Sunday, July 25, 2010

Moving Pictures

I have never been much of a movie enthusiast, to say the least -- I might see 4 films in a year. Why? (I am asked this a lot here in Hollywood, with people's mouth agape in horror.) Beats me, really. Partly I prefer to read. And that is probably tied to my dislike for the emotional entanglement and the too visual environment of big screen films. I prefer to use my imagination, pace myself, skim when I need to, come back again when I want... I don't avoid hard topics when I read, but I do when I watch movies. I don't know how many times I've read (and wept through) The Diary of Anne Frank, but it took me several years to get myself to rent Schindler's List, and I made frequent use of my pause and fast forward buttons. I'm grateful to own the a copy of Anne Frank, but glad I've forgotten much of Schindler's List, which I never plan to see again.

I have read many books about autism. I confess that sometimes I've trudged and sometimes I've skimmed the most painful ones, and sometimes I've had to read through a curtain of tears. Since the Rooster's diagnosis, though, I have not watched any film depictions of autism. Of course, there aren't that many, but I've also been conscious of my choice.

My husband, on the other hand, has an entirely different relationship with film, and he works in the field. He has watched Apocalypse Now many times, and tried his best to foist it on me when we were dating, yet somehow we managed to stay together and get married anyway! He worked on the movie Saving Private Ryan, and he's hard to choke up in front of a screen. However, last week he came home from work not quite himself -- not quite as mellow and chill as is his natural, beautiful, even keel way. Of course, I probed. Turns out for work he'd needed to screen Rain Man a few times. "You know," he told me, "I could see some of our boy watching Dustin Hoffman, and it hurt to see." My husband is steeped in optimism, and he has tremendous faith in our boy and his potential. He said he didn't look at the movie and fear for Rooster that he might face the same particular set of challenges of the character or the real man who inspired the film. It's not about that, and it's not about judging the character or the movie's inspiration. Instead, he ached, I believe, for the realness of the story, and, he told me that he grieved, "for the what might have been, for anyone." Later that night, before bed, he brought it up again a different way. "Sometimes I think we forget that we always carry it with us, it's always there every day, you know? You think you aren't thinking about it and then you watch Rain Man and you find yourself shocked that you want to cry, but it's always a part of us underneath the surface." I guess that's why I don't watch many movies at all ... I have plenty of over-exuberant empathy in a day without adding that, I have too many things, not just autism, just beneath the surface that I carry with me. I'm glad J doesn't carry around as much as I do.

I think of Apocalypse Now and Saving Private Ryan and Schindler's List and Anne Frank as tragedies. I don't think that way of autism. I think of it as one kind of reality, which has countless different faces, different experiences. Would I eradicate autism if I could? I am sure some people will be offended if I say I would be okay with that. But autism, which really has been sucky in my overall experience, has undeniably given us gifts as well, and our boy is a joy to know, so I do not think of his autism as a tragedy.

Rain Man might just be a movie, but autism is a reality, and that's why I think J felt so moved.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Excuse Me

Taking the time to write this post causes me guilt.
Not taking the time to write this post would cause me guilt.
When stuck between a rock and a hard place, I write.

I faced a similar conundrum today. After two days of being part of a jury selection process, and two days of child care DRAMA that resulted in missing ABA for the Rooster both days, I found myself in the final minutes of court. It was after 4. The natives were restless. The prosecutor and defense attorney accepted the jury, and I had not been among the 12, though I was among those in the box. The 7-business-day trial would be able to start on Monday once an alternate was in place. The judge met counsel for a fast side bar, came back, announced juror 31 could be the alternate and we could all go home. As juror 31, I'd been dreading a moment such as this, and finally piped up in an 11th hour like I was in a movie or something. "Wait! Your honor, may I say something? I already explained this in the jury room and they told me to tell it to you should the need arise. My son is six and he has autism. The state provides him with therapy he needs. It's called ABA. And I have to be there to be part of it. If I am on jury duty, he will not be able to have his therapy, and he needs it."

The judge called the attornies to sidebar again. He returned, gruffly said, "Juror 31 is excused." I paused, so he said it more firmly again. "You are EXCUSED, juror 31."

