We had a death in the Sisterhood two weeks ago. It shook me. It’s actually still shaking me. Other than being in shock still, I am trying to figure out how I feel about it. Not that the universe or God or the Powers that Be are concerned with my take on it all but, for me, I am processing. Trying to put into perspective how it is that a healthy 44 year old friend of mine from earliest childhood can be facebooking me on April 1st and be gone by mid month.
Like I said, It still shakes me.
After I heard the news, I took a walk, fell off the blog for a while, tried to clear my head but, really, I’m not sure if it’s clear yet. I am still around but I am sitting in my quiet place with my faith for a few more minutes….remembering my friend, trying to figure out God and truly appreciating that even when life is not perfect, it is still good and I am fortunate. Give me a few more days. I will get the jumble organized soon. Death is big but I can feel it gelling. Until then, be well, be happy and be thankful that you can enjoy cold coffee, clean up the mess at home and that you can stand in some awful line and wait behind very impatient people. Appreciate the jasmine blooming, the hydrangea just beginning to leaf out, the Gerbera daisies as they show their full color and appreciate the crazy that flows through your life.
It really is all good.
See you soon :).
It didn’t really start out as a secret. It started out as a form of protection. It started out as a way to keep myself and teachers from lowering goals. It started out as a way to keep him whole and to retain the innocence of being just another kid on the block and in the classroom.
We would not let autism define us.
But then it happens. He gets older and you whisper the word to others. You hush the doctors who might say it out loud and change him with those six letters. Those simple six letters are harmless alone but, together, lined up starting with “a” and ending in “m” are some of the most powerful letters there are.
Those six letters can change people and not always for the better. Those six letters can make a parent expect less and make a teacher and a classroom lower standards. Those six letters can make a school district close the doors of the classes the “other” kids use. Those six letters can confine a child to lowered goals and expectations.
So, naturally, wanting my boy to be seen as just another kid, I have sheltered him from the words, the label and the baggage that are carried in those letters when fully assembled. I have spent ten years, making sure my boy was something more than a giant, red letter “A” emblazoned across his shirt.
With, that said, as he has just reached his twelfth birthday, I have also come to understand, I cannot keep hiding the word. It has jumped out on more than one occasion. It has made me fumble and jump myself in order to contain it before it does any damage.
I knew he and I needed to have a conversation but, that morning at my computer, I didn’t know I was going to tell him. It wasn’t something I had planned or spent time choreographing. I had started to wonder, or fret as I sometimes do, over how I would let my son know he is autistic. He is getting older. He is more aware. I knew it was coming and, at some point, I would have that conversation with him. It didn’t need to be immediate. It was more of a “one day” kind of of thing in my planning mind but I knew it was on the horizon. I also knew I wanted it to come from me and not some kid on the playground.
That morning when the moment found me, I had not chosen words yet and certainly had no strategy or back up plans. And, even as it was beginning to happen and I could see it unfolding at my desk, I still had nothing. I thought to myself and wondered, “Is this really happening?” I was nervous, wondered how I would say it but I also got the feeling, what I was being given right then was a God moment. It’s like when someone gives you a freebie and you don’t have to even work for it or create it on your own. A moment of grace and light bestowed upon you directly from God’s own hand that, if you are smart, you should embrace.
I was actually watching this basketball clip about an autistic boy who had been the manager for his school basketball team. I am sure many of you have seen the clip. They’re at a basketball game and the coach tells the boy to suit up. It’s a nice gesture and the boy and his family are thrilled. Then, in a quirky turn of events, not only did the coach have him suit up, he also, in the last four minutes or so of play, puts the boy in the game as a real player. The boy goes in, all smiles, and at first he misses a few shots. But then, he starts making these crazy three point shots.
Like I have said. Many of you have seen it. It is unbelievable. Crazy good stuff. The boy ends up making like twenty points in the last four minutes of the game and the crowd goes absolutely wild. It’s a thrilling moment for me, as a stranger, and I can only imagine how his family and friends felt.
At the time, and in my kitchen, I was preparing a presentation on autism. I wanted to show the other side of autism that displays its magnificence so I was checking some clips. My son, who was eating breakfast in the kitchen, hears the crowd going wild on the computer and asks what it’s about. So, I took a deep breath, embraced the moment and told him it was about a boy who is autistic who does great things.
Then my son asks the question that I have dreaded, waited for, feared, “Really, Mom? What is autistic?”
I have lived for the last ten years with autism as part of our reality but I have not let it crowd us, become us, overtake who we are. It has simply been a point of reference for us. It is spoken about in IEP meetings and with teachers but has not been allowed to define or change the boy. I spent ten years protecting him from the big red “A”.
The moment I had waited for was here. I waited. I feared. Then, I gathered my courage and I spoke.
“It’s when your brain is wired differently and it makes you capable of doing great things. Some really great people like Einstein were autistic.” Yes, I know the jury is still out on whether Einstein really was but, I did not have time to research and split hairs….so I went with it.
And, my boy, as only he can, says without skipping a beat, “Wow, I wish I was autistic. Mom, could I be autistic?”
I could hardly breathe much less think but I took a moment and then, before I can even speak, my son adds, “Hey, Mom, I’m Irish, Norwegian and Native American. Am I autistic too?”
I smiled and I told him, “Yes, my friend, you are Irish, Norwegian, Native American and a little bit autistic.” The boys beams, smiles and like only he can, says, “REALLY? That’s cool mom. I’m autistic.”
