Thursday, November 18, 2010


This is a kind man, this psychologist with the British accent. I can tell. He has an earring. That alone got past my defenses, just a little.

I hate these appointments.

It is his job to evaluate Jude for services. The premise of the grant we are up for is that it is cheaper for the government to provide things like respite and care in the home than to pay for residential care.

Residential care. It sounds like swearing. We don't say those words in my house.

Nice guy asks Jude some questions, like what day is it, and where do you live? Jude points at some pictures when asked, but not all of them. I try not to interfere.

Actually, the worse this guy's report is, the better chance we have of getting the grant. I should not be trying to get Jude to show how smart he is. Rationality, though, is outside cooling its heels in the minivan. I left it there. I always do.

When the testing is all done, Don takes Jude outside to look at squirrels or whatever and I stay to talk to earring. He tells me, not unkindly, that Jude tests in the mentally retarded range, and that he will likely need residential care before his teen years are through.

He is brilliant, I say. Jude knows who Gustav Klimt is, for God's sake. He loves Thoreau. Keats. Brahms.

That might be, says nice earring man, but if he can't put on his own shoes, then his functional IQ is low.

There are plenty of people out there who function just FINE I want to say, and they never recognize beauty one freaking moment of their lives. I do tell him, that Jude is loved, and lovely, and happy. I might have waved my finger in his face.

Poor guy. What a crappy job. He gets paid to tell people things no one should ever have to hear.

Later, at home, I cry, weeping, sobbing with a towel in my mouth so no one can hear my anguish in the bathroom. It's not fair, God, not fair, you give me this beautiful child and then you ask me to give him up. I can't be that brave. Stop asking me to be so brave.

I send nice British earring guy an email, thanks for being honest with me.
He writes me back that my feelings are quite normal, but I can't use them to make decisions about Jude's future, because Jude deserves independence. Just like I am planning for Sage and Eden to grow up and have a life, so I must plan for Jude.

He is right. It is a selfish, crappy message to give to Jude that he can only be okay when he is with me, and that I only exist to wipe his nose and button his shirt. Just like God has a plan for Sage, and Eden, and me, and my friend's kids, and earring guy, He has one for Jude.

So I pull up my socks, and trust in God, and try to be brave. Just try. Right now, it is really all I can do. Okay God, and Jude, and earring guy, this is me, taking those baby steps. Trying to move forward, and trying to let go.

Just don't ask me not to cry.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Take Me to Your Leader

You can't push your tears back in. You can try, but the sadness will find its way, every time. That is what I want to teach Eden, and also myself. You can't make it go away, and it is the balance to joy, to laughing, which we have a lot of, but it gets mucked up without the yang of tears and heartbreak.  

At counseling we talked about Jude being in the hospital, and me being so upset that I couldn't speak, really. The family counselor asked Eden what that felt like for him. "Fine." 

So different than Sage and Jude. Sage expresses his feelings to everyone and everything with insight and eloquence, and I say everything because I have seen him filled with compassion to the point of tears for inanimate objects. No problems getting in touch with our emotions for Sage and me. And Jude, because when he is unhappy you can hear him in Nebraska. We are all out there.

Don and Eden are a different story. I am mystified by the reluctance to share, and the withdrawal that happens when I probe. So different. So strange. Like alien creatures, these people who pretend that they are not upset. Take me to your leader, I want to study your kind.

Counselor knows her stuff though, she presses, gently, and finally gets Eden to say what he is thinking.

"I was thinking," he says, staring at his Legos, that it was, (fingers to the eyes) my fault." 

I open my mouth to protest but the counselor holds up a hand. 

"Why is that, Eden?"
"Because I was glad he was gone so I couldn't hear him scream and we didn't have to watch Thomas all the time."  Now the tears come.  I get down on the floor with him. "I understand," I said. "Jude has been screaming a lot. I get tired of it too." Eden melts into my arms. 

The next day I ask him about it again. "Remember how you said you felt guilty when Jude was sick, that you felt like it was your fault?"


"Honey, yes you do. It was just yesterday."
"I forgot about that."

"Is there anything you want to say today?" I ask. He thinks a moment, then whispers in my ear.
"Sometimes I wish Jude didn't have autism".

"Me, too," I whisper back This is our secret, however openly kept, because we always try so hard to be cheerful, and grateful, and we are, and we do love Jude, and think he is awesome, but it is also as hard as hell sometimes, and we wish it was different.

Is that okay? Can we be sad and disappointed and frustrated and happy and joyful at the same time?

Well we are, and I guess it has to be okay, and I wonder if other families cry and laugh and love as much in one single day as we do. It has to be okay to for Eden to say he is mad, and tired, and wishes it was different. God knows our hearts, and he counts our tears, even if we try to push them back in with our fingers so no one else can see.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Trees and Leaves

It is my day to pick up Jude and take him to Special rec. Special Rec is a park district program for the developmentally disabled. Jude gets to go bowling, swimming, play tennis and apparently they are doing a production of Grease this year. Hmm. 