All day I'd been imagining being excused. I imagined trying to resist smiling, trying to look serious as I exited. I'd watched others leave celebrating and considered that tacky and disrespectful. Instead, I slowly drooped out of the courtroom.

Not taking the time to do jury duty made me feel guilty.
Taking the time to do jury duty would have made me feel guilty.

I didn't expect to feel deflated by being excused. Quickly I did a gut check: I didn't like the idea I was "playing the autism card." Everything I said was true, but should autism get me something other people want? Or get me out of something other people don't want to do?

Mostly I felt confused.

Why did I cry in the courthouse alcove? Was it just this guilt? Was I ashamed? Embarrassed? Why did it make me so sad that in our group of about 20 people, another woman leaned over to me and said, "My son is ten and he also has autism." Why did it make me so emotional that another potential juror being excused as well grabbed me and hugged me in the badge-scanning line?

Why did I need to call my husband from the parking garage to unload it all to him before I could manage to drive? Why did my husband tell me he felt a similar feeling, to a lesser degree, when he did the exact same thing in a courtroom a few months ago?

We don't particularly WANT to do jury duty, but at the same time we wish we didn't have a free pass for such a challenging reason. It's hard to lay bare our issues in a forum like a courtroom. It's hard to say that we can't keep up with some responsibilities that others can because our plates are too full.

I told the nice stranger who hugged me that my boy is doing okay, he just needs the structure and support of his therapies. I didn't want her to think we were facing bigger challenges than we are; I didn't want to exaggerate, and I wanted to let her know I am proud of my son. "He's going to be okay," I said.

"I am sure he already IS okay," she told me. "He has a mother who works hard to take care of him. He is your boy. He is okay. He is okay." Another woman had appeared quietly from nowhere. "Things can always be worse," she said. "Everyone has challenges. They come at different times for everyone. Don't feel bad."

I couldn't keep my eyes dry.

I have more questions than answers about why my day made me so emotional. The important things, though, that I take away are these:

Maybe I shouldn't have taken the time from my homework to write this muddled post, but I feel better now that I did.
Maybe I shouldn't have escaped my civic obligation to maintain the Rooster's support programs, but now that I've reflected on it, I know that I'm glad I did.

I hope one day doing jury duty will be no big deal for our family.
I like to imagine Rooster serving one day, too.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010


Here is what passes for balance at our house.

The better that my son, my Rooster, does in overcoming behavior challenges associated with autism, the worse my neurotypical daughter behaves. For her, two was not terrible. It was the last time I remember thinking of her overall, general behavior as darling, delicious, delightful. She has plenty of good in her, but lately her choices? Rotten. Three was a year of tantrums and "no." Four is breaking me at the knees. On her good days? Roo has setbacks.

And that, friends, is what passes for "balance" at Rooster Calls.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Notable and Quotable for Sanity's Sake

Intense. We have no unfocused time. Even play is very purposeful. That is not to say there is fun; we just take no time for granted. We work on knock-knock jokes on our commute, laughing over and oven at "Lettuce in, it's cold out here." I am in a one-year credential program now, wondering if I'm crazy. But we manage, centimeter by centimeter, believing we are doing the right things for our family right now. And when it's really arduous, I stop and feel the gratitude that we are even, for this day, in a place where we can try to do this. Two years ago there was no room for trying this. And I always ask my kids, "What is the most important thing?" And they chorus, "To try!"

Notable and Quotable:

Roo: When I go to college, can I come home and watch TV?

Peach: Daddy, a boy in my class stuck something up his nose and couldn't get it out.
Daddy: Did a doctor have to get it out with an instrument?
Peach: Yes. Was it a tambourine?

Me: Who did you play with today at camp?
Roo: Miss Jessica.
Me: Roo, you should try to play more with the kids.
Roo: I never thought of that!

Roo: Mommy, after first grade, THEN can I go to college?

Friday, July 9, 2010


Whenever I am away from my children, I miss them. Sure, I need breaks from them, and crave a little time to myself once in a while, but my children grow and change every day, and I hate missing time with them. These difficult and beautiful children have become my addiction.

