Hard lesson at the hardware store

I was standing in a long line at our small neighborhood hardware store, having come in for a few things I needed to get to work on a project I had been waiting for good weather to start, wishing I had realized earlier that I needed these things, so that I could have been out in the beautiful weather working on my project instead of standing in line in the store with all the other people who had been brought inside by the beautiful weather. There were two cashiers, and as we stood in the one line that is customary in this store, a man walked up from the direction of the head of the line and started another line behind one of the customers at the counter.

My intrapersonal battle of wits began. Who does that? That’s just wrong! Calm down. Let the staff handle it. Even if they don’t, letting one person go ahead is not going to add much time. Oh my God, another person got in the spurious line. This is ridiculous. Oh, great, now it’s three people. As I waged my inner battle to maintain equanimity, feeling outraged and at the same time judging myself for my rigid thinking and tendency to self-righteousness, I became very uncomfortable to the point of being on the verge of tears or some other inappropriate outburst.

I briefly considered complaining out loud, articulating the problem as a lack of clarity about where the line starts. That would be stupid, I thought, as everyone here knows what is happening, not only that there are now two lines, but that the cashier over there is being sooooo slooooow. And that was funny, because the spurious line went to the slower cashier, thwarting the people trying to get out faster than us conformists. As I calmed down, it came into focus how much time the slow cashier was spending talking to the person she was serving, the same person she had been serving while three customers paid and left the store from the line I was in. As she was processing his rewards card, she asked about his name and was he related to someone else in town of the same name who had been her teacher in kindergarten, and he began talking about his genealogical research. As the young man went on and on about his research, I wondered if I would actually get out of the store before the line-jumpers, and then declined to berate myself for being so opinionated, so inflexible.

Suddenly the penny dropped, and I realized that from his name, I knew who the young man was, that I knew his mother from the special education community. I realized that he had disabilities not unlike my own son’s, and I wondered if my son would someday be in a line in a store on a busy Saturday, with people behind him on the verge of complaining, and if they did, would he understand that it would not be about him, that it would be mostly about them and their own limitations.

As I left the store, I felt worn out emotionally, so glad I had not said anything to embarrass myself and hurt other people, so glad no one else had, feeling like a terrible friend and mother for having had all those feelings and thoughts, feeling awful about my own resistance to a life sentence caring about others. I had so wanted to be a mother and I remember enjoying it for years, even after we realized my son had issues though we did not fully understand what those issues are. When did I get so worn down that I struggle for control when faced with the least of adversities? I guess I will check out that “caring for the caregiver” series. Clearly, I have been standing too long in a never-ending line, but I am the cashier serving everyone else, letting everyone else come to the head of the line before I take care of myself, an all-weather project that cannot wait any longer.

October 1, 2012. Tags: , , , , , , . Uncategorized. Leave a comment.

Close Encounters of the Aspergers Kind

Sometimes at our house, it can be challenging to connect emotionally with one another.  There’s the constant challenge of Aspergers, but there are also challenges of each of us being in different states including emotionally exhausted, frazzled, stressed out, sleep deprived, annoyed, frustrated, angry, with each expecting from the others compassion and respect, regardless of their individual state of being at the moment.  Two of us (I will admit to being one) are, shall we say, high-strung, and the other two are mellow with a tendency to withdraw.  I’m sure we are no different from many households in this regard.  We also have a very small house so it is hard to get or give space.

Despite these challenges, there is a lot of humor in circulation around here.  Something that will elicit a smile, or even better, a laugh, makes even the worst of times more bearable, and seals the best of times on our hearts like a metaphysical smiley face sticker.

Having had my birthday and Mother’s Day within the same week, I felt that special longing for connection for a number of days.  We had decided some time ago to keep to a routine and not have the big observances for holidays or disruption to our physical space that came from decorating for Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter, the 4th of July, or for birthdays.  This is easier on me as it’s less work, on my husband and son as they both thrive on sameness.  I think it is pretty hard on our NT daughter, but she had her turn growing up, and accepts the change with grace.