I stand outside the school and wait, watching the cute little kids with their backpacks file out and climb onto the busses. Suddenly there is a ruckus at the door and here comes Jude, barreling down the sidewalk, aid in tow. It is like watching someone trying to control a Great Dane. 

His teacher tells me today was okay, there was only one outburst, and that it wasn't so bad that they needed to call me. I spend most days praying not to hear the theme to the Exorcist, which is the school's ringtone. No news is good news as far as the school and I are concerned. I feel so helpless when they call and say he is tossing chairs and books around and screaming. No one knows why he does it, maybe not even Jude. 

"I hate it when Jude Hill throws things," he tells me in the car. I reach behind me and hold his hand, because clearly he feels helpless, too. Hurricanes blow in, and then they leave again, and things get broken and lost. All you can do is hunker down and pray.

It is a blustery fall day, and we drive down side streets to the park. Leaves are falling all around, and they crunch as we walk towers the park. Jude stops and watches a squirrel, who climbs up on a tree and looks at us expectantly. "Hi squirrel," Jude says. "Jude Hill is walking in some leaves." The squirrel is unimpressed, and we continue on our way. I consider just spending the afternoon with Jude on the playground, but for the sake of consistency I decide we need to stick with the plan. Jude reminds me he wants to be a butterfly for Halloween. "Caterpillars turn into butterflies!" he yells, running into the park house.

Jude leads the way, down the stairs into the basement room where adults and kids are painting posters for the Grease production. I am not sure if Jude will be okay with me leaving or not. I sign his name and when I look up, he and Amy, the nice instructor are painting. She waves and I head out the door.

I should be happy, I have two whole hours to write and drink coffee, but I look back several times and listen for yelling. I get in the car and pull away. At the stoplight down the street a short school bus pulls up next to me, and a round face with glasses smiles down at me and a chubby hand waves. I wave back and burst into tears. Jude is not the only one with mysterious feelings that seemingly blow in from freaking nowhere. 

It isn't as if I have never left my boys before. Preschool, dates, camp, rare weekends away with my husband have all stirred up anxious tears. When I get to the coffee place I grab a house blend and sit in the back. What the hell is wrong with me?

I am jealous of Amy, and everyone else who gets to spend the whole day with Jude. I used to be the only one who understood him and his needs, and now he has experiences that do not include me. Jude, like Sage and Eden, is growing apart from me, as he should. I just am not used to letting go of the one who clings to me so tightly. I thought I had more time. How is that for selfish? I was mostly okay with my son being a mystery, a beautiful enigma that unravels itself at its own pace. Happy to sit and watch while it all unfolds. Maybe I just want to share this afternoon with someone who sees the excruciating wonder of a yellow leaf falling from the sky. No one else I know does a happy dance over leaves in the wind or greets dumpsters with a happy shout.

At a Bible study last week my friend was talking about trees. When they look all bare, when all the leaves have fallen off and there they are, all stark and naked, that there is really so much life underneath, mysteries going on just beneath the surface, getting ready for spring and brand new life. It is hard to picture on this dark windy day, but I will have a little faith, I guess, that good things are happening even when I can't quite see it. Jude is growing and learning and enjoying all sorts of new things even if I am not standing right there. He won't be able to tell me about his afternoon with Amy, but I guess that is okay. Oh well. I love a good mystery. I really do.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Columbus Day

Driving is fun. We have to yell, yell out everything we see, the trains and the stop signs and the COLOR OF THE DUMPSTERS. A BLUE ONE MAMA and I cannot hear the radio. There are taxis and white vans and some stores we like, mattress stores for some reason and green means go, time to go, come on let's go.

Today is perfect, it is October but it is warm, leaves blowing across the streets and the trees have turned to that yellow gold Chicago color that combined with black branches means cold is coming, it is on its way.

We are headed to the woods, the forest preserves, with all the boys, one friend and Grandma. We have no plan except to walk around in the leaves and breathe, it is a good plan, we all just want some sun and a little time away from tv and the loudness of our house with what, like a hundred families in it. Let's walk and breathe. God it feels good.

Jude is out and down the hill before we can stop him so we follow, he is on his way to the river, or the piddly branch of it that runs through these woods. We walk run past dogs, people on bikes and what looks like a wedding reception on our way to the trees that guard the murky water. We know now that there will be no wildlife because Jude is crashing through the leaves like a big hungover moose so everything with even a little sense of self preservation will be long gone by the time we reach the treeline.

Sage is doing his best to keep up, I am watching him from the corner of my eye, worried about his ankles but pleased he is here, not at home playing Halo. His hair shines golden in the sun, and I realize with a shock that he is handsome, not just cute, and he is a teenager, not a child. Don helps Grandma over some tree roots and we are there, at the water, the mighty Chicago river, and there is a lawn chair and some beer cans. This is so, us, this trip, all this hoopla and chaos to get to some place that is somewhat less than epic but we are okay with that and pick up rocks and stuff to throw in the river.

Eden and Matthew are just on the edge, and I yell at them to step back and they start climbing a tree. There is a smell and I spend a few minutes contemplating calling the state troopers or the Doe Network but Don catches my eye and shakes his head. "Raccoon." God we are so married.

