Friday, February 25, 2011

The Meaning of Life

           At the age of 7 or 8 years old, children become very philosophical and start asking questions like the meaning of life, how it is made, how life is formed, or simply,"How was I made?' or more concretely,  "Mom, what do boyfriends and girlfriends do?" How do you even begin to formulate an answer concise enough to satisfy their curiosity? or at least substantial enough to begin teaching them, well, the real meaning of life without confusing them? A few already have ready answers in their pockets in the hopes of preserving their child's innocence for as long as they can. I was amused with some of their answers, " Boyfriends and girlfriends go to church and stay as far away as possible and they pray." This is funny. Yet it doesn't really answer anything. Nor does it even tell a quarter of the truth. Going back to the question, what indeed is the meaning of life?  More importantly, how do we teach our children what life is? Do we define it for them? Do we let them discover the world on their own?

           Ever since Garret was diagnosed with Autism, life, for us,  took a different turn. Expectations had to be erased. Old beliefs disproved, and our faith questioned. The dreams I had for him--conventional dreams, that is, were "broken". I wanted him to be a theater performer or a writer, or an eloquent speaker. I wanted him to meet the girl of his dreams and spend numerous sunrises and sunsets with her. In short, just like all parents, I wanted the my child to experience and have "best" of everything. Sadly, I realized, I became one of those parents who was creating an identity for their child because of their own dreams not realized or because of their unaccomplished aspirations. So, as you can imagine, on March 2008, when the doctor laid all the cards on the table, I simply broke down. CNN kept on playing documentaries of children with autism, which further intensified the reality of it all.  At the time, I could not accept what fate had given us. I went inside the room and wept. Andro came in and held me. I remember saying, what will happen to Garret? "Malu-oy ko ni Garret". And in the most comforting, reassuring and realistic tone, my husband, told me,  " Honey, Garret is not abnormal, he doesn't have a disease, he is just different." The load on my shoulders lifted. I nodded and said to myself, "He is only different. So why am I weeping?" And as if reading my thoughts, Andro added, " He is unique and special, and he is our son. And we will love him no matter what."

        Looking back, I now realize that I was weeping because, like I said, my own dreams for him were broken. Of course, I know now how foolish I had been to dwell in these notions. I am in no place to demand from my son what he should do, what he should become and what he should accomplish. He is his own person, Autistic or not. It was as if God was telling me out rightly, "There you go again, planning your own plans, not even consulting me. Remember, I alone know everything. and I alone make the plans." There it was. Enough was said.

        So back to the question, what is the meaning of life? And better yet, how do I teach Garret the meaning of Life? With all that our family has been through, I think I may have found the answer, defined in our own terms: Life is love. Love in the purest most unconditional sense. Love is learning to take things and people as they are, not as what it or they should be--no expectations, no what must be's. Life is love exemplified... And how do I teach Garret all this?  I think it has been the other way around. With his autism, it may seem as if he already knows all that is most essential. God has formed him this way. He has been given the gift of life and love. He is our gift. And our gift-- our Garret has been teaching us what life really is.

         As for Morgan? Well, we are still waiting for life to unfold for him. But what we do know for sure is that when he begins to become philosophical and asks how life is formed, what life is, and what love is?,  we will tell him, "Look at your Kuya, life is all about loving your brother for all that he is and will be."  and as for Love? For the sunrises and sunsets he will spend with the love of his life? Maybe I will show him how their father and I have held on to each other through autism, through everything, thus far.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

I am Autism

Beyond bars made of rope
Boats, canoes drifting
Oars lie
waiting to be steered
The bars are made of rope
not iron or steel
I hold
them and they mold
into my palms
albeit burning them a bit
But it's alright
If I try
I can pull them apart
and have a clearer view
of what lies beyond
And this is why
I need you
to help me
Hold my hand
Grip it tight
Prod me on
to the light
Cautiously, I step
out of the weaved shackles
and carefully, precariously
into the canoes of hope
See what I can do
See what I can teach you
My smile,
my laughter
my tears
my joy,
my confusion,
my pain,
Come into my world
See what it's like
to see the sky in
rainbow colors instead of blue
to find joy in spinning
to find comfort in echoing
to find peace in dreaming
See my everlasting innocence
my pure heart
I am healing you
as you are healing me
Life as I know it
as I am
and will be..
I bid you come
with me
It's a whole new world
Link your fingers
with mine,
let us watch the sun rise
There is nothing left to say
except
I am beauty made life!