So our holidays look pretty blah, but I still feel these days are special, and mark them in a small way.  I made an Easter basket for my grown daughter because that is still something special between us.  She brought her boyfriend over for a night of TV on my birthday, which I felt was a great gift, and she presented me with a gift bag on Mother’s Day with earrings in a design that she knew would be special to me.  My husband did nothing to mark either my birthday or Mother’s Day, but I have noticed that every morning, the first thing he says to me is, “Hello, sweetie.”  Did he always do this and I just noticed?  I don’t know, but I think now that it more than compensates for the lack of an annual card or gift.  I can’t stop smiling just thinking about it.

And he laughs at my jokes, a rare trait which I appreciate immensely.  He regularly cracks me up as well, with a very dry, understated humor.  Like the time we were newly married, visiting family, at my sister’s house with nothing to do at that moment except watch bad TV.  I was still adjusting to spending so much time with someone who is so much quieter than I am, and who watches so much more TV than me when we could be talking instead.  I was enduring watching the actor going on desperately about how he needed money, the music was ratcheting up the emotion of the scene, and the actor finally yelled, “I’ve got to have the money!” to which my new husband appended lightning quick and in the perfect tone, “To pay for my acting lessons!”  Perhaps you had to be there, but decades later, I remember that as a watershed moment, when I was reminded that the man is exceedingly thoughtful and witty, and that I love being with him, but really understood for the first time that his wonderfulness only emerges when he has space to be himself.  I hope our son grows up to be the same kind of sweet and thoughtful husband, and ends up with someone who loves the whole of him and does not compare him to an ideal created on Madison Avenue or in the pages of a novel.

My most personal interaction with my son on Mother’s Day occurred when I called him in to see a cute video.  Watching over my shoulder as I sat at my computer, he smiled as I played an awww-inspiring video of a dog jumping in circles on a bed.  When it finished, my son pointed to the URL (wimp.com) and deadpanned, “Weakly interacting massive particles.”  Then he left the room.

I know he loves animals and I could see that he enjoyed seeing the video.  One might think that this is typical Asperger behavior, but that is what is so funny.  He is not usually like that.  It’s like he was spoofing himself.  My take was that by not commenting on the content of the video, instead purposely seizing the opportunity to make an off-topic remark related to his beloved physics (which I flunked and avoid talking about whenever possible), he was exacting revenge on me for interrupting his round-trip between bedroom/mancave and kitchen, and letting me know that attempting to interact with him in this manner would bring me no joy.  Except it did.

It can be challenging to feel connected, but when I can slow down and accept the interactions instead of comparing them to what they are not, I find these loving relationships to be a source of great joy.

May 14, 2012. Tags: , , , , , , , , , . Uncategorized. Leave a comment.

Overheard

Now that I am taking a nutritional supplement specifically designed to help with tinnitus, I am finding my improved hearing to be a mixed blessing.  Please don’t tell my family I can hear better.  I am finding it advantageous to feign a deaf ear sometimes.  I learned this from my children.

Here are a few things I have overheard recently:

One child calling me back to talk as I’m getting ready to go out the door with the other child, is told, “Please don’t piss her off right before I have to hang out with her.”

On noticing the misspelling in the headline for a Casey James music video, Polk Salad Annie:  “Anyone who knows about wild greens from the south knows what POKE SALAD is.  I wonder if they spelled it POLK because it has to do with music and they’re getting confused with a polka.”

In response to a question from a friend on Skype, who I had no idea could hear me, “My mother.  Her humor is inappropriate.”

This was kind of a double overhearing event, occurring after I had stood outside the bathroom door (next to child’s closed door), asking the person doing personal care not bathroom-related to hurry up, then doing a schtick inspired by a scene we had just seen in the movie Bridesmaids, “I’ll just go pee in the sink,” “on your red rug” (where the pup used to have accidents), etc., which I had thought was humorous and designed to motivate the person to clear out as they were going to get no peace until then.

Not only did it not work, said child having a snappy comeback for every threat, I am now wondering who of my other child’s friends knows I make bathroom jokes and will I have trouble enforcing standards of behavior if the friend visits our home.  Or will I have trouble pretending we have standards.  Damn it all!  Oops, did I say that out loud?