On the way home we get ice cream, and Jude is quiet now, with his head against the window, watching the world zip by, the world that fills him with wonder and fear and makes not so much sense to him but he is going to see it anyway, this beautiful boy, on this beautiful day, and there are leaves in my hair and mud on my shoes but we are good, all good, just for today, this moment, we are good.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Storm Clouds and the Cloths of Heaven

It has been nice here, by the lake. We have been swimming, fishing, grilling, and watching frogs and groundhogs and owls at night. Crickets and sunsets, that sort of thing.

A storm was brewing, though, and when the barometer drops my son's head starts throbbing and scraping the inside of his skull, like an animal that wants out. Sometimes it takes us an hour of screaming, tantrums. flailing, to figure out what is wrong. Then we turn the lights out and lie close to him, waiting for him to sleep.

He likes to hear poetry, so I read it. Anne Sexton, Emily Dickinson, John Updike, Yeats. He Wishes for the Cloths of Heaven. We read that one a lot.

The six year old comes in and out of the darkened room, because he can. We used to close the door, but the family counselor has asked us to 'meet the needs of the family in the context of the family,' in other words, don't lock the other kids out while you disappear into the one child seems to need you. So Eden climbs on the bed and kisses his brother on the forehead. He looks me and asks, "why do we all feel so bad when Jude is upset?"

"Because we wish we could fix it, and we can't," I say, because I have no good answers, except that love hurts, and I am sorry about that, truly I am. He wants to know why the room is dark. I explain that the type of headache Jude has makes light painful to him. In fact, the world is always just  a little too loud, a little too bright for Jude.
"You can just say migraine. I know what that is."  With that he is gone.

I can still here the thunder outside, rumbling off in the distance. I do wish I could fix it, bear the pain like Jesus, but I am not Jesus, just a mom with no super powers, just love and some wishes. It seems so lacking, as strongly as I feel, it seems like I could move a mountain, but all I can do is wait for it to end.

I read to him some more, not sure what he understands besides the sound of my voice. I wish for the cloths of heaven, but I am poor, so I lay my cloths down right here. It is raining now, and he is asleep. Tread lightly, my love, I whisper,
for you tread upon my dreams. 

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Love, Longing, and Dumspters

Jude likes dumpsters. He has them memorized, which ones are where, what color they are, what numbers are on the side.  A trip to the park begins with a run to the alley side, through the fence, and a dumpster announcement. "It's a BLUE one! And it's FRIENDLY!" We have never encountered an unfriendly dumpster, and hopefully never will.

Dumpster spotting is easy from the el, Jude announces them all along the Red Line. Sheridan, Addison, Belmont, we know where they are, they can't hide from us. We shout them out so everyone can hear.

Yesterday we went on a dumpster tour of Uptown. Down Wilson, over to Hazel, Eastwood. We approach the Habitat for Humanity townhouses next to the free clinic. The kids playing out front stop and stare. "Can we look at your dumpsters?" I ask, trying not to look creepy. The kids look at Jude, who is flapping and giggling with excitement, and back to me. They nod slowly, and then book it into the house.

As we  stand in the parking lot, Jude patting the dumpster like a beloved pet, I see the curtains flutter in the upstairs window and realize mom has been informed of Weird People on the Premises. I give a little wave, and the curtains close. Time to go.

There is one last dumpster we must see, but we cannot touch it, it lies behind a gate that only opens when the nice cars of the condominium owners, the brave but fearful pioneers that come with gentrification arrive home from work. This is the unattainable, the Holy Grail, and Jude presses his face against the bars with unrequited love and longing. I press my face against the bars. too, trying to see what he sees, with longing not for the dumpster but for my son, this mystery that unfolds far too slowly for my taste, a little piece at a time.

"Why do you like it so much?" I ask, not expecting an answer. "It's beautiful," says Jude.

An SUV honks and we step aside. The gate closes and we turn and head towards home, willing to let some things remain a mystery for now, but someday we will get to touch that dumpster. Until then, we will be patient, and admire the beauty from afar.

Thursday, July 22, 2010


it is night, a purple dark
with shades of navy blue
and there is water
dripping in the alley 
you are breathing
a giggle
and your hand waves in its own celebration of what is inside 
and I rest my hand on your chestFeel it moveWith just my fingers 
and smell the sweet yeast of your shirt 
if I close my eyes you are a baby Gentle and malleable and soft
and you smile But now there is  tinsel And it surrounds a white patch In my heart
and I need to fill it in With a marker or some felt
so no one falls in but you are here 
and I am not sure if I broke you 
or if you grew away
because I did not twist the tendrilsIn the right direction 
this is what we have in this blue dark nightAnd it may be enoughIf we decide it is
and we do

Wednesday, July 21, 2010


My son flaps his hands and bellows at the television
Shouting out his own poetry
Words that mixed inside his head
pop out at random 
like lottery balls
they create a picture 
in the afternoon light

This is not what we had planned
yet it has its own beauty
like plastic bags in the wind
or tears on the eyelashes 
of a child when his birthday is done

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Lost Time

These have been anxious days, the sort that make me cling tight. The summer brings back memories, memories of loss and things gone wrong. Heat shimmers and I think of a newborn in the hospital and my father's grave with the red dirt turned up and hats off on a dusty road to the cemetery. So many tears shed in the summer heat.

