Friday, October 28, 2011

Tougher than Life

It was already 11:15 a.m. Fifteen minutes more to go before Garret finishes his Sped
Class, when I heard his distinct whine or more like crying. I went in the other room to ask the other teachers what it was about. One of the teachers showed me an artwork made by one of the students which was made of a yakult bottle painted yellow with a smiley face on it. "Nahadlok si Garret ani pagkakita niya ani mam. Mao to ni hilak siya kay naka kita cya ani." (When Garret saw the yellow painted smiley yakult bottle, for some reason, he got scared and cried.) It took him some time to calm down, all the while his teacher was telling him that it's ok, while he was dressing up, which was part of his self-care activities in class. When he finally went out from the classroom, he was okay already although there were some tear streaks on his face. I wiped his cheeks with my hands. " It's okay, kuya. It's okay. Don't cry na ha. It's just a small thing. And you are a big boy. Don't be afraid na ha.", I comforted him.

When the teacher showed me the yakult bottle art work, my immediate reaction was that of pity , for lack of a better term to translate "lu-oy" , for my child. He was scared of this miniature piece of work to the point of tears. At that particular moment, my heart was twisted in knots as I felt his fear. Of course, there is no rational explanation as to why Garret would be scared of it. Much like why children are afraid of certain things, like the dark, for instance. Plain and simple, he was just scared. And he just needed it to disappear and he just needed somebody to tell him that it's okay. Obviously, he recovered quite quickly. HE did. I did not.

For the past weeks, I have been in a blizzard of emotions to the point that my writing pen ran out of ink. I felt I needed to experience all the hail and rain and flood so I can purify my system. I needed to reexamine my principles, my values, who I really am, what my role is, what my purpose is in this life and where home truly is. And at some point I felt that maybe I couldn't write again because of the monsters I was and still am facing. But just like all the other miracles in my life, I was given another one to pull me out of the pit I was wallowing in. And yes, the miracle worker was my son.

At that particular moment when I saw the object that he was so afraid of, it was as if a rock was thrown at me and shook me out of my senses. It was as if the Universe was telling me, no, yelling at me , rather, " See, you are not the only one facing monsters in your closet. Everybody is facing them, including your own son. And look how he has dealt with it. And it is perfectly okay to be scared. It is okay to be scared shitless about it. It is okay to weep and rage and be angry. But more than anything it is okay to pull yourself together because life is too beautiful to be stuck in this situation that life has thrown at you."

To try to explain Garret's fear of this particular object and other scenarios he is scared of will be like understanding why the earth is round, why there are stars in the sky and why the sun continues to beat down on our faces even if our grief is overwhelming. Children with Autism have sensory dysfunctions which just simply means, that their system cannot process and filter information the way other normal children do. Their systems cannot cope with the sensory input from the environment like a click on a button. And so when their fears manifest, their reactions are extreme and full blown most of the times. Eventually they recover and they are able to manage their fears through constant exposure and adaptation. What the Sped Teachers and Therapist do is to desensitize them, to expose them constantly to the cause of their fear assuring them all the while that it is okay. Simply speaking, Garret, along with his other classmates are made to face their fears, whether it is a visit to the dentist, getting a haircut at the barbershop, a visit to the doctor, a plane ride and many others. Once they get the hang of it, they are also quick to recover and act as if the dental clinic is their own territory. In the process, they learn to adapt , they learn courage. They learn to be resilient. They learn conquer what they are most afraid of.

So you see, my son is stronger than I am. He is teaching the kind of strength and courage that will carry me through these tough times. He is showing me how stronger he is than his fears, his eccentricities, his sensory processing disorders, his autism. He is stronger than all these combined. He is teaching me that life is tough but he is tougher. And so am I. Garret is teaching me that it is okay to be scared. It is okay to be afraid of the future and all the uncertainties that go with it. It is okay not to know what will happen sometimes. It is okay to take risks and give it all that you've got. It is okay to fight until the very end even to the point of no return. And it is okay to confront the thing that I am most afraid of. It is okay to ask the important questions to which I have no answers yet, " What will be my sons' future? Will I live long enough to take care of them and keep them safe from harm or at least long enough to have taught them the necessary skills to face the hurdles of life head on? Will I be able to hold it together and never ever give up? Will I have the strength to persevere? Is my back strong enough to carry all the crosses? " But the most important lesson he is teaching me right now is this: It is okay to not be the thing I am most afraid of. Because I have a choice. And it is perfectly okay to choose to have courage, to have strength and to carry on.

