Saying YES To The Ring

I have been pondering for the past couple of days how to write this post. I have started it, deleted it and started it again many times. For at this point, what I am about to write is embarrassing, very confusing, and probably tiring to all who read my blog.  Frankly, I know that if this on-and-off again relationship was happening to a friend or my daughters I would say, “Get the fuck out! You deserve a man who wants all of you all of the time!”

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Yet, sometimes life is not that cut-and-dried no matter how hard we try to make it so. Over thirty years of marriage is a long time together. It is doubly hard when you have two boys with autism and who do not do well with change. Add to that three children who have already lost their original families and splitting up becomes fraught with minefields that just are not present in most families.

Now to tell you this particular story I have to take you back to October. It was then that B asked me what I wanted for Christmas. At that time I flippantly told him a commitment ring but frankly I thought that the possibility of receiving one was nil. Winning the lottery had better odds. And anyway, who doesn’t like a ring, right, so what was the harm in asking?

Fast forward to Christmas night. As we were winding down from the days festivities I told B I thought we should tell the kids tomorrow that we were separating. Tears came to B’s eyes and all of a sudden he called the kids down to do THE board. You see, every year on Christmas day and July 4th, we measure our kids to see how much they have grown (seems we will need a longer board for Andre next July.) Then, just as the kids were about to go upstairs B told them to wait and proceeded to say. “Hey, guys, there is one more present here and it is for your mom.”

With that, he walked over to his briefcase and pulled out a jewelry box and in it sat a woven silver and gold ring. Nothing elaborate (that is not who I am) and nothing too expensive (not me either). As I looked at the ring in shock he said something to me and the kids along the order of:

“The silver in this ring represents our Silver Anniversary (25th) while the gold represents striving toward our Gold Anniversary (50th). In this ring there are little breaks and holes that represent life and how during our lives we have to navigate through them, around them, and out of them; to get back on the path we have chosen. So I am giving your Mom this ring to show her that I am committed  and will continue to try working together to reach our Golden Anniversary.”

My first thought: Maybe he really does love me…and tears

My second thought: I am not sure I want this. Maybe it really is time to be out on my own.

My third thought: Why did he say this in front of the kids?

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Luckily, the next day was Tuesday, the day I see my therapist. She said:

“I’m confused.”

That made two of us.

So we talked about the conflicting feelings this brought up. About how for the last week every time we talked about leaving and splitting up our family we both cried. How our guts were both twisted in knots and how discussing dividing children, assets and animals was devastating. And that in this heartache we had gotten closer at least for the past few weeks but that it should be viewed as temporary.

In the end, I decided to accept the ring…for now. Instead of deluding myself into thinking this ring is a piece of jewelry that signifies B’s commitment to me for life; I have decided to view it as a day-to-day pledge until I decide otherwise.

Last night we went to our joint therapist and I asked for clarification regarding the ring, the commitment and why he said what he did in front of the kids.I will say that I received some very well thought through answers to my questions and that we both acknowledged that we have a long way to go to save this marriage if it is even possible.

At this point I have no real answers about life or the status of my marriage. What I do know is that every day we manage to make it is one more day our children have had a chance to grow older and more mature. It is one more day that we have successfully re-committed to working hard and to trying our best to listen to what is in the others heart and act accordingly. And it is one more day that we have attempted to let love win, move towards acceptance of both ourselves and the other, and its one more time that we have had the chance to try to find peace in a relationship that once had little.

Sometimes life is hard.

Sometimes life is isn’t.

And maybe, just maybe, given a little more time, the hard times will decrease and the good times will grow more frequent and blossom. And maybe someday I will realize good times and bad are just part of life and that is just the way it is and I won’t take it personally. And maybe, just maybe when the good times are abundant I will be able to rejoice in them knowing that I have done everything humanly possible to make them happen….with or without him.