Jude's medicine is making him sick. We were trying to help, help the anxiety and obsession and the no sleeping that comes with this unwelcome gift called autism. So far no medicine has been worth the side effects, the shaking, the dull eyes, the sleeping all day. I feel caught in the worst conundrum, treating my son like a recipe that just needs tweaking or leaving him with anxiety he cannot bear.

We were back in the ER last night, and they had to take blood. The nurse was filled with compassion because he, too, has a child with autism and understands not being able to fix the abject terror that overcomes someone who cannot sort out your words or make sense of your facial expressions. Don knows I cannot stay, so he tells me to go and I am not quite down the hall when the screaming begins.

The chapel is empty and I move past the quilts filled with the names of babies parents only got to hold once, past the religious pamphlets and sheets of paper with comforting scriptures on them. I find the book where people write their prayers, their pleadings, and write HELP ME GIVE HIM BACK TO YOU. I flip through this big book of sorrows, and see where I wrote the same thing twice last year.

This love, this clinging, desperate guilty love, is doing us no good. Jude has a life to live, a good one, if I can release him to it, and if I love him more than myself, he has some beautiful damn stuff in store. He isn't here to meet my needs, but to fulfill his own purpose, one that belongs only to him. Holding him to me won't fix whatever went wrong, whatever hurt his brain. The smartest doctors in the world can't explain it to me, nor can they convince me it isn't my fault, that I didn't break him somehow.

I remember my father hanging on in a fitful coma for days after his heart attack, and me, barely out of my teens, whispering in his ear that I would be okay. It was an act of unselfishness, I wanted to beg him, no, don't go, stay, please I need more, but I let him go. And he left.

When we got home Jude curled up on the couch next to our bed. I sat next to him and held his hand. "Do you remember," I ask, "when you had no words? And Mama prayed to hear your voice?"

"We are making up for lost time, Mama," Jude says, clear as day, and this moment of clarity shocks me, and yes, God yes, we have lost time, time lost clinging and not trusting, time lost to fear and selfishness.
No more clinging, just letting go, and maybe a little dancing, and running, and maybe a little waving goodbye.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Hold Me

If he would just stop, stop screaming, stop throwing things, stop struggling, just for a moment, I could hold him, I could rock him, I could whisper in his ear that he is okay, I love him I'm not mad, just let me hold you and smell your hair and it will be alright.

The medicine that was supposed to bring sleep has done the opposite. Jude is flinging himself against the wall and shouting at the top of his lungs. Sleep. god, we just want sleep. it has been so long since we have had sleep or even a moment to breathe, just to be.

Have you ever been tubing?  A boat pulls you through the water while you hang on to an inner tube, bouncing and twisting and hitting the water while you cling for dear life. That is what this week has felt like.

Last night while Jude was screaming and tossing his (and our) things about I went and sat in the kitchen. Eden came and asked if he could tell me a secret. He whispered in my ear that sometime he gets mad at Jude.

Me too, I told him. Then he whispered that sometime, just sometimes, he wished that Jude didn't have autism.

I hugged him and cried silently, and Rachel walked by and noticed I was crying and brought me some tea, and eventually Jude calmed down and I lay next to him, kissing his head and telling him it is okay to be angry, but please don't break stuff, and he sniffles and says sorry, sorry, I'm sorry Mama. Jude Hill was afraid of the parts. What parts? I wish I knew.

He falls asleep and I pray, silently, and try very hard to just stop flailing, stop struggling, stop fighting, and let the lover of my soul comfort me, and tell me everything is okay, and it will all be alright.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010


Don has a migraine again. Every Saturday. I wish we could figure out what we did on Friday that makes him incapacitated every Saturday morning. That’s it. No more fun on Friday night. Apparently, diet soda and medical shows are harmful to your health.

So I get up with the boys, who are hungry, well two of them, anyway, Sage is sleeping in like a good adolescent. I make eggs and pop tarts and we play ball in the yard, and Gramma, bless her soul, has made me coffee, which will help me get through the next hour anyway.

When Don gets up I ask him to wake Sage so I can do his infusion. Every day Sage has to wake up and put a needle in his arm and we put back what genetics denied us, Von Willebrand’s factor and some factor eight. It is a hard thing to wake up to, but he’s gotta have his Vitamin VWD so he can move around somewhat normally. It is just what hemophiliacs do but we are new to this and while I do not blame Sage for the drama that ensues I have to be mean, very mean and make him do it.

Somehow we get it done and Sage and Eden are off to bass and ‘Making Monsters Art Class,’ respectively, and Daddy takes them because Mama does not wish to lug the amp.
Gotta love scholarships and sliding scales. Now my kids are enriched. They leave and I turn to Jude. He has a look in his eyes that tells me he has plans, probably for shredding paper or throwing stuffed animals out the window, but he and I are going to do flashcards because  Emily the autism expert told us we have to learn about a hundred sight words. She gave us a list at the open house Thursday night. I am committed to getting it done for my son’s education and his future, and because I want to redeem our family image after Jude shouted MY UNDERWEAR IS ON BACKWARDS at the top of his lungs during the principal’s speech.