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Garret's Prayer

            We were on the road to the Monastery of St. Clare where a shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe is mounted on top of the hill. This is our usual Sunday morning routine with the boys. Garret so loves staying up there for 20-30 minutes at least. It is the one of the very few times where he does not mind the staying-put & doing-nothing situation. On our trek up the steep stairs, he was already grinning from ear to ear. I firmly hold his right hand, he searches for his papa's hand, but finds Morgan's chubby foot instead. Andro was carrying Morgan on the way up. He contents himself with holding on to his brother's limb. And when we reached the top, he quickly goes to the vase of flowers anticipating some water left in the pot. This is one of the many things that calms him-- water. Water rippling, flowing, light shining through the water, his reflection perhaps? When he sees that flowers crowd over the water, he attempts to pull the flowers. I said, "No, Garret, that's for Mama Mary." He quickly withdraws his hand. There is a slight drizzle and the wind blows very gently. Morgan,as usual,  the naughty one, wriggles down his father's grasp and starts to explore the place, his yaya at the ready. Garret then sits down between his father and me on the steps just below the statue. He gazes into the horizon already smiling. Mountains, plants, trees, oh and the sky, the great blue sky with the wispy white clouds bask our eyes. Andro and I fell quiet. Garret giggles quietly and flaps his hands toward the scenery.  He remains seated with no other movements save for his stimming. It is as if he has come to a different place. It is as if God was there talking to him.

        In my darkest hours, I have often asked God even screamed my prayers asking whether he has a plan that I know nothing of for my son and my family. And I could hear no answers, no voice, no wisdom, no nothing. Only my cries of desperation. When I finally get exhausted and could weep no more, time and again, I could hear whispering, "Just let it go. Let me do it for you. Do not think anymore. Let me carry your load...if you could just let go." It is in silence that I could hear angels comforting me.

         Looking at Garret now being in this different, strange place, sitting down, being quiet, smiling, taking in all of the wind, the smell of the trees, vision of mountains,  it was as if he was teaching me once again, " Mama, this is how you must pray. See how God easily talks to me?"

       I closed my eyes and breathed in the mountain air deeply, the wind still blowing.  This time there were no screamed prayers or cries of desperation.  Only chants of thanksgiving filled my mind, "Thank you God for this moment. Thank you God for all this beauty. Thank you God for this peace. Thank you for everything, my family, my partner, Andro, our little prince, Garret and our  feisty king Morgan."

       When I finally opened my eyes, Morgan was already eager to go down perhaps wanting to down another bottle of milk. So Andro said, "Alright, let's go home now."  "Come, Garret.", I called to him. He immediately stood up and held on to my hand and we walked down the steps. "Very good following, Garret." I praised him for not resisting as he usually does when it's time to end something he is enjoying. "He and God are probably done talking.", Andro surmised. I turned to our little prince with a questioning look. He just smiled and continued to walk happily down the steps.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Big Questions, Big Blessings

            A few days ago, at a social gathering, several moms were talking about how their kids were starting to change and grow up, how  goodbye kisses and bear hugs in public were slowly disappearing, and how the yearning for independence was increasingly becoming apparent. Questions like, "When do I let my child cross the street by himself?" or "Should I let him learn how to commute in going to school?"  They marveled at how other parents seemed to have achieved the feat of training their 7-year old kids to ride a tricycle on their own going to and from school. Then, they argued that for some parents, they have no choice but to let their children be independent at such an early age.  For this group of moms, however, they felt they had a choice. What with the presence of drivers and yayas at hand. Independence-- is such a strong word. And for all mothers perhaps, a sometimes cruel albeit impending reality. How many times do we yearn for our tots to be once again newborns safely cradled in our arms? Then, one mother spoke up and declared the big question, " When do I let go of my child?" Everybody in the group was silent. There were no answers.

