Friday, April 20, 2012

This Knot in My Heart

A friend just recently bid farewell. And when she said it, almost immediately a knot twisted inside. I knew her goodbye had all the right reasons. Still, I knew whatever reasons she had would fail to untie the knot I felt in my heart. But it was not just she particularly. Her goodbye, it seemed, was the last straw that brought forth all the bottled up emotions I had inside for all the goodbyes I had in my life for the past 8 years. People came and went. I came and went. Friends choosing a better life, better career opportunities. Colleagues who became friends who eventually had to leave for various reasons, for inevitable choices they had to make. Like I said, for whatever reasons they had, somehow the pain is all coming back to me just as if they left yesterday.

On a lighter note, though, let me relate to you how my partner and I “strategize” when our 7 year-old of a son, Garret is becoming smarter each day not letting us out of his sight so much so that we have to “escape” his clutches so we can have some alone time by ourselves or just simply a break. We were getting tired of having to drive around the city so that by the time we come back to the house, Garret will have stopped whining and gone back to his room and “forgetting” he wants our attention. So, last week, this was how it went:

Garret was noticing more and more how we would disappear right around dinner time, so what he did was he stayed with us at the dinner table, waiting patiently for us to finish our meal. Waiting patiently for me to finish doing the dishes. Waiting ever so patiently for me clearing up the table. Finally inside our bedroom, as I opened my laptop, he sat beside me or rather sat on my lap and began kissing me on the cheek making goo-goo charming eyes at me. And whenever I stood up to get something, he had a vise grip on my arm. I had to laugh at his strategy as well. So when it was almost 9 p.m. we told him, “Garret you have to take a bath because you smell bad. And it’s not nice to sleep smelling bad.” So I brought him to the bathroom and asked his caregiver to give him a bath. When he went inside, I instructed his caregiver to close the bathroom door, after which I immediately went back to our bedroom. My partner was already in the closet waiting for me. Yes, our plan was to hide in our own closet so that when Garret would come looking for us in the room and he found that the lights were off and no mama or papa were to be found, case closed! Are you amused enough already? We hid in the closet for about 10 minutes just to make sure he was already in his own room with Morgan.

In my son’s world, he has to see order the way he likes it. And part of this order includes his mama and papa being around all the time for him or during certain parts of the day. And Morgan has to be with him in the room too. So he does not like it when either one of us is not within his line of sight. I often wonder will things get better when he gets older? Will he be better able to manage separation anxiety when he’s bigger? Will he understand when someone says goodbye? Will he ever understand the word goodbye? I know he understands it when the “bye-bye” song is sung at the end of sped class. He understands it well because for him it means, end of doing schoolwork and going home with Mama, Papa and Morgan and his koi pond. I would like to think that autism allows his world to be simple, uncomplicated, and devoid of unnecessary emotion that allows “normal” people to be stuck, unable to move forward. Again this may be a blessing in a way for my son. What amazes me though is that Garret exhausts all ways and means to make sure for as long as he can to let me be with him. Even if it just means sitting down with him as he splish splashes in the koi pond for two whole hours, which is just what he wanted this afternoon. Now I am able to write this post because most likely he was already contented with the time I spent with him—the two hours in the koi pond. He was satisfied and now he is able to let me go out of the room and do my own thing while he does his.

Going back to my more somber mood, I wish I could turn back time and spent more time with the friends and loved ones who left. I wish I could have exhausted all ways and means to make sure for as long as I can to be with them. So that when they left, I could have honestly said to myself, “ Okay nako. I’m okay now. You can go wherever you want to go.” This is why the knot has gotten tighter when my friend declared she was leaving. When will I ever learn? So many things I take for granted until the time comes that it is taken away or when friends leave out of their own volition or out of the inevitability of the circumstances of their lives.

A brilliant writer recently said, “When you are brave enough to say goodbye, life rewards you with new hellos.”

