Thursday, November 29, 2012

Nantucket, a vice president and some snappy dressers.

Thanksgiving weekend has evolved into a tradition for us the last few years: Visit Nantucket, get our jeep home and stalk Vice President Joe Biden. Yes, we are stalkers. Well, maybe not all of us. Just Tony.

Joe Biden has been spending Thanksgiving weekend on Nantucket longer than us - 30 plus years I am told. Now that he travels with the Secret Service in tow, he is hard to miss. As for the "stalking," it is pretty harmless: Tony wanders around town looking for the Secret Service to figure out where Joe Biden is in hopes of a handshake and photo opportunity. At the least, he scores a sighting. 

As usual, by Friday afternoon, Tony had spotted him. "Satisfied?" I asked. "Yes." "Good. We won't have to be arrested for stalking." I said. With that off the checklist, we were free to run through the remainder of our tasks.

On Saturday, Tony, Sam and I made a brief return to town for errands and quickly parted company: Tony off with his checklist while Sam and I took a more leisurely walk up Main Street. We paused to listen to a street musician. As an opportunity to practice some skills, I gave Sam money for the musician's beautiful music. After a few minutes spent figuring out what to do, Sam finally placed the money correctly into the growing pile of dollars within the violin case.

We lingered longer. I noticed a man nearby watching Sam with great interest. I noticed his eyes dart back and forth between Sam and some other people. They seemed to continually land on a man seated opposite us: It clicked. Relaxing behind a pair of sunglasses was Joe Biden.

My first reaction was oh no, the Secret Service guy is watching us! Sam often moves and behaves in unpredictable ways. This may not end well.

I approached the man and said, "You look like someone who knows stuff." He eyed me warily and responded, "What kind of stuff do you think I know?" I smiled and said, "Well, stuff like what will happen if my son wanders over to where the Vice President is sitting? Will it be okay?" He just shrugged indicating others had done that.

"It's not that simple" I said. "He, well, he has a different way of doing things. And he is kind of big. It all may appear peculiar to someone like you." His expression changed. I could see he understood as his face relaxed. "Take your son over and introduce him," he advised.

Sam, way ahead of us, was already wandering that way.

I caught up with Sam. Once we were near Joe Biden I secured Sam’s focus on the man now seated in front of him. "Sammy, who is the Vice President of the United States?" I asked. Sam responded "Barak Obama!" "Sammy," I said, "who is the VICE President?" This time Sam answered crisply, "Joe Biden is a Vice President of a United States." At that, Joe Biden stood up. With his famous smile he shook Sam’s hand and said, "Hi Sam. I am Joe Biden and this is my son." I leaned over to Sam and said, "the attorney general."

Beau Biden offed to take a picture of us with his father. As he took my phone, he commented, "I remember you from last year." I responded, "You have a very good memory." We thanked them, walked over to the Secret Service man to say goodbye as well. "You did well," he said to Sam.

A few minutes later we met up with Tony. The first words out of his mouth were about the Secret Service men hovering around Main Street. He added if we walked over we might have another photo opportunity. I responded casually, “Been there, done that.” I handed him my phone with the photo. "Last year's photo?" Tony asked. I directed him to examine the photo a little more closely.

"You got a new photo!" "Yup." I said smugly, "No stalking either. His son remembered us from last year, too. I think it must be because Sam and I are such snappy dressers." Tony answered shaking his head, "Oh Janet. You keep telling yourself that."

As I turned to see Sam hug a nearby tree, I said, “You know, I think I just will." 

Thanks for being so gracious, Joe Biden. See you next year. 

Monday, November 19, 2012

Thanksgiving and thank you

I remember my first Early Intervention meeting. A small room full of parents, all from different backgrounds with one commonality: our kids. I remember looking around warily at the mish mash of faces. Who were you?

I didn’t wonder too much, though. I wasn’t planning to stay long. Nothing personal. Special needs just wasn't on my agenda. But as so often happens, fate had other plans. So we stayed a little longer.

As Sam began his preschool program for kids with educational challenges it became clear his issues wouldn’t be resolved quickly. We lingered longer in this place. We started to know you and your families. I met your beautiful children and marveled at their sweet brave hearts. I began to understand we couldn't do this alone. 

Some of us only crossed paths briefly, some became permanent fixtures. Still I remember you all. 

You provided the knowing smile across the playground, the reassuring words, the voice at the end of my phone, the irreverent laughter I grew to love. You magically appeared on the darkest days offering a kind word, a hug or a nod of understanding.

You didn't compete for best mom or best kid. You cheered Sam's accomplishments as enthusiastically as your own. You sympathized when challenging days stretched from weeks and months. You openly admitted mistakes and offered suggestions based on those experiences. You shared your life openly and in doing so helped me find my balance.