The dark, the bogey-man, the monsters in our closets, all these we face at one point or another in our lives. They come in different shapes, forms, sizes, age, milestones, people and circumstances. I read one quote that we are given the same test over and over until we pass it. Our fears will follow us wherever we go until we confront it. And there is no other way for it to disappear until we face it. We may choose to shut our eyes tight, cover our ears to dull the pain and stinging sensation of it all, but eventually we will have to open them and welcome and experience all of it. Because this is the only way to truly be alive. And no matter how scared I am right now, I will muster up all the courage to experience every bit of sting and ache because I have been given this life to live. So that when my boys turn to me at the time when they encounter monsters bigger than the yakult bottle smiley face, they can see how strong I have become and they will be able to channel my strength in their own lives and realize how tough and how strong they are than they realize.

I hold Garret's big boy hand as we go out of the Sped Center and into our pick-up where his papa Andro and brother Morgan is waiting for us. I look at him and he is already smiling just as if the yellow smiley yakult bottle thing did not even occur. I know that when class resumes, his teacher will ask him to confront his fear and look at the object. And he will be scared. And he will cry. And it is okay. But I know in my heart, that before we all know it, he will be holding it in his hands, fear conquered, no longer afraid, just like I will be.

Thank you, my life partner, Andro-- for our life, for our Garret and Morgan.

Thank you my Little Prince.

Thank you, Universe for the life we are given.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Two Little Footprints

Restful sleep. Peace of mind. This is what I have been praying for these past few weeks. And I just couldn't seem to have it. The slightest movement or sound irk me. And thoughts surround my head creating chaos and confusion in my mind. Questions bombard me, What if? What can I do? What should I do? Why did this happen? What is the meaning of all this? Why has it come to this?

I remember back when I was still a grade schooler, my mom would pick me up from school and because of the traffic and travel time from Don Jose Avila street to Mandaue, and tired from all the school work and playing, I would fall asleep on her lap. Soundly that I didn't want to wake up even when we arrived home. I remember her stroking my hair and singing songs that carry me to a restful slumber. When I was about to give birth to Garret in March 2005 undergoing very painful labor, her hand holding a cool damp hanky across my forehead comforted me and carried me through the pain.

Reliving all the memories that brought me a sense of peace and calm reminds me that even now in the darkest moments, I can still have that peace. And it is more beautiful after a long bout of struggle. And I need to remember how in order to have that peace, I don't need to struggle anymore. All I need to do is just to surrender and let go. And let the Universe flow. Easier said than done. Until my Little Prince showed me how to do it and gave me what I was searching for, yesterday.

I climbed into his bed yesterday after lunch for their afternoon nap. Morgan sleeps every afternoon. Garret just lies in bed usually and rests his 6-year old body and perhaps his thoughts. I lay down and embraced my little prince. He wanted me to tighten my grip around his belly and I did. I fell asleep for about 10-15 minutes until he stood up gesturing me that he wanted to get out of the room already. I ignored him hoping against hope that he would comply so I could get that much needed rest. Surprisingly, he got one of the pillows and positioned it on the edge of the bed, on my usual side and lay back down. I embraced him again. He started humming and singing in his most gentle voice, incy wincy spider, old macdonald, and finally "this is the way we comb our hair, comb our hair, comb our hair". I couldn't remember what else he hummed or sang. I fell into the deepest slumber I've had in a long time. Two whole hours. And Garret didn't move a muscle. He just let me sleep. He looked after me while I was sleeping. He watched me sleeping. He let me go to sleep. He gave me that peace I was searching for. When I finally awoke, I looked at him and he just smiled at me. My little prince just smiled at me. And I smiled back. It was all I could do not to let my tears fall. And I said, "Thank you Garret." With this I took his hand and we went out of the room. Oh and yes, Morgan was still snoring his cute butt away while all of this magic moment happened deeply asleep in his own slumber as well.