On the other hand, I will guiltily admit that, when I am with my kids, I miss some frivolous things. I am not talking about necessary things, like sleep, that I miss with a deep and abiding yearning, but about silly indulgences. I know this makes me seem selfish and ungrateful, but it's honest. I miss watching the news. Sadly, the news is too R Rated these days to watch around G ears. I miss trying out new recipes in the kitchen. J and I used to have romantic cooking dates, try sophisticated new meals or complicated Sunday pancakes from scratch. Now, we lack the time, the space and the energy, and our kids would never eat the dishes we used to enjoy concocting.

I really miss talking on the phone. I really miss that a lot lately.

My kids get nutty when I talk on the phone, competing for my attention, and I can't say the things I want or need to with them around, and they interrupt constantly, but one sad obstacle to having conversations is that I no longer have many people I can call. Many of my dear friends and much of my family live on the East Coast, and though they love me, I can't in good conscience ring them up after 7 my time, when they are heading do bed. In my own city, I have a few very close friends. I can call them. They are beautiful and wonderful, and they share and listen. They have heard, mostly face to face, all about the BIG THINGS going on with me, some to the point I feel ashamed I haven't coughed up a copay or something. For this reason, I can't always get myself to call them. I can't figure out what to say sometimes that is different from what I say every time.

I remember talking on the phone with a nostalgia that may be misguided and just plain wrong, but I miss CHATTING. I miss exchanging witticisms. I miss joking around. I miss banter, friendly sarcasm, even little bits of celebrity gossip once in a while.

I miss talking about what my friends and I saw on TV and what we cooked this weekend.

But these are small things to miss. They are nothing like being an airplane ride away and longing for two little arms wrapped around my neck.

Still, I am wondering, what small things do you miss?

Monday, July 5, 2010

One Fine Day

I over-think. And I talk too much.

People ask me how Peaches is doing, and I say, "Fine!" Unless they ask for details, I leave it at that.
People ask me how Rooster is doing, and for some reason I find myself analyzing numerous variables quickly in my head, then, less quickly, rambling on and on...

I want to learn to just say, "Fine!" For one thing, that IS the social convention. People expect to hear, "fine." For another, I do think my boy is fine. He is quite a fine person and quite a fine son.

What I find myself saying goes something like this:

"Okay, I guess. I'm never really sure. I mean, I think he's making good progress with some things, but other things sometimes seem to regress. And he never catches up, of course, but he's starting to make some strides in academics... well, in reading anyway, but math is another story... that has been really, really, really hard... and his health has been mostly better overall really...I just wish that..."

See? Queen of TMI.

I think maybe when people ask me how my son is, I hear, "How are you dealing with autism?" I want to remember:
- not everything is about autism
- not everybody really wants to know
- not everything is about me
- less is more

Next time you see me, ask me how my Rooster is; I want to practice replying with a four-letter f-word that is more than socially acceptable -- it's socially expected.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Metablog - There is no "I" in blog

I never would have imagined myself a blogger.

As a journalism major, I embraced writing for any newspaper section except sports, due to my complete sports ignorance, and opinion, due to my allergy to first person - though I had, of course, no shortage of opinions.

Friends and colleagues sometimes envied how quickly I could crank out a feature or a theater review, but when I became managing editor my senior year, I had to write every third house editorial, and I dreaded it. I procrastinated, and I leaned heavily on the generous support of our Opinion editor, Grant. I never kept those house edits in my clip file, because they never felt like mine, and I never felt comfortable with my voice.

I've kept a journal since I could hold a pen, but even then avoided "I."

So why is it that this blog is where "I" can be?

I've been thinking about this because my work and related studies compel me to blog, and I find myself once again feeling reluctant, shy, uninspired. What's the big deal that I have to blog about work? I blog all the time? But this blog, this is not work. And I don't feel like I write it; it writes itself. This blog is a gift a give myself. It's how I vent, breathe, share, bond.

I'm going to have to figure out how to blog in another element, and I am not sure how. The one thing I do know, though -- I don't want that blogging to crowd out this one. I have no intention of giving up my home here in the blogosphere where "I" live.