            All throughout this intercourse, I was a passive participant. Agreeing here and there and disagreeing with some issues somewhat casually. So when finally, the question came up, I was shaken out of my passivity. I felt the question was thrown directly at me. I thought, "Will I ever be able to let go of my child?" or more clearly, " Will Garret be fully independent?"  Other moms dread the day when their child will resist public shows of affection, when they realize that their teenage boy has gone on a first date without their knowledge, or when their teenage daughter has gone to the mall wearing God-knows-what without asking for mom's permission. Other moms dread this day. I, on the other hand, do not dread this day. I have been given the ultimate blessing-- Garret does not mind at all how many hugs and kisses I give him in a single minute. And there's quite a big chance he will never mind. He will always need my hand to hold. This is a fact.  Perhaps his tight grip on my hand is the big blessing heaven has endowed us. Of course, I do realize the need for him to do very basic things on his own. This is a reality we have yet to achieve.  The technicalities of independence is a challenge we face everyday-- Garret needs to dress, bathe, feed himself, carry his own bag, among others. And yet, this challenge has its perks. Blessings in disguise, the cliche goes. And there are still more disguises to unravel. God has yet to reveal more big, big blessings in answer to our big questions.

            Here's what we marvel every single day, one of our many blessings in disguise; when the day is done, he curls up in my lap or in his papa's arms, smiles his heavenly smile, and is contented with the warmth and safety of our embrace-- just like a newborn baby.  Garret turns 6  this March. :-)

Nonverbal

It was "Mama Time" with our boys. Morgan, happily drinking his 2nd bottle of milk, his round belly peeking underneath his shirt and Garret equally happy connecting and pulling apart his pegs over and over.  After a while, Morgan climbs down from the bed and approaches his kuya. Or more specifically, his kuya's pegs. He mischievously fiddles with it disarranges the order the way  kuya intentionally kept them. As expected, Garret hurries to arrange it, just the way he likes it. Morgan then grins, his eyes turning "chinesey" and all of his teeth showing. He is the typical naughty sibling who messes around with his brother's toys. This is how they play together. Garret organizes things, Morgan messes them up. At times, they fight over the same toy even if there is two of every kind. Sometimes they push each other. And when one cries, the other one pinches the other one's mouth. They play like any other regular, "normal" kids, except that no words are spoken. They communicate with gestures, body language, eye contact and perhaps a grunt here and there. And yet , they enjoy each others company. Quiet enjoyment. quiet joy, I thought. Suddenly,  as I was looking at them, a question lurched in my heart, " Will my Garret ever speak?" I had no answers. It was then and there I realized how in the deepest part of my soul,  I desperately wanted him to talk. Even if it meant him squabbling with his brother Morgan every single day of his life.   Speaking. Talking. Arguing. How else do we survive? When we want something, we ask for it. When we don't like someone or something, we speak up. When we are hurt, we cry out until help reaches us. This is why my prayer every night is that I may have long life so that for as long as Garret needs something, I am there to give him what he wants, to take away his pain, to nurse him when he is hurt. I need to be his voice. I am his voice. But reality is,  even I get exhausted.

            In reflection, maybe it is not the words specifically that I wanted for my child, but a sense of connection, or any form of communication that he can convey to his brother, to us and most especially to the world that will most of the times not understand him and sometimes may be cruel to him. At this point, I honestly don't know what I want for Garret. Maybe because it is not my place to demand from the heavens a miracle. Maybe because I am scared that if I hope too much, I will only be disappointed. Or maybe, like all mothers, I simply fear for my child. I fear that when the time comes when I won't be there for him, he might get hurt, and he can't cry out, and no help will reach him.

Fingers Interlocked

           I was preoccupied with a million things in mind this afternoon as Garret and I were on our way home from his therapy. I'm used to him sitting some distance away at the backseat of our pick-up truck. He sang his usual song that only he understands while being mesmerized by the light that passes through the giant acacia trees hovering over the streets. Whenever I try to hold him, he wriggles away from my grasp. So I let him be. Instead, I prod him, "Garret, give mama a kiss." He willingly complies. I do this constantly to remind him that I am with him and that I love him, hoping somehow he understands. Perhaps I also do this to assure myself that there is a bridge  albeit small that connects his world and mine. This is what I hold on to--to get through the day. When he does give me a kiss, I am content. Still, I silently pray that the day will come when he will be the one to ask me for a kiss. But then, I shrug the thought away, reminding myself I should be grateful for all the little things. Garret has come so far.  So as we were nearing home, me thinking about whatnot and other concerns, I suddenly felt his hand reach for mine. This broke my reverie. He interlocked his fingers with mine. I looked at him. He was looking out the window and kept on mumbling his song. But his fingers still clasped mine. And all that went through my head was, "my little prince reached out and held my hand." With no words, frills or complexities, in that moment of a million moments in the universe, Garret did more than ask for a kiss. Perhaps he was reminding me this time, " Mama, I am here. And I love you. Don't worry too much. I understand."  And once more...I look to the heavens and smile.