas, not so.

Thanks to my mother, I did learn to make good pasta. Hugging was another story. Though my mother tried, I just couldn’t get past my inhibitions. I spent my formative years (and well beyond) slipping out of the arms of relatives whenever possible to avoid the awkward moment of the dreaded hug.

So how did I land with Sam, blessed with a big heart and an insatiable appetite for hugs? Good question. Maybe God has a very strange sense of humor.

Sam has always craved deep pressure. At infancy he loved being swaddled. As a toddler, a hug calmed him and brightened his smile. By 5, Sam’s most frequent request was, “Squeeze ‘em!” As such, the avoidance tactics of my childless years were no longer and option.

For the last 17 years I’ve practiced. Big hugs, little hugs, shoulder hugs, hand hugs, foot hugs and hugs in every shape and style. The more hugs and squeezes I provided, the more Sam demanded. At some point we agreed 5,000 hugs was the right amount of daily hugs.

Here’s what I’ve learned. When you shoot for 5,000 hugs each and every day, you become a lot more comfortable. It’s that practice makes perfect thing. That and a good teacher, of course. Lately I’ve even been thinking I've finally mastered the hugging thing.

This weekend, when Sam asked for his first of 5,000 daily hugs, I provided my best, down to your bones kind of hug. With that he paused, pulled up to his full height and smiled down at me grandly. Then he shouted, “Go team go!”

Has hugging become a competitive sport? Great idea. The world could use a few more hugs. Is Sam telling me I am good enough to be on his team? I hope so. 

Bring on the competition. I’m ready.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

The truth is overrated

I want someone to lie to me. Really I do. Not a big you'll end in jail kind of lie. Just a harmless little fib. Living in a house with an analytical thinker and and a brain wired courtesy of autism, you don't get lied to much. Generally this is a good – even enviable or desirable. But there are those instances when only a white lie will do.

Case and point:

Sam: Mommy is a pest.
Me: You think Mommy is a pest?
Sam: Yes. Pest.

Me: How does this look?
Tony: Kind of makes you look fat.
Sam: Mommy is fat.
Me: Thank you. You both look wonderful, too.

Sam: Stop singing Mommy.
Me: Don't you like my singing?
Sam: No. Mommy stop singing.

Me: How do you like the brussell sprouts?
Tony: They aren't horrible. They kind of taste like dirt.

Me: Sam, eat your veggies, please.
Sam: Mommy is a big pest. Not a little pest. A big pest.

Tony: Wow. You don't look so good today.
Me: Thanks. You look great, too.

Me: Do you like my shoes?
Tony: They are kind of ugly.
Me: Thank you.

Me: Sammy, who do you love?
Sam: Fiona.
Me: Good to know.

Tony: (After looking at old pictures) Wow. We look old.
Me: Thank you. Kind of you to share that comment.

Sam: Mommy is a dope.
Me: Sammy, where do you learn this stuff. Mommy is not a dope.
Sam: Mommy is a dope.

Me: Maybe they remember us because we're snappy dressers.
Tony: No. That's not it. You don't dress that well.

All I can say is thank you, Tony and Sam for sharing all those candid thoughts. I've got honesty coming at me every which way.

Now please, just for a day. Don't tell me what you are thinking. I don't want to know what's really running through your mind. Just once. Tell me what I want to hear.

Like I said, the truth is overrated. At least at my house.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

About those Vampires

Sam woke me at 4:30AM to let me know he is not a vampire. It is important to know these things at 4:30AM. World, please know Sam is not a vampire.

That was my facebook post earlier this week. When Sam read the post, he looked at me and said, “No live with the vampires, Mommy.”

Be assured I do not have any plans to send Sam off to live with vampires. I am glad he mentioned it, though. It reminds me he listens. It also reminds me on occasion it takes him a while to respond. Sometimes as much as 9 or 10 years.

Being October, most would guess Sam's comment is connected to Halloween somehow. Not so. It is actually part of a largely one-sided conversation spanning several years. Translation? There is a little more to the story. Isn’t there always?

Sam has never been much of a sleeper. From as far back as I can remember a visit or two from Sam punctuated my nights. The visits came in spurts involving a couple of hours hanging out, waiting for Sam to fall back to sleep. After a long string of sleepless nights, you are bound to say something ridiculous. Or at least I am.

When Sam was 7 or 8, we went through a particularly long spell of sleep deprivation. Finally, in frustration, I recall saying something like, “Sam, you need to sleep or find a nocturnal family to take you in. Maybe some vampires. They are up all night. Are you part vampire or what?” I am pretty sure I told Tony I was going to post an ad for a kindly vampire family on Craig's list.

In the ensuing years, it became sort of a routine. I’d ask Sam if he was hanging out with vampires again whenever he looked particularly tired in the morning. Given his sleep history, this question was asked with some frequency. Sam never responded. Not once. Ten years of vampire questions and nothing.

Until just recently, that is. Has all this vampire stuff been festering in Sam’s mind? Wow. I hope not. At the least I think I owe Sam a public apology, so here goes:


Sorry about the whole vampire thing. I didn’t think you were listening. I know you are not a vampire. I promise I won't send you to live with the vampires (I really don’t know any.) Nocturnal or not, I want you here, with me, where you belong for a very long time.  

Love and big hugs, Mom

Monday, October 8, 2012

A potential for stormy weather

The Weather Channel is on in Sam's bedroom. Sam has always had a fascination with weather, but it is a fascination that can spiral quickly into a challenging day. Like a TV mystery, I have a small window to analyze the situation and solve the puzzle. Like any good detective I assess the subtle clues:

            Movie/video sequences played repetitively.
Revulsion to touch.
Fixation with Dr. Seuss.
Endless eating.
Loud and random vocal outbursts.
No eye contact.
Unusually compulsive behavior.
Fingers twitching.
Abrupt hand movements.

Any of these are indications of something – or nothing. Individually, they nothing; a combination of two or more can result in something explosive.

Time ticks as I go through my checklist: Heartburn? Headache? Toothache? Earache? Stomachache? Constipation? Allergies? Sleep deprivation? Frustration? Hunger? Anxiety? It is a list of variables that grows and contracts.

"Are you sick?" I feel compelled to ask, knowing the response may be unreliable. “Feel OK,” he auto responds. His unwillingness to make eye contact and body language belies his words. But what is it? “Where does it hurt?” I ask, hopeful for an answer. He points to his chest. Is it another default response?

I quietly change the TV channel and attempt control of his iPad. I grab Tums. Speaking in a soft, monotone voice I reassure: “You will be ok, I can fix it.” I hold his twitching hands in an effort to calm. I ask him to sing with me to distract.  I wipe his face and brow with a cold compress for no good reason at all. Maybe because I don't know what else to do.

I pray the phone doesn’t ring as I strategize what to do next.

And just then, I see his body begin to relax. I see the beginnings of a smile as he leans over and coyly demands, “Squeeze him.” As I move to provide a squeeze he gazes at me making perfect eye contact. We are OK.

Today I have caught the clues early enough in the sequence. The crisis has passed.  Like the crime drama,  it would seem I've cracked the mystery. Only I don't know what I've cracked. I only know we are back to Sponge Bob and laughter. And all is right with the world once more.