Thursday, May 31, 2012

A child is born

Both families rush to divvy up the parts.

He looks like Tony. He looks like me. He has my mother’s nose. Our first joint production, we want a piece of ourselves reflected. Maybe we are proud. Maybe we want to ensure our immortality. It is a time of elation; everything is perfect and anything is possible. He will be the child of all children.

As he grows and changes, new assessments take place. He has my big hair, my easy smile. No one argues Tony’s unmistakable eyebrows. We find an owner for the parts we can’t quite figure. Are the sturdy hands and wrists from my grandmother or Tony’s father?  He is attributed with my even temperament and Tony’s focus and fondness for routines. 

As time passes I note he doesn’t like to sleep. He gets that from Tony, my mother-in-law proclaims. Sometimes he doesn’t respond to his name and drifts to another world; you were like that as a child, my mother mentions. And Tony and I turned OK. I am briefly reassured. Still, nagging questions are subtly asked; I sense his perfection is in jeopardy.

When did I first hear the word autism? I don’t recall exactly. The inquires begin: who did it come from? How did it happen? No one lines up to lay claim to the autistic features.   

But the fact is I see us there as well: my distaste for noise and people cluttered rooms, my need for solitary space, my fascination with color. I see Tony’s compulsiveness and his gift for numbers. I see his sensory cravings as Sam attacks the fierce waves of an open ocean. I see my temperament when Sam finally looses it on a long, rough day.

We are part of what made him all of him, even the autism. We lay claim to it all. And in doing so, find the joy in who he is.    

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Friday, May 11, 2012

Career choices

When I was just a little girl,
I asked my mother, what will I be?
Will I be pretty, will I be rich?
Here’s what she said to me:
Que sera, sera,
Whatever will be will be
The future’s not ours to see
Que sera, sera

I never had that exact conversation with my mother but from as early as I can remember I thought about growing up.

Thanks to Mattel and their endless array of dolls, my earliest career choice was to be a Mom. But after cutting off the hair off every doll I owned, and a few I didn’t, the next obvious choice was a hair stylist.  Access to an endless array of folks whose hair grew back sure looked like nirvana.

Ballerina was a brief flirtation. The tutus looked pretty. The realization my brain and feet had only a passing knowledge of each other seemed to be a stumbling block.

My first airplane ride in 8th grade hooked me on travel and becoming a stewardess. Those pretty ladies with the smart outfits not only flew free, they got paid!  In high school, famous seemed a worthy endeavor. Stage fright ended that notion with a thud. In college, I settled on art without a vague notion of where I’d end up. I just figured I’d know when I got there.  

After graduation, I found work in marketing and design and I thought I finally had everything figured out. And then along came Sam. It was around his third birthday I finally figured out what I’d been training for my whole life: a career as a Samologist.

Not everyone can be a Samologist, you know. The job requires certain basic skills: creativity, patience, flexibility, a calm nature and good observation skills. Familiarity with random curve balls is a plus. Providing haircuts, a double plus. It turned out my middle child status, college study, jobs, and the pile of bald dolls to my credit, provided me a good foundation.

But I had a lot more to learn.

During the years I like to think of as earning my Masters in Samology, the curriculum was tricky and ever-changing: I found when The Weather Channel showed up on TV, we were in for stormy weather – and it wouldn’t be outside; a wardrobe du jour of underwear on backwards suggested we'd be taking a mad dash up the street. The words “January” or “Everybody” pretty much meant take cover. Now. I learned every joke and discovered singing a song about sunshine really could make the sun shine, and finally understood sometimes it was simply time to sit and hold hands.

Though Samology is a unique and specialized area, I met experts in the related fields of Joeology and Connerology who proved most helpful. These specialties are often confused because they look similar to the casual observer, but a good Edologist once told me a Samologist is distinctly different. Still, we have some commonality and sometimes find time to collaborate.  

After almost 17 years on the job (and nearly doctorate level, I am inclined to think) I’d sum it up this way: The job doesn’t pay particularly well, the hours are long and the vacation time is lean. But there is plenty of job security and some benefits I’ve learned I can’t live without: a rollercoaster ride of surprises every day (ok, maybe a few I could have lived without), hours of free entertainment, the best smiles around, not to mention up to 5,000 hugs each and every day.  

How can you possibly beat that?

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Friday, May 4, 2012

Imagine that

“Put your hand here,” I direct as we stand outside Westminster Abby. “Where?” Tony asks. “Here.” I say, continuing, “Think about it. In 1066, another man likely had his hand on this very spot as he helped build this place. Who was he? What did he look like? Did he have red hair? Was he kind to his wife? Did he have kids? Do you think that guard over there is distantly related?”

Tony shakes his head responding, “How would I know?” “Don’t you think it is interesting to imagine?” I ask. “Not really,” Tony responds, dismissing the question. He is far more interested in how this monumental cathedral was constructed without the benefit of modern tools. He sees the math of the structure, but not the art, he hears the history, but has little interest in imagining the story. He is literal; I am abstract. I wonder if he has any imagination.

But I am wrong to wonder.

I wake to an alarm set for 2 AM in the dead of winter. “Get up.” I hear. “Nooooo,” I respond.  “It’s too early. It’s toooooo cold!” But Tony insists I come. He hands me boots and a heavy coat to put over my pajamas. We head out to the icy January cold to a telescope set up on the pond. There, completely alone in the vast darkness of the sky he reminds me it is the perfect night for viewing Saturn and its rings. Or was it Jupiter and its moons? I mostly remember the beauty of the night and the way his face lit up as he introduced me to the sky.

There are subsequent visits to this spot: I see moons and rings, dead stars, twin stars and constellations, and learn how to find the North Star. “The very first stars you see at night aren’t stars.” Tony explains. “They are likely planets. The one with the slight pink tinge is Mars. The very bright one low in the sky at dusk is Venus. It disappears into the horizon long before morning.” 

I ask, “Do you think there is life out there?” “Could be,” Tony says, “You never know.” And goes on to explain certain basic conditions are necessary to sustain life. He talks how he once dreamt of working for NASA and building childhood rockets and spacemen. And I see in him an imagination big as the sky.

Still later, the word autism enters our vocabulary. “What does it mean?” I ask. Well, many things I am told. One statement in particular stands out: a lack of imaginative play.

“Ring-ring” says Sam one afternoon months later. I echo, “ring-ring?” Immediately Sam smiles and grabs a banana to his ear. Knowing my line I follow with, “No, Sam can’t come to the phone right now, he’s too busy.” Since I don’t have a banana to talk into, Sam hands me his. When the banana is eaten, he talks into his shoe. “Mommy. Talk,” he directs. Feeling a little like Maxwell Smart, I pull off my shoe and say my line. Sam smiles, satisfied I understand the game.

I watch him draw imaginative swirls and figures “What are you drawing?” I ask. “Windows” he says. His windows are bright and almost surreal, surrounded by many colorfully intricate shapes.  Abruptly he switches to another drawing. Again I ask, “What is it?” “Snowflake” he says without stopping or looking up. And within the billows and details I see it: a snowflake like no other. I watch his deliberation as he chooses his colors and ask, “Where do you get your ideas?” “From your imagination,” Sam scripts from an old Elmo video. He pauses to clarify, “Is in your head.”  

Today I search for an idea and my imagination is hopelessly lost.

And then I remember these moments and know: It’s in the giant bolder in a far away place or up in the sky; it’s in a passing snowflake or a in box of crayons. It’s in my shoe or just beyond the window. It surrounds me. I just need to lift my head and look around.

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