To be brave is to be able not only to say the words, “yes, I can let you go,” but most essentially to live in full awareness that your time with the person has ended because you have exhausted everything, given everything—time, love, compassion, kindness and wisdom to that person. And it is okay that it has ended because a new life has to begin, and new relationships have to be built.

I am quick to say goodbye. But I am slow to recover-- A delayed reactor, thus, this post. Rationally I know life goes on. But in my heart of hearts, I ask, “Why? Why does it have to be that way?”.

I wish I were like my son now. Whenever he sees that I left the room or house, of course he cries and screams and whines, but then he eventually wipes his tears and moves on. When I come back he is back to his old self smiling, giggling and making goo-goo eyes at me again. As much as he expresses very clearly how he wants my attention all the time, he is quick to recover. I wish I had half of Garret’s resilience because like all other neuro-typical human beings, I get stuck. I am stuck. Because I take things --people for granted.

One marked characteristic of children in the autism spectrum is their fixation on objects or persons of interest. In Garret’s case, he so loves his 3 rubber balls, colored yellow, orange and black and white. He carries it with him whenever he goes. All three balls must be present. Two won’t do. And just one will definitely get you in trouble. When I think about it, the ruling principle in my son’s world is quite simple—I like my 3 balls. Therefore I have to hold all three of them. No excuses. If one gets lost, I have to look for it.

Sometimes I wish my life were simple like that. You are an important person in my life. Therefore I will hold on to you with everything I can. If you get lost, I will look for you.

Autism in our life has taught me many things, showed me how life should be lived, changing my perspectives every single time, disproving old beliefs and creating new ones. Today, it has forced me to remember what is important in my life, or life in general for that matter—people are what matters the most. And when you love them, you hold on to them no matter what so that when the inevitable happens and it is finally time to let go, it will be okay. The knot will have been untied after that brave declaration of farewell. And I will be ready to move on and welcome new hellos.

Another lesson learned today. I hope I get to follow through. And I hope when my friend comes back, I won’t make the same mistake again.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Dinner, Speculations and a Dose of Reflection

I have some hesitation in writing this particular post. I fear I may be too judgmental of parents or families who have neuro-typical kids. And that I may be contradicting my own mantra of refusing to criticize my neighbor until I have walked a mile in their shoes. But then, when I think about it, when will I really get to walk a mile in their moccasins? Literally? Never. After all we are given different life circumstances and resources to go with it. I can only imagine and speculate what I would do if I were in their situation. Pretty much like everyone else, I think.

What I can do though is to bring out memories of my neuro-typical childhood and upbringing, examine my own values and philosophies borne out of my present circumstances and create a scenario and solution had I been given other parents’ predicament. The predicament I am talking about?

My partner and I were out for dinner last night and beside our table was a family finishing their meal. This was the scenario—the father and another adult, the uncle perhaps and the mother were talking animatedly, exchanging stories, etc. There were three kids—all boys. 2 were most likely in their teens and the youngest probably 9 or 10 years old. The 9 year-old was busy eating his food. The older boys were busy. Busy playing games on the iPhone. Both of them were crouched over, silent and totally engrossed in what they were playing. There was no conversation exchanged. When it was time to go, the father announced a faint, “Let’s go.” The two older boys stood up, but their heads still on their respective iPhones, even while pushing back their chairs. Still no words uttered. Not even a “thank you, Dad or Mom for the dinner.”

Or maybe they said thank you in the car…attention still focused on the game on the cellular phone. Or maybe they didn’t.

I thought to myself when they left the restaurant, “ What a waste of time and money. And the boys! Wow, they have postures of a 90 year old man all hunched over.”
So why this post? I think maybe because these are the times when I imagine myself in the shoes of “normal” parents. And how I imagine it to be! So if you would be so kind to allow me my “musings”.

If I were in their shoes, when I take my children out to dinner, NO PHONES ALLOWED. ONLY TALKING—face to face. What to talk about? ANYTHING! Under the sun. And eating of course—enjoying the flavors of the dish served on the table.

If I were in their shoes, I would ask endless of questions to my kids. If they get annoyed by my constant pestering, I would pester then some more just to elicit a meaningful response so we can have a meaningful conversation.