I smiled bigger than my face was made to smile and my mouth stretched so far it hurt. The kids were all still in the middle of the getting ready for school routine so I held my tears for later. I held them for the drive home after dropping off kids at school when I could let it all really sink in. It was a God moment. He presented me with an opportunity and, for once, I had the smarts to take hold of it and make it happen. I could not have planned it better. I had no strategy as great as this. Even on a good day, I could not have dreamed this up. It was a chosen moment and and it was perfect. I had struggled over how I would tell him and before I could even construct it, it landed in my lap. The lesson for me, of course, is stop the fretting and really embrace the whole philosophy of “let go and let God”.
I had always wanted him to know who he was, fully, but without making him feel like something was wrong with him. I wanted him to understand who he was without that knowledge somehow making him feel like he was less. Autism has made him such a gift and a blessing and I wanted my words to help him to understand the gift that he is to me and everyone around him. I wanted him to feel like he was more and I had been able to preserve that life for him with the moment that followed the basketball clip. One day I will need to thank Jason McElwain for being so remarkable and his coach for being such a brilliant and courageous, trail blazing man. Both of them provided me with a level of grace I would never have found on my own.
I believe in Twanda.
I believe in being a good friend.
I believe in dropping everything when someone needs it.
I believe in opening my door even when what lies behind the door is not clean or presentable.
I believe its a crazy mean world out there and there are times when a hug from a friend can make all the difference.
Today was “mom soup” day at my house. It’s my day to cook soup all day. Not multiple pots of soup because I am not that efficient, but one ginormous pot of soup that cooks all day long and has everything but the kitchen sink in it. We tried to give it a name, something simple like chicken soup, but there are so many ingredients and they change each time so we settled on “mom soup” to make it easier on everyone.
I started at eight thirty this morning after I dropped my three kiddos off at school. Thankfully there was little kid drama in my house this morning so I could get right to cooking. As soon as I walked back in the door, I stated to get the chicken out. I have sworn off canned broth. I start with the whole chicken…yes, giblet thingys and all, and cooked in my big pot with lots of veggies to make up a nice broth. I had no sooner opened up my chicken today when the phone rang. I thought it was my mom since she likes to check in each morning to see what my day has planned. I could digress right here and talk about what it’s like to move closer to family after decades away but I will save blogging about mom for another day and just get on with this.
Anyhoo…the phone rang and it wasn’t my mom at all. It was a mom-friend of mine. I have to add right here that I don’t use the word “friend” lightly. Real friends are the key to life and I make sure those I add to my life are good people to have around. I adore my friends and keep them close but I also am pretty good in my older years at weeding out the divas and keeping the slogbags. I don’t do selfish and I don’t do mean. It’s a quality over quantity thing for me. I have no qualms with walking away from friends who love drama more than friendship, who concentrate on strife and stirring the pot more than kindness. Life is just too short to surround yourself with volatility and destruction. I’m just not having it.
Many of my friends, I’m proud to say, have progressed well out of slogbag-dom better than I have and dress and shower with regularity. For myself, since it was mom soup day, I was of course unshowered. I was dressed which was good and I was not in my pink flannel jammies, which was even better, but I was still in my flannel shirt and sweats and my hair was in the regulation slogbag pony tail. It is what it is and I don’t try to fight it. I am comfortable with my slogbag self and my friend was not put off by it at all.
She is a Twanda friend.
When I first heard her voice, I could tell she was not herself. She was not over the edge at all but there was a tone in her voice that I recognized. That tone that notifies someone when you are just not quite you, that life is rolling over you and you just need a reality check from a friend. When I asked where she was I found she was not too far from my home so I told her to just come on by and hang with me. I was kind enough to warn her that I was unshowered, the kitchen was in upheaval with all of the soup ingredients and that I would leave the door unlocked since my hands were currently scooping the mucky giblets out of the chicken. I actually did not give her all the gory details but told her she would need to step over Maisy girl when she walked in since the lab was taking a nap on the rug by the front door.
In no time, my friend was sitting at my kitchen counter and we were having us a little chat and it made me smile because, to me, that is what the sisterhood is all about. It’s about being there, unscheduled and half dressed as it may be, for a sister when she needs you. It’s about opening your house up even when the bed may not be made and the bathroom is still littered with cat litter because the cat lives here too. I don’t have any biological sisters but I have been so blessed with the sisters that have joined my life along the way. I have had the pleasure of living in a fair amount of states in this country and I am proud to have sisters in each. Some of my sisters are from way back in my childhood, but some of my best sisters are somewhat new and they are from Jersey, some from Ohio, some from California, some from Mississippi and the most recent sisters I left behind are from Florida.
Twanda was something that stuck like glue with me from the movie, Fried Green Tomatoes, and, to me, it seems like a battle cry we sisters have for one another. Twanda friends stick together, band together and do not let ego or vanity come in between friendships and sisters in need. Twanda friends step up in the bad times, open doors even when the house is not quite at its best and they show up to our rescue even when our request is unscheduled or inconvenient. Twanda friends even answer the phone at two a.m with a smile in their voice, trying hard not to sound like they just woke up, and they even assure you they were already awake so you’ll feel better.
Crisis and pain don’t happen with schedules and most of the ups and downs hit with some sudden and unexpected force. I love The Slogbag Sisterhood Twanda friends because they are the ones I can call on and they won’t tell me they are busy, they won’t ask me what I want….they will ask what I need and how they can help. They will laugh with me even when the world seems dark. I love that about Twanda friends. The part that amazes me most is that in those moments when autism may be kicking me in the back side and getting me down, my Twanda friends understand and support me even when they may not get everything about autism. Honestly, who does get EVERYTHING about autism? Twanda friends make it all better just by being there…whether it’s over a pot of soup or a garden of weeds, a cup of coffee or a walk around the block. Being there is what matters.
Life can be a tough place so be careful out there and keep your Twanda friends close 🙂