We went to his keyboard and he requested that I play his favorite tune. And when the music started he was content. And I was still in elation at how Garret gave me the most restful sleep I ever had for a long time. And then it just dawned on me. I don't need to analyze anymore. I don't need to torture myself anymore with questions that don't have answers. Not just yet anyway. In the chaos and confusion and hurt and pain, sometimes all I need to do is close my eyes and let go. Garret is teaching me that there need not be any grand explanation why things work the way they work, why things turn out to be the way they are. Sometimes things just happen. Autism happened to our family. And until now there are no clear reasons why. There is still no cure. There are still no fixed solutions to every Autism Crisis we face. And it is okay. We are not in control of what happens to us. We are in control of how we deal and react to what happens to us. And it could be either way-- be exhausted trying to find all the reasons in the world or to just let go and trust in the Master Planner and Maker. And as with any other circumstances in our lives, marriage, work, or otherwise, it goes without saying too. We can do all we can in our power to control things. But in the end, the dynamics of human life, love, interaction, and decision-making take over...So despite and in spite of all the chaos and confusion, we can still choose peace over exhaustion. I need peace. I choose peace. And how blessed am I to have my Garret comforting me this way-- showing and teaching me the way. I am not only blessed. I am loved.

My favorite comfort passage has always been Footprints in the Sand, where in the end the man asked, " In my darkest hours, why did you leave me? And God answered, My child, when you saw one set of footprints, it is when I am carrying you."

I always believed I would just feel by faith that I am being carried by the heavens when I am in my darkest hours. I never thought I would SEE that one set of footprints in my darkest hours. But I did. Two little footprints of my little boy carrying me into a peaceful slumber, a restful sleep. my long-yearned peace.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

The Gift of Choice

"Okay, it is time to play Sack Race!", the Sped teacher enthuses. Four boys then form two lines and prepare themselves. "Ready, get set, go!" One boy then slips both legs into the sack and smiles the most heavenly smile, eyes crinkling at the corners. He covers his mouth with his hand as he laughs and starts jumping to the goal post, not really caring at all that it was a race. He just seemed to be so happy about the entire game. The boy's mother watched this whole scenario from a corner room. And as she saw her son's face full of rapture and joy and laughing at himself because the sack slowly slipped from his legs so that he had to put it on again and was way behind the other team, all her fears and anxiety disappeared into thin air. "My son certainly knows that there is no shame in not getting through the race on the first try." With the help of the teachers, he just readjusted the sack and continued jumping and laughing all the way to the starting line.

Of course, by now, you must know the little boy was my Garret. And of course I was the one watching from the corner room. The story of my life is hardly conventional and cliche. The challenges I face may be different or more difficult than most people but while this is true, there is one common ground that allows me to be one with the rest of the human race. And this is the decision to rise up to the situation as it arises. To step up to the plate when it matters most. To fall 7 times but to rise 8 times and even 10 times more. There is no shame in failing. The shame is when I refuse to stand back up, look at what I've tripped over and resolve to learn from it and do better next time. And as I've said this many times before-- to do everything and anything that goes beyond any human capabilities. Watching my son two days ago practicing his sack race game truly gave me a sense of overpowering calm and clarity about how I should start looking at my life. How I should start living my life and not just talking about life lessons and such.

Garret was just so happy that it was play time. He didn't care that he had to win. He just had to complete the course. He happily put his both legs in the sack and jumped, jumped and jumped.

I should view my own journey like what my little Prince just did. Seeing it as one to be enjoyed and relished. To do what one must do-- to work, to laugh, to play, to love -- in the real sense of these words, get both my legs working and jump with joy at the innate reality that I am given another life to live every single day.