If I were in their shoes, I would encourage my kids to ask questions. Endless questions. I know some parents complain how they tire out answering their kids’ questions to the point of annoyance. Again, I can only imagine. But maybe if I were in their place, I would stop the barrage of questions only when it is time to sleep. Even if my answers would eventually turn out to be silly, maybe I wouldn’t mind and maybe they wouldn’t mind. I know it would feed their souls as much as it would their intellectual abilities.

If I were in their shoes and the kids ask me why the sky is blue and the sea green, the sun bright yellow, gleaming and glaring and the rain comes pouring out in torrents and why the stars twinkle in the night sky, I would surely answer them to the best of my ability until they are satisfied until the next question pops in their head.

If I were in their shoes, I would ask them how their day went, who’s going out with who, what’s the latest fashion trend or computer game or television show or what’s trending nowadays, What or who’s following, etc... And when they do answer, I would listen, really listen.

If I were in their shoes I would encourage my kids to ask me questions about my life, how I came to be, my parents—their grandparents, how I am the mother they see everyday. I would tell them my story. The stories of their lolos and lolas (Filipino for Grandmother and Grandfather), their ama’s and angkong’s. (Chinese for Grandmother and Grandfather) I would tell them my dreams—accomplished or yet to be realized, lessons learned along the way and experiences that could never be bought or taught in the classroom. Even if they seem to be uninterested, I would make them be interested because there are lessons to be learned and values to be taught.

If I were in their shoes, I would ask my kids “What do you want to be when you grow up? What do you like to do? What are your dreams?” And it would not matter if their answers were silly or not. What would matter to me is that they spoke of their dreams. And they have stories to tell.

If I were in their shoes, there would be hundreds of stories to tell, even thousands. And my kids would hopefully learn to look people in the eye when they speak, confidently and sure of themselves because they are more than what meets the eye. They have stories to tell. Real ones. And they know how to communicate it to the world.

So anyway, enough of my musings. Let me wrap it all up with this—If only I were in their shoes. But I am not. My life is a whole different universe. My boys are worlds apart from theirs. And I am not saying, my boys are any less than theirs intellectually. They’re just differently-abled. But here’s the thing about being different, we live in one and the same world. What I do know is that in our world, to be able to communicate—to speak is essential for survival, and not just to voice out one’s needs for food and water. Because we are social beings, we thrive on relationships. No man is an island. And for relationships to even begin is to learn how to make a good conversation, to tell stories, whether real or fiction. And how do you expect a 14-year old to establish good relationships if half the time, his body posture is crouched over a gadget? They are able to speak. Let them speak, even if it would annoy you to bits. I know I would. If only I were in your shoes.

Over and above all my speculations of what I would do if I were to walk a mile in other “normal” parents’ moccasins, I have come to accept that Autism has given my kids a language of their own. A language that goes far beyond words and semantics. A language that speaks volumes louder than words. I have learned to see the beauty of it. But most of the times, it creates hard challenges for us parents, and most especially for our boys as they strive to live in our world…as you can only speculate and imagine as well. This is why for them to even utter a single word is absolute heaven for us. This is why if I were in your place—parents with “normal” kids, I would be grateful every single minute that my kids can speak… and not only a single word, they can speak stories, volumes and volumes of stories that emanates from their heart, minds and souls.

So maybe, when the times come when your kids pester you relentlessly with their questions, and you get annoyed, maybe what you can do is to imagine yourself in my shoes and in the shoes of all the Autism parents out there and to speculate what you would do if you were to walk a mile in our moccasins. Maybe then, this time, you would react differently to your kids. Maybe you would realize how blessed you are to have kids who can express their thoughts, feelings and emotions in a clear understandable manner. And maybe then, your kids will be able to set aside the iphone for a dose of good conversation with you. Maybe they will have better postures this time around, sitting straight and relaxed looking people in the eye. Maybe this time when you eat out, the bill you pay for dinner and time spent with your kids will be well worth it.