May 4, 2012. Tags: , , , , , , , , . Uncategorized. 7 comments.

A desk, a decision

A few days ago, I bit the bullet and purchased a rolling computer desk at Staples.  It was a somewhat involved transaction with my turning in a hoard of used ink cartridges and redeeming a coupon I had received in the mail, to offset the cost of myriad small items plus the desk in a very heavy box in the cart, which the cashier said I did not have to take out. Eventually, I got rung up and navigated the keypad with my rewards card number and credit card. My total seemed a little lower than I expected, but since my Lyme disease, I can no longer do math in my head, so I tried to sort out my mistake as the cashier bagged my items, and couldn’t.  As I rolled my cart out of the store, I tried to let go of the mental math, and couldn’t.

I stopped just outside the doors, on the sidewalk with my cart, to scrutinize my receipt. I scanned up and down the receipt looking for what was missing, first by the unintelligible product descriptions, and then by the amounts charged. The only big ticket items were boxes of printer ink. I realized, it was not that my total was a little low; it was that the subtotal for everything but the desk was much higher than I had expected, and the desk was totally not there.

A number of thoughts occurred practically simultaneously, as if thoughts could run through my mind playing crack-the-whip:  “I’m outside the store and it’s their mistake,” holding tight to a disingenuous “maybe it’s there and I should go home and check the receipt more carefully,” alongside “there are eight items on the receipt and the desk is not there,” and “but I’m kind of in a hurry,” and the final thought “well, not really, but I could have been” seeming to spin away into oblivion.  The novelty of indecision in a situation like this jolted me out of my mental morass. I am a mom who has modeled honesty for her children at every opportunity.  I thought, what the hell is going on with me – money is tight, there are no witnesses, and I suddenly have no moral compass???

To top it off, a number of things made this random cashier error seem weirdly significant:

1. Just as I was walking past a closed register, a cashier had arrived to open it and announced he would help “the next person” in the really long line at the only other open cashier. I hung back as a person from the existing line walked over and stepped in front of me up to the register. No one else in the really long line made a move, and I said to them, “I know you all were here before me. Do you want to go ahead of me?” Most did not respond; the ones who looked up all shook their heads. Not a big deal, but seemed a little unusual to me.

2. I noticed that by a freakish coincidence, my cashier resembled Don Cheadle, the actor who played the angel in the movie Family Man. Great movie. We see the character playing a man trying to get service from a cashier, and later in the movie, as a cashier himself. When people did not do the right thing in this movie, you had to think, “No, no, no, you small-thinking, small-hearted human beings.” I thought that anyway. At the movie. And at myself standing outside Staples.

So I wheeled the cart back in. The cashier had disappeared, and there was again the one lone open register. I did not want to make a big deal by going to the manager, so I scanned the front of the store and saw my cashier walking toward the back of the store down one of the aisles. I called, “Sir, sir!” He looked up and I waved my receipt and said, “Could you just help me understand this?”  Once he walked over, I said quietly, “I don’t see the desk — did you charge me for the desk?” He looked over the receipt, said slowly, “No, I didn’t. I can do that now.”

As he opened the same register and rung me up again, he looked very solemn. I wondered if he had been going on break and was not happy that my coming back in had delayed him. I said lightly, “Do you think I’m crazy for coming back in?” He looked up from the cash drawer and said, “No, it’s great that you came back. People think they save money sometimes, but everything costs you; later you lose much more.” I took this to mean he believes that what goes around comes around, there is karma, everyone gets back what they give out, which made me think that he did not so much mind coming back to ring me out again.

I try to remember things like this when I feel like I don’t know what I am doing as a mom.  I try to remember that even when no one is looking, I try to do the right thing.  That has to count for something.

Epilogue:  I set up the new desk in the dining room, with the newish flat screen monitor.  I took a day to get the stuff on my old desk in another room sorted out, in preparation for moving my desktop computer tower to the new desk in the dining room.  Apparently the monitor and desk were not just sitting there in the dining room waiting for me.  They were calling out to my son.  He asked me if he could put his laptop on the new desk and hook it up to the new monitor, and I said yes.