Jude is looking at the ceiling, not his flashcards, and I have to figure out what he is looking at and get his attention or he will never learn to read for God’s sake, so I get behind him and look up. There, hanging from the light fixture, is a little brown blob.

"Hamster!" says Jude.

Actually, it is a bat. I am thrilled and I yell for my neighbor Tom and get a bin. Tom bumps the bat into the bin with the lid while I yell around about rabies. Tom snaps the lid and hands it to me. 

This bat is the cutest thing I have ever seen. He is about the size of a chicken thigh, reddish brown and he stumbles around the bin, looking like I felt this morning.  I am in love.

"Hamster!" Says Jude.

When Don gets home he feeds him some water with a syringe and Sage tries to convince us that we could keep the bat, really, he needs a home, it would be educational and we have snakes a bat isn’t that much more exotic? This turns into wailing and freaking out when we say we are calling Bat Rescue. I get on the computer, and wow, there is really a couple that rescues bats in Humboldt Park, so we all pile in the car to take Mausferatu to someone who can nurse him back to health. 

We find the place okay, way on the West Side past the groovy neighborhoods on the Near West Side. This place still has some personality to it and the guy who takes our package says that he is a red bat, and that he will take good care of him. Sage says goodbye and to our relief does not reenact the scene from The Yearling.We go to a local park so Jude and Eden can run off steam, and there are older kids there, smoking and swearing and trying to get pregnant with their clothes on. I think I prefer this to the condo moms with the fertility strollers that have invaded my neighborhood. Don points out that there is very little gun violence among those who drink Evian and buy organic, but I still like being in a place untouched by gentrification, just for a little while.

"Goodbye, Hamster!" says Jude.

We get in the car and ride home, it is dark now, and we are riding through the trendy neighborhoods again, stopping to let gaggles of college kids across the street. We pass open bars and patios and lights strung across the darkness. I remember when I was that age, and I had come to Chicago to help the homeless and save souls, my own most of all, and we would stand outside the bars and the shows with flyers explaining salvation and invitations to church and our coffee house.  I felt fine with the winos and prostitutes back in our neighborhood but the kids my own age, drinking beer, laughing, dating whoever they wanted, that got inside my head. I would never admit it, but I felt the pull of the world, what was shallow, easy, fun, it called to me. I would stand on the sidewalk and close my eyes and let the throng wash over me, not touching me. Please God, I would pray. Help me stay on this path. Just help me stay on this path. 

That was when I was eighteen, and now I am forty, moving through the night in a beat up van, listening to the delta blues on NPR. This music touches something in Jude, and he starts to call out in the dark, loudly, singing along with the blues, and it is beautiful, and I take my husband’s hand, and it is all good, so good, all the heartbreak and joy and sorrow and love, and I am loving this path, this wonderful path, and nothing could make me stray from it, this long and bumpy trail. It is our story, a very good story, and I want to see how it ends.

Friday, May 28, 2010

A Separate Peace

Jude comes in our room at night. We send him back to his room, but it doesn't work. It frustrates my husband, he wants, understandably, just a little time to ourselves. The trouble is, there is a magnetic pull, calling to Jude, willing him to pad down the hall and open our door.

It is me. I will him to come down here, for one more kiss, one more sleepy snuggle.

In my mind, I have had to sacrifice so much, what with sending them off to school, teaching them to do things without me. It is especially hard with Jude, who for so long could not speak. We have this connection, this way of communicating without words, a soundless understanding. It is hard to give that up. In a sense he is my last baby, my last child who understands my wordless love, who is comforted by my smell and the beating of my heart.

There is a part of me that wants to consume the one I love, to be enveloped in them, to breathe them. Separation is the hardest thing to face, but perversely it is my greatest responsibility as a mother. How messed up is that? My whole purpose in life was to bond and nurture, bond and nurture, and now my greatest calling is to send them away?

The bible addresses the idea that children become idols in several places. The godly (Abraham, Hannah, Mary) hand them over willingly, while the ones who cling hurt themselves and their children. I see it. I want to cling tight and never let go. I see how wrong it is, too, the selfishness, the needs I want to meet through those whose needs I am meant to meet.

Love is sacrifice, love is letting go. Love is teaching you to tie your shoes and not having to know what you did at school today. Love is sending you and your fuzzy head that smells like summer back to your room, to dream your own dreams, not mine, separate and well defined.

I love you. And that's the truth, that is what is real. I don't have to sacrifice my dreams, my plans, my wants, my desires.

I just have to let go of you.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Impulse Control

Every family has one, and in our family, it was me. Impulse control was not my very best thing growing up. I was the one stepping in the mud puddle that filled up my shoes, touching the light socket, and once, famously, feeding the dachshund a big piece of taffy that sealed his mouth shut and sent him to the vet.

