autism,  family,  motherhood

How sci-fi and Seal got us through the week

YAY! We made it to Sunday night!

Every November I have the chance to do the single mom gig while Steve travels to an academic conference for a few days. It sounds strange, but I kinda like that short time when Steve’s away. Sure, the getting-kids-to-school/homework battle is no fun solo, but conference week means not having to make real dinner and feeding the kids quesadillas and cereal. I get to have free reign over Netflix and can eat the whole Ben and Jerry’s without having to share.  It means I can write or curl up with a book while the kids are in bed and not feel guilty about not interacting with anyone else for hours. Really, an introvert’s paradise.

Of course, this lasts for only a few days, and then I’m ready to have Steve home again. But this week wasn’t the typical week for a single mom gig. I don’t even know how to begin how to describe what happened this week.

It started early Wednesday morning–well even before then. A few weeks ago, Steve lamented booking his flight the day after the election. “We’re going to be up all night,” he said. “That 5 am flight’s going to be a killer.”

Tuesday night did end up being a late night. It was pretty clear at around 10:30 who was going to win the election and by 11:30 we were both in bed. Neither of us said anything to each other–we were still processing the results–and we both knew we needed the sleep. Except I couldn’t fall asleep. I drifted off somewhere around 1:30, only to have my phone go off at 3:30 so Steve could get ready and I could drive him to the airport.

Even though I only had two hours of sleep (and a really fitful sleep at that) I couldn’t go back to bed and squeeze another hour in. I was trying to figure out how to explain what happened in the election to the kids. My sister was Skyping me from Saudi Arabia, concerned. Somehow I got the kids up and ready and was able to briefly explain to them who had won and tried to field W’s questions while J just refused to accept the results. I was too tired (and too disorganized) to walk J partly to school, so I opted to drive the kids up. “J, are you sure you’re going to be okay without your walk to school?” I said. “I really, really need you to have a good day today.” I pleaded. “Mom’s just so tired right now. And trying to figure some things out. Please have a good day.”

I tried to muddle through the day as best as I could. I sat at my computer and tried to work on my short story I’m submitting to journals at the end of November, but all I could do was cry. I was tired. I didn’t get to discuss what happened with Steve before he left. So all day, I was trying to process what this election means to our family on my own. I was trying to reconcile some of my past experiences with prejudice as an immigrant and a person of religious minority in a small, closed, Midwestern town my first years in the United States. I was trying to forget the nasty things strangers would say to me when J had meltdowns in public, I was trying to forget those instances when J was in elementary school–the first year we moved to Fargo where I was in the principal’s office in tears, trying to identify the small group of boys who were flapping their arms, mimicking J’s autistic noises across the street from us when we were walking home from school. Of course I couldn’t identify them. We had just moved to Fargo. I didn’t know anyone.

It was while I was running errands I got the call that J was having a meltdown and I needed to get to the school as soon as possible. I never, ever, cry when I have to go up to the school and address J’s behavioural issues, but Wednesday afternoon I just started bawling. I was running on two hours of sleep, I was mad at the world and at J. I cried because I have no idea what’s going to happen to kids like J. Because saying terrible things about people who are different has become so normal over the last year. Am I going to be living that small town Midwestern town life again, where prejudice against people who didn’t “fit in” was every day life? Will J now be facing that? Raising a child with disabilities is hard–Steve and I all worry and work hard to make sure J has the best opportunities possible. We don’t need things to get harder.

Then the special education teacher gave me a big hug while I cried and reassured me that everyone loves J. She listened to my worries. When I took J home, she texted me again saying that she loves J and would love to support us in any way she could.

And then I cried again at her kindness.

That night nobody did homework. We all sat on the couch and watched Star Trek: Insurrection. My kids are really into Star Trek TNG–and it was the best medicine for the night, sitting all together as a family. TNG is all about diplomacy and minimal nuanced conflict, something we all needed after a rough Wednesday. In fact, we binge watched a lot of TNG this week. It made J happy.

The rest of the week was hard, but each day got better. I’ve slowly started to recover from Tuesday night’s two hours of sleep and feel less like the walking dead because of it. I had a couple of more bad dreams, but by Saturday night I felt better. I had some good visits with friends. The kids had Friday off and I decided we needed to get out of Fargo for a few hours. Winnipeg was out of the question–A Canadian citizen taking her two American children across the border without their dad, post election–I didn’t think that would fly too well. I didn’t want to deal with the traffic in the Twin Cities. So I decided we would drive to Fergus Falls. They got an Aldi this summer (a grocery store that has a Carrefour/Trader Joe’s-type feel) and I thought we could pick up the crackers Grandma G always buys and the kids always beg for when they visit in Wichita. And then we would drive back to Fargo.

Since I couldn’t stand listening to the radio, I dug around the car and found a really, really old mix CD I made for Steve in our grad school days–a lot of U2, some Chili Peppers, Phil Collins. The last time we really listened to the CD as a family was in Kansas, when the kids were about 4 and 2, but I kept hearing “turn it up, this is a good song,” or “I love this song” from the kids in the back seat. It’s amazing what they remember from when they were so little.

Then Seal’s “Love’s Divine” popped up, and J said, “I love this song mom.” Of course he does. When he was little he had come up with this really modern interpretive dance to the song every time it played–lost in his autism world, feeling the music in a way I’ve never seen a kid feel music before.

“What’s this song about, mom?” he asked.

“Well,” I said, trying to keep it simple. “It’s about sadness–it’s about someone wanting to be loved.” I wasn’t going to go into duality of meanings–how it could mean different types of love. That’s the stuff he has hard time processing.

J thought for a moment, “You mean like grief?”

I was a little surprised by his comment. He really struggles to understand the breadth of emotions beyond happy, sad, and worried.

“Yeah,” I said. “A little like grief. But it’s more than that. I think there’s a little hope in it too.”

I’ve talked to my kids a lot this week about being extra kind. About being extra understanding. For some of us out there, some of us with kids with special needs, the future can be scary, especially when things change suddenly and “being real” is more important than “being kind.” I know there’s a lot of you out there that are having these conversations of kindness and understanding with your kids. Thank you. We need it!




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