To every special parent out there: those I've already met and those I've yet to meet, thank you, thank you. Thank you for your patience; for indulging my fantasies in the early days. Thank you for the nod of understanding, the wry comment to help me laugh. Thanks for the coffee, the care packages, the Charlie Brown Christmas tree, the shoe racks, the friendship, the hugs, the kindness, and for never judging us too harshly. Thanks for every act of kindness no matter how grand or small. Thank you for the acceptance and waiting patiently while I figured out I was a here to stay. 

Most of all, thank you for never saying, “I told you so” when you could clearly see what I could not.

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Tuesday, November 13, 2012

A Dunkin Donuts kind of day

It was an ordinary weekend morning, Tony outside back doing yard work, me still in PJs in “slow-mo.” Sam was busy multitasking with assorted electronics in his room.

The phone rang. I chatted for a minute or two and hug up and then glanced in Sam’s room to check on him. No Sam. I looked downstairs and found the garage door wide open. My heart sank. “Tony!” I yelled. “He’s gone!” We covered the yard. No luck. I ran into the garage, hopped in my car to look on the street. Tony ran down in the opposite direction.

About 4 houses down, I spotted Sam. He was straddling his bike, a bike he hadn’t learned to ride. He awkwardly made his way down the sidewalk. He was dressed in what I’ve come to think of as his running away outfit: a tee shirt, underwear on backwards and barefoot. Relieved to see him, I pulled up along side. Rolling down the window I calmly asked, “Where are you going?" With is eyes focused on the sidewalk he answered, “Dunkin' Donuts. Choket munchkins.” He continued to walk. His refusal to make eye contact showed his determination.

He kept walking and I slowly followed along.

A thousand thoughts rushed through my mind. What if I hadn't found him so quickly? What made him wander this day? Why the bike? Would he have actually made the mile walk to Dunkin' Donuts? What's with the backwards underwear? How did he plan to pay for the munchkins with no pockets in that outfit?

Finally I asked, “Would you like a ride?” He paused for bit, still unwilling to look at me and laid his bike on the curb. And then he sat, refusing to move. I parked and waited. After a few minutes I walked over and sat with him on the curb. We sat and we sat barefoot in our underwear and PJs, knowing one false move would result in a bolt into the woods.

Sam hung onto his self-control. He threw pebbles methodically into a nearby catch basin. I followed suit. It was inexplicably calming. Finally, he looked up a little teary eyed saying, “Sorry Mommy,” “Sam, if you want something, you just have to ask.” I said. “Can I go a Dunkin' donuts please?” he replied.

Any other day I would have set some small penance to re-enforce you don't leave home alone. But this day I couldn’t. It didn’t feel right.

“You know Sam, I think just for today we can.” I said. “Let’s get in the car.” His face began to brighten as we got in the car. We found Tony. As I sent him to retrieve Sam’s bike he asked where we were going. I said, “Sam, tell him!” and together we yelled, ”Dunkin' Donuts!”

“Dressed like that?” Tony asked. “Yup. That’s why they invented the drive-thru.” And off we went: me in my PJs and Sam in his backwards underwear. And it was good. 

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Tuesday, November 6, 2012

A very small corner

On a sunny Sunday this year in mid September we took on a small corner of the world. Right around the corner of Park Ave and Pleasant Street to be exact.

Courtesy of Seven Hills, Sam shared a table with several other artists at stART on the Street selling the note cards and drawings he’s been producing for the last couple of years.

It couldn’t have been a more beautiful day. The Park Avenue was filled with shoppers and street vendors. The neighborhood was alive: bands, people and the scent of foods all vying for attention. It was questionable how Sam will tolerate an environment so complex. There was a time when none of this would have been even possible.

But over the years when opportunity presented, we’ve tried. And we tried again. Taking baby steps. Sometimes lasting a few minutes, sometimes longer. Bit by bit we made progress, though sometimes it was near impossible to see.

This was Sam’s most successful venture ever. Many people stopped by to chat with Sam, see his artwork – some even making purchases. Nearly all were complete strangers to us, buying either because they liked Sam’s cause or maybe his smile or his artwork. In a best case, they might have liked all three. He raised a fair amount of money for charity, too. In all it was a perfect afternoon.

I thought of the days when every venue was a challenge, those were the days of meltdowns and awkward stares. I am so proud of Sam. He's come so very far. It didn't happen over night; we still have a long way to go. Sure, there will be challenging days ahead. But so much is possible, isn't it.

PS: Sam will be at the Millbury Council on Aging Center, One River Street, Millbury, MA on Saturday, November 10, from 9 AM to 1:30 PM selling his note cards and drawing… all proceeds going to charity. Stop by and visit us!

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