It seemed like a good idea at the time.

My parents despaired. I had a pristine, well behaved older sister who never even got her clothes dirty. It would never occur to her to overflow the bathtub or put beans in her ears. This made my exploits seem even more outrageous by comparison. As an adult I still struggle with this, firing off outraged emails I regret moments later, or making a joke that seemed funny in my head, but rings highly inappropriate as it leaves my mouth. It's a work in progress.

My oldest son is well behaved. He doesn't talk back, has a kind demeanor, and is very truthful. The thing is, though, is that poor impulse control seems to be genetic.

We have gone to the hospital for swallowed pennies, party favors in noses and falls off detergent bottles. (It was a game that ended badly.) We have discovered the hard way that some things do not flush, no matter how hard you try. Last September he jumped out of a playground tower, breaking both feet, in spite of being keenly aware of a bleeding disorder and thin bones.

"But, why?" everyone asked.

Everyone but me.

Two nights ago my sweet, creative son decided to practice using his epinephrine pen that he has for allergy emergencies. When he came into my room, bleeding and hyperventilating, gasping, "EPPY PEN, EPPY PEN!!" I thought he NEEDED the eppy pen. No. His heart rate was through the roof and he looked like he might pass out.

On the way to the hospital, in the ambulance, I had a hard time not laughing. Sage was fine and I felt giddy with relief and the thought of telling the story at family dinners for years to come.

"Why aren't you mad?' He asks.

"Because you make sense to me," I say. I know that the humiliation of the neighbors seeing the ambulance and the pain of the needle that went through his thumb is a powerful lesson, just like the casts he wore on his feet. I want him to remember that instead of ranting and yelling from me.

He and I sit in the waiting room for about an hour, and his heart rate is fine, blood pressure, too. The nurse is mean, and there are a lot of sick and broken people waiting, so we walk home down city sidewalks in a companionable silence that only happens sometimes, rarely, with someone you truly, truly understand.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Deliver Me

In 1996 I wanted kids. Several. Immediately. After one miscarriage I had not been able to get pregnant, and was told that with the mild bleeding disorder that ran through my family I had a high chance of not being able to carry a child. All my friends were getting pregnant and giving birth to pretty, healthy babies with ease. My fury with God, who I had, along with my husband, committed to serve in an inner city intentional community, was ruining my life.

While my friends were having baby showers, I was at Cook County Hospital getting my tubes cleared.

Thanks a lot, God.

My religious commitment only ran so deep. I guess I felt He owed me, after all the things I had given up, mostly things that were bad for me, like my crazy family and getting high with strange men in trailer parks. Or I felt like He owed me because I thrown myself into working with the homeless, particularly elderly homeless, with a fervor, seeing myself as selfless, but looking back I guess frantic activity was the best way of not thinking about stuff that made me want to get high in trailer parks, like my family.

Over a decade of being a Christian , and this was it for me as far as personal growth.

So, the day I took a pregnancy test to make sure it was safe to take yet another round of hormones that made me want burn down the public library, and there were two lines, I was thrown. I called our doctor, a very attentive guy with a ponytail who had been amazingly patient with my threats and demands. (At one point he put his hand on my husband’s shoulder and gave him a look of sympathy. This offended me so much I paged him repeatedly at 3 a.m. the following morning and punched in a made up number.)

“Well,” he said,” now that you are pregnant, we have to keep you that way.”

And so it began. Nine months of bed rest, vomiting, bleeding, scares, and finally the docs just put me in the hospital for the duration.

It is hard to describe what Cook County was like in the nineties. Suffice it to say I was Dr. Chronopoulos’ only patient that was not an inmate in Cook County Jail. The other ladies on my floor were either homeless or from rehab. Actually, that did not bother me as much as the endless medical students and doctors coming in to prod me and talk about me like I was a show on the Discovery Channel. I had three weeks to go and I was not, as they say,
a happy mommy.

The ladies there helped me pass the time by inviting me to watch slasher films and crank call poor Dr. Chronopoulos, who was very handsome and was so nice he gave all his patients his home pager. We would take turns waddling down to the pay phone and paging him and when he would call back everyone would cat call him from the lounge. He always returned his pages, though, and he never got mad.

His best friend, another resident of Greek descent with equally good looks and a very nice disposition would come up to see me on the floor. I liked Dr. Michael but it was hard not to make cynical cracks about fraternities and trust funds when he and Dr. Chronopoulos were around. The truth was, Cook County was the place to do your residency, and you only got in if you were good. They were so kind to me. I think they knew I was scared.

Finally, thank God, my water broke. No turning back. I was so overdue I looked like a Volkswagen and I felt positively postal. Dr. Chronopoulos showed up in the wee hours of the morning to deliver my baby, kindly ignoring the threats coming from my spinning head and working with my absolute refusal to push. And my baby was out. I held out my arms, but a lot of people were in the room and they were all working on him. A boy. The room was silent.

Dr. Chronopoulos jumped up on the table and started shoving his fist into my belly. I protested but he told me to be quiet and do what he said. Apparently I was hemorrhaging. And I had not heard a single sound from across the room.