 

 

 

WE

 

We have built houses together

Planted a vineyard and gardens

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Raised six kids together

We have survived your mother

The death of parents

And your brother

We have moved

Numerous times for your career

Starting over again and again

Just knowing each other

In a city of a million faces

Finding comfort and love in that

And we have stuck together

Through so much adversity

Pain and sorrow

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We have traveled the world together

Had much happiness and joy

Done things as a couple

That brought us closer

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We have struggled

Raising two boys with autism

Put their needs ahead of our own

Done everything possible to give them

The best chance for a good life

So why it is now

After all the hard years

After all the time we have sweated and pushed

And fought the school system

After life and death

Hardships and pain

You want to abandon

Our future

And all the good times

We dreamed about

For so very long?

We’ve slogged through

The Rough Times

Taken so many wrong turns

But you don’t want to share

In the best that is to come…

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The walking along the beach

Holding hands

Visiting Grandchildren

Kayaking the rivers

And taking art classes

Working to save the river

And the seals

Old age sex

And wrinkles

And watching with a tender heart

Fingers intertwined

When one of us takes our last breath

Being there for the other

As one passes to the other side

To the unknown

The other left grieving and lonely

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We’ve been through the hard times

Why can’t we share the reward

Of all we worked for together?

When life is finally getting easier

Why should a future wife

Get all the benefits

Of our hard work?

I do not understand

I will never understand

And don’t expect me to…

Don’t ever expect me to!

 

 

Yesterday I had a private therapy session with our third and final marriage therapist. He was highly recommended by my therapist and she believes he can help because he does in depth therapy examining both partners pasts and seeing how they effect the dynamics of the relationship. He looks at attachment in childhood and how that influences attachment within the marriage.  I think he is a good fit but I was exhausted after our session. I felt like I had run a marathon and got run over by a truck at the end. Working on psychological/relationship issues is hard work if you are honest with yourself and others.

Recently I have been reading the book Hold Me Tight by Dr. Sue Johnson. The book jacket says ” Forget about learning how to argue better, making grand romantic gestures, or experimenting with new sexual positions. Instead, get to the emotional underpinnings of your relationship  be recognizing that you are emotionally attached to and dependent on your partner in much the same way that a child is on a parent for nurturing, soothing and protection.” It is an interesting book and I see B and my relationship on so many pages and it saddens me. But we both keep trying.

 

 

Been There…Not Done That

This is my sixth trip to South Korea. The first three were blinded by tears as we picked up our children when they were infants. Those days were short but sweet after waiting a half-a-year to finally meet them.

The last time we came to Korea as a family was seven years ago. Those were trying times. The boys were in the midst of autism and there was a real fear we would lose them on the subway. In fact, I remember that Paul decided to play hide-and-seek in the subway and scooted away into a telephone booth while we were racked with panic trying to find him. He was one of those kids who really needed to be on a leash because he would take off if given the chance. It is wonderful to see him this time…so excited to be discovering his culture. I have never seen him as happy as he was today.

On the other hand, Andre was struggling. All the walking. All the newness. All the change wasn’t doing him any favors. He didn’t want to come because change is so difficult for him. But to our credit we make him vacation with our family even though at times it would be easier for him just to stay home. There are just some memories that must be made and I will confess serenity was easy to come by in The Secret Garden.

We have never visited Seoul in the fall before. That was a mistake because the beauty of the place, the slow cool breezes make this experience memorable. The colors are vivid and more intense than I have ever seen. The scenery is amazing. But instead of telling you I will just show you…Korea in her glory.

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Friendship

This morning I had a long overdue coffee date with a wonderful woman. We are about the same age and are both on the road of discovery about ourselves while deciding what we want the second half of our lives to look like. We have a lot in common in many regards and I hope she is on the way to becoming a good friend.

After coffee was over it occurred to me how much I miss having close female friends. Sometimes I miss it so much it feels like a piece of me has been ripped away and left abandoned out on an isolated road. Alone.

Don’t get me wrong I have some wonderful friends. But due to our constant moving or their moving; these women that I cherish and love are scattered throughout the United States. There is N… my been with me forever friend who has seen me through my youthful indiscretions and has nursed me through the past year. There is C who knew me as a teen and with whom I share a birthday. There is L who makes life something to laugh at and enjoy to the fullest even when I am whining like a baby. And there are several other special ladies who I know would be there for me if I picked up the phone. But what I need at this juncture of my life, and what I miss most, are a couple of good girlfriends to go to coffee with every Thursday to catch up on each others lives.