When the sack was slipping off his legs and he had to stop, he just bent down, with his teacher's help and wore the sack again and was off again jumping back to the starting line.There was no crying or signs of frustration on his part. He just fixed his sack and went on, still smiling and laughing alternately.

From now on, I must bear in mind how the most important thing is to pick oneself up and move on. Sure, for the emotionally over developed human beings with cognition and all, a little time for wallowing is allowed. I am sure we weren't born with a hypothalamus without a purpose. It is what makes us a whole, complete human being. Our emotions give us a touch of humanness that is elemental to survival. But after the weeping part must come the resolve to go on, to move on to the next step. To move forward towards the light at the end of the tunnel. And it does not matter how long the tunnel is. The objective is to keep going and not get stuck. Life goes on. So should I. And if I should need help, all I need is to swallow my pride and ask for help. There are people just waiting in the sidelines to help me. I just need to ask. Even if I have to face my monsters alone, I can gather strength from friends and family to face it head-on. And as Garret was laughing all the while, I remember a line from a t.v. series, "If you take life too seriously, it ceases to be funny." Hopefully in the future, I can look back at the mistakes, wrong decisions I have made and laugh at it. Laugh at myself. And see the absurdity and wisdom of all the hardships I am encountering right now no longer with a heavy heart. And perhaps in the future, should another wave of challenges come, I can learn AND decide to laugh at it.

When Garret returned to the starting line, he was instructed to sit down as his turn was finished. He happily went to his seat and watched his teammates perform the race. He did not care at all that he caused his team to finish last. Nor did his classmates. He did not beat himself up over it. He was just happy he was able to play the game.

Autism may have given Garret a blessing to know only the very essential things in life: and one is the ability to enjoy the simplicity of every moment, every game, every endeavor and not to place unnecessary emotions that tarnish the very purpose of it. Most people--we in the normal spectrum do tend to complicate things. We can't help it though. With our brain wiring, our mental process and emotional baggage, with our expectations, it becomes automatic. So maybe as the alarm goes off with the rise of incidence in Autism maybe the Universe, life, God is telling us or sending us back to the basics. Simplify. Enjoy. If you fail, try again. If you fall, stand up. If you need to cry, cry. Then wipe those heartaches away and heal. Maybe we have been to hard headed for the longest time. Maybe I have been too hard headed for the longest time that the Universe had no other choice but to send me the most concrete message of all in the person of my little prince. And the message is telling me what it takes to truly live the life I was endowed with and to deeply love with a love that knows no measure, sees no expectation, sees all things, accepts all things and to be grateful for everything.

Garret's life is different from the rest of the world. His brain is wired differently. I've always pondered on whether he can make the hard choices when he grows up, the way I've made choices. Or has Autism determined his life? Maybe, maybe not. Garret may have truly enjoyed his game not because he chose to but because it is automatic for him because of his Autism. Everything remains to be seen day by day. And day by single day, all that matters is that I am learning through my son. I may have no clear answers to this question yet. But one thing is very clear to me. I've made choices. I am making choices. For now, it is my role to make decisions for myself, for my boys, for my marriage. Because I am able to. I am wired to. The choices I have made and will make define who I am. And all these choices must be based on love and an overwhelming appreciation of life, no matter what.

I choose to work.
I choose to play and enjoy the game.
I choose to journey even to the point of no return and enjoy the ride.
I choose to get back up 10 times more after I have fallen down 7 times.
I choose to heal.
I choose to love.
I choose to forgive. Others. Situations. Myself.
I choose to be grateful.
I choose to truly live.

So, Autism, thank you for making me realize how blessed I am to have choices, that it is in my own hands to create my fate, to reach my light at the end of the tunnel. When the time comes, if I am given the ultimate gift for Garret to understand my words, I say to you, My Little Prince, "Thank you so much for showing me what life truly is. Again and again, how loved I am by the heavens to have been given the greatest gift which is you..."