 Later that night, back on the ward, the nurse woke me up to take my vitals. “How is my baby?” I asked, and she patted my shoulder. “Just another opportunity for God to do a miracle,” she said.

Yeah, I thought. Please God. Just this one more thing. A miracle. My belly felt like wading pool at the end of the summer, deflated and sad, and there was no baby,
He had been taken to the NICU across the street.

No baby.

The next day Don and Dr. Chronopoulos showed up with a wheelchair. Let’s go, they said, and I put my pillow over my head and sang “Guantanamaro”, pretending I was at Burger King.

“Rebecca,” said Dr. Chronopoulos in my ear. “Let’s go see your baby.”

I let myself be bundled into the chair and pushed through the massive underground tunnels that connect the buildings of the County Medical complex. When we arrived at the NICU I looked at my husband. “I can’t,” I said. I was so scared to see my baby; afraid he would be in pain, afraid to love someone who would die. I just couldn’t.

“Is he hooked up to tubes?” I asked. The NICU doc who had joined us laughed. “He was, but he pulled the vent tube out and started breathing on his own.”

“Really?” All the doctors were standing around, smiling.

“Really,” said my husband. And I got up, and walked over to the isolette, and there he was, looking so peaceful, so wise, like he knew the answers to all the things that troubled my heart, and we pressed out faces against the plastic, my husband and I, and we named him Sage.

 Dr. Chronopoulos gets a picture of Sage every year, and so does Dr. Michael. Dr. Michael has a private practice out in the suburbs and he delivered my next two babies. He has threatened to leave the country if I get pregnant again.

Dr. Chronopoulos works at a big hospital in the suburbs, with a successful private practice, and I hear his patients love him, and that he has children of his own. I hope he is enjoying fatherhood, and that his answering service weeds out all the crazies who try to call him at three a.m. for absolutely no good reason at all.

 Happy Birthday Sage.
I came alive the day you were born. 

Tuesday, May 4, 2010


The theatre, she would say, is ephemeral. Whatever, I thought in my fourteen year old brain. This is I Remember Mama, lady, and Alabama is pretty freakin far off Broadway. But my tweaky drama teacher had a point, it was just a moment in time, never to be again. That is a hard concept for an adolescent, not taking things for granted. You are pretty much trying to ignore everything because you are waiting for your real life to begin. This is just a dress rehearsal until you get a driver's license.

Ephemeral. Not a bad word, though I don't get to use it much. Working it into a sentence would make me sound all farty and pretentious like the drama teacher. I think about it a lot, though. In fact, it is the key to parenting kids whose futures are kinda iffy, in the sense that who the hell knows where we will be tomorrow, much less ten years from now? Nothing like precarious health to remind you to live in the moment. That and giving up on expectations, which is actually a good thing, a really, really good thing.
Every smile, every hug, every kiss is just a bonus, a windfall, like winning money off a scratchy ticket.

I am writing, right now, listening music on my earbuds and Jude is home from school, recovering from the migraine he had last night and dancing in front of the tv, worshipping Bert and Bernice the pigeon in an interpretive dance sort of way that goes surprisingly well with the Ting Tings, and it is ephemeral, a moment in time, a perfect, sweet moment that only comes from releasing what you thought you wanted and letting yourself be carried away by joy, by what tastes exquisite on your tongue right here, right now, and knowing not everyone gets to let go like this. My teacher, not the drama lady with her delusions of grandeur, but my teacher with blond hair, a too small Tigger shirt and a way with words has so much more to teach me, and here I am, ready to learn, not looking forward but satisfied to sit and learn at the feet of the master.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Use Your Words

We all want to be heard. We all have a voice. If you can find your voice, you can live. Speak, my counselor says, speak. The pain we hold close, like foxes beneath our coats, hidden but clawing us to death.

Jude needs to speak, he screams and we say use your words, love. Tell me why you are screaming, why are you angry, what does it mean?

Use your words. There are no words sometimes, just something primal that must come.

If we can write it, we live. We can breathe.

Jude is screaming, BEACH BEACH over and over and over. He has his bathing suit on,  Red faced. Gasping and sobbing. How can get him to understand, the beach is closed, it is 55 degrees, I wish I could take you, but I can't.

I get out paper. I tell Jude to draw a picture of the beach. I write underneath, Jude wanted to go to the beach, but it was closed. He was sad and mad. May 21 is beach day. the end.

Quiet. Jude allows me to hold him. He holds the paper in his fist.

We just want to be heard.

If I can speak it, I can live. It cannot hurt me now, what was done to my body, years and years ago, yet will kill me if I hold it. I will use my words. I kiss his head, salty and sweaty. I hear you, love. It is just that simple. We all have a voice, and we all have to use our words.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Storm Season

Every spring. Every spring it seems we go through this, the meltdowns, the sudden inability of Jude to regulate himself at all. Just last week he was happy, playing, sweet, funny. Now the storms have come, blowing in with no warning and wreaking havoc on our lives. I am hanging on for dear life.

I know why some children pound their heads. Sometimes you just have to do something.