That was the beginning of getting him out of his room to hang out with the family more.  So what if I still work at my old desk with a behemoth of a CRT monitor.  So what if his idea of hanging out is to be playing Minecraft on his laptop while he listens to the Food Network on the TV in the adjoining room.  So what if I will never know for sure that this truly is my reward.  So what if I could never know that a desk one walked away with without paying for could never have called forth this beautiful result.  I feel blessed knowing that just as crap and bad things happen every day, small yet wondrous things happen every day too, and it’s okay not to know why for sure, but it’s also okay to think that maybe the small things we do, they matter.

April 28, 2012. Tags: , , , , , . Uncategorized. Leave a comment.

Would you like bipolar with that?

Most blogs I have read start out with an intelligent post introducing the author as a person with something to say.  I  can’t think of anything except various things that would embarrass my children and/or suggest that I am a grown woman somehow stuck with the sense of humor of an adolescent boy, which comes out when I am feeling stressed.  Which is all the time.

One day hanging out with my Aspie, somehow we got to saying whatever we needed to say with “ass” worked in, in a highly exaggerated manner.  If I were speaking ass right now, I would say, “my Aaaaassssspie.”  In fact, I think the first incidence may have occurred with the word “Asperger’s.”  That would be, Aaaaaasssssperger’s.  I can’t even remember to quote for you, but there were many, many hilarious things to say with aaaaaasssss in them.

We were watching the Sandwich King.  One of the most fun of the many Food Network series we have watched was the most recent competition for the Next Food Network Star, producing its new star, Jeff Mauro, the Sandwich King.  I was watching his show with my Aspie, and I was wondering, if my life were a sandwich, would the bipolar be a part of the sandwich, or would I just be in an Asperger’s sandwich with a side of bipolar? I don’t know why that is so important to me to figure out, but I keep thinking about it.  I had been thinking about Asperger’s sandwich with a side of bipolar for a long time, but watching the Sandwich King was the first time I thought about it all being in the sandwich, all layered together, and every day is another bite.

My dad had Asperger’s, my mom was bipolar, and my growing up years were chaotic.  I was confused all the time.  Luckily, I had older sisters to help me, at least until they went away one by one, to college and to get married.  After I grew up, I was still confused but managed to stay busy for a couple of decades, and thought I was having a pretty normal life, at last.  I married and had my own family — I had a career, I was a wife, and the mom of a beautiful, sweet daughter.  I wish I had been able to slow down and enjoy life and especially enjoy being with my daughter then, instead of having been so high strung and driven to do something meaningful with my life.  She was so undemanding and easy going, much like my husband.  How I wish I could go back and really enjoy the days we had together, when among my biggest concerns were what to wear and how to do our hair, since everything else came so easily to our family.

Our son was born, and after years of trying to figure out how to be the best mom I could be so that he too could have a normal life, I learned that me being not just the best mom I could be but even being the best mom who ever lived would never give him what I thought of as a normal life.  Our son, who reminded me so very much of my dad, was diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome.  Then my son went to middle school, without an IEP, and after numerous school-stress-induced hospitalizations, he was diagnosed with bipolar disorder.  By now, he was a teenager and began to remind me so very much of my mom as well.

It took a while to sink in, and when it finally did sink in, it was like a bell rang deep inside me, like there was a buoy in there, floating inside me, with a bell that had been just waiting to ring and ring and ring.  I had thought I was sailing away, away from the craziness, and I did.  High school graduation, college graduation, grad school, career, marriage, my own family, my own structure and rules, all took me far away from the craziness.  I set sail and I sailed so far that I went around the world.  It took decades, but there I was, back again, at the same buoy.  Riiiiiing, riiiiiing, riiiiiing.  I could never really get away, because the bell was in me.  It was in me, and I passed it on to my son.  Aaaaaaassssk not for whom the bell tolls.  It tolls for me.

October 5, 2011. Tags: , , , , , , , , . Uncategorized. Leave a comment.

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