Screaming one minute, sobbing broken hearted the next. Waves, wind. Every year it gets harder because he gets bigger. I don't want him to hurt himself, or anyone else. I wish I could stand there and absorb the blows, if it would make anything better. It might make me feel better, but I don't know why. If someone you love has never screamed in agony while you stood by helplessly, you are very lucky, very blessed.

When a storm comes. you have to hold on tight. Wait it out. Try not to get hurt. Things can be replaced, right? Isn't that what they always say? Toys, doors, stuff get broken, and my heart, my heart gets broken, over and over and over again, and I have to convince myself, one more time, that there is someone asleep in the boat, unconcerned, and that it will be okay when He wants it to be, and not one minute before that, and that we will not be lost, no, it will be alright in the end.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Fly Boy

Sage tried to run yesterday. He really shouldn't have, his joints and tendons and bones just aren't able to handle the pounding. I should have a talk with him. He actually missed school today. It was a really bad idea, like last summer when he jumped off the playground tower and cracked bones that were brittle from lack of use. What was he thinking? I heard that phrase repeatedly from his doctors, friends, teachers.

So, I suppose I should be having a talk with him. THINK boy. You have limitations, for God's sake. Look before you leap. Count the cost. Accept your situation.

Here I sit, drinking my coffee, thinking all these grown up parenting thoughts. Here is the thought, though, that keeps coming back to me.

Screw maturity. Run. Jump. Fly, boy, fly. And never, ever let anyone say you can't.

That's what I have to say to you, and I will always be limping right behind you, while everyone else is on the sidelines watching and slowly shaking their heads in a very sensible way. Because even if your feet and legs don't work at all, I will be damned before I tell you your spirit can't soar.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

The Education of the Divine Dr. M

I am ashamed to admit I have held it against her, all these years, poor Rebecca Mermelstein. Dr. Mermelstein, to you. And to me, but that is another story.

It was one of those moments where you remember every detail, what we were wearing, how the furniture was arranged, and how Marnie the perky social worker squeezed my hand. I knew it was going to be bad.

We had just completed weeks of testing, developmental, psychiatric, everything, for Jude. He had already received a diagnosis of PDD NOS, which means We Don't Know What the Hell Is Wrong With Your Child but We Suspect it Has Something to Do with Autism. This pronouncement is often followed by the We Just Don't Know That Much About the Brain speech, beloved by parents everywhere, who know it really means Don't Blame Me I Can't Fix Your Child. I was hoping for a glimmer of hope from the Divine Dr. M, as we had been calling her at home. She worked for the developmental nursery Jude attended in West Rogers Park that served the orthodox Jewish community. We found our way in there and loved it, feeling accepted and supported, and they adored Jude, in spite of the fact that he spent a lot of time screaming.

Dr. M told us that Jude was unable to do much of the testing, and when he did he was highly disorganized and easily overwhelmed. Most distressing, she said, was his lack of sense of self, and that he only recognized people who were important to him (his teacher, for example) in the context that he knew them in.

I responded appropriately, by crying a lot and then having to be coaxed from the ladies room.

When we got home I tried to throw the test results out the fifth floor window but Don said we might need them later. I told myself what I always did, that Jude was a sage and a poet and that no piece of paper could define him. Nope. Never.

Jude is ten now, and we just had him retested for the first time, because I was never, ever going through that again. We have worked like dogs the last six years, behavioral therapy, occupational, speech, play therapy, and therapy for me and the whole family including Grandma for God's sake. Somewhere along the line acceptance snuck in, and God gave me the grace, the mercy to enjoy my beautiful son, so perfect, so golden, revealing mysteries just a little at a time, like a complicated puzzle only I can put together. What a privilege.

We had to do it for school, though, the testing, and it made my stomach hurt. Marnie has since changed jobs, and now we have Elana, and Wendy, who are just as sweet but not as perky, which is fine. I brought tissues.

Dr. M started by saying her biggest finding was that Jude could do every bit of the testing with no modification. She said he has trouble thinking and learning sequentially, and learns everything Gestalt.

Done googling? Okay. I asked her if communication was his biggest obstacle. She smiled. He is a brilliant communicator, she says, it is as if he has been dropped in a foreign country and has figured out this fascinating way to communicate with metaphor.

I asked her for predictions, and she said, well, she supposed she wasn't very good at predictions, since she never would have predicted Jude would be this far at the age of ten.

I can see him becoming a poet, she says.

Oh, Dr. M.

We rode home in the sunshine, windows open, hands out the window. So different than the ride home years ago. God, it feels good when someone tells you something happy about your child. Brand new experience for me. I could get used to this.

The other night we were in Home Depot, in Skokie, looking for I don't know, wood or something, and I had made up a song about Dr. Mermelstein. It was a rap, really, saying all her names. Walking backwards reciting them while Don tried to pretend he did not know me.

Beks, Becca, Dr. M Bo Becca, and I ran into someone. I turned and I promise this is true, it was her. Dr. Rebecca Mermelstein, and she smiled the kindest smile I had ever seen, and I thought, the kind heart knows. Some things the heart just knows.