It is hard making friends at my age. It’s an art really. The type of art I have really never possessed in sufficient quantities… because I don’t do acquaintances. I do… “I’ll save your life if you’re in a raging river”… types of friends. I would do anything for them and they would do just about anything for me. These are the plunging off a cliff, Thelma and Louise, kinds of friends.  Frankly, there are not a lot of people I want to risk my life for or go down with at my age. But I am still willing to try to find those kinds of inspiring and fun people and offer them all that I have to give… which is quite a lot.

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There are other reasons I find making friends difficult. Sometimes when you have special needs children with challenges it makes it difficult to make friends. Most people have no clue of all the things you have to do to make your life work. They don’t understand when you have to cancel at the last-minute because of a major meltdown that is occurring ten minutes before you are supposed to meet. And being around others whose children also have challenges can be draining for both people because it seems as if too often you are both drowning at once and just holding on by the thinnest of branches. While things have improved in my household sometimes I feel like past behaviors hold me back because I am unsure when those issues will rear their ugly heads again. It makes me afraid to risk “those” looks and “those” whispers from someone I thought was special only to find that they really aren’t. Sometimes I wonder if that isn’t how my sons with autism feel.

There is also the issue that most women’s lives are so full that they barely have time for the friends they currently have much less making time for someone new in their lives. With old friends you know what you have and how to relate. Most people just don’t have the energy to figure out the quirks of a stranger. And I get all of this. I truly do. But damn, it just means that so many of us are missing out on something that is so good.

But really, I don’t want a lot of friends. I just want a small group of coffee klatching Thursday morning women to hang with. Some 40-60 something gals who won’t try to convert me. Won’t try to change me. And will love me despite all my idiosyncracies.

With all the lonely people out there you would think it wouldn’t be that hard to find but it is. Which makes me thankful for all that I do have in my life. Yet, I am greedy and I want more. Much, much more.

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On Giving Love When You Have None Left To Give

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Sometimes my house is pure 100% chaos. Sometimes it is as quiet as a lamb. Most of the time it is somewhere in between. But then there THOSE TIMES; the times when Andre digs in and NOTHING I can do will change the trajectory that we are about to embark on.

Change for Andre is difficult. It often is for those on the autistic spectrum. Sometimes that change is as small as using grape jelly as opposed to strawberry on Andre’s PB&J. But more often it is something along the lines of telling him to do his chore.

“Andre you need to empty the dishwasher!” (for the third time)

“I dun’t want to”

“There are lots of things I don’t want to do either but they must be done so empty the dishwasher. NOW”

“I dun’t want to”

This I dun’t want to would go on 100 times if I permitted it. Usually at this point the conversation will escalate to one more warning. Then I head upstairs (with him trying to stop me…pulling on me or poking at me) and take all of his electronics and tell him that he can have them back when his chore is done.  This is followed by ten minutes of attempted manipulation, threats (I’ll put your phone in the sink if you don’t give me back  my stuff) and flat out increased defiance. Finally, Andre will realize that he has gone too far and then resorts to such things as:

“Tell me you love me mom”

“I need love. Give me a hug NOW.”

I want a kiss NOW”

Along with all the demands he begins hanging all over me DEMANDING a hug or a kiss by clawing at me.

Of course, by this time I am worn out and tired of the CRAP. I try to remember where this is coming from inside his head (fear of abandonment/fear of being unlovable/anxiety) and react accordingly. But there are times when giving him what he needs (a hug) feels so ugly and disingenuous after all the chaos and manipulation that I find it hard to wrap my arms around him. I find it hard to find a place in my heart to grant him the grace that he needs. Most of the time I manage to dig it up from G** knows where but there are times it is almost impossible to find and it is at those moments when I feel like I have been swallowed whole, the best parts of me ripped out and flung far and wide. It is at these times when I start crucifying myself for not being able to give my son what he needs because it is such a little thing that feels so big.

Luckily, most of the time I do not get to this place of self torture because as I start to fall down the rabbit hole; I get ensnarled in the tree roots and find a foot hold to make my way up again. But there are times that I would like to keep falling down that rabbit hole just to feel the impact upon landing. To feel the brokenness that results. And when that happens it makes me realize that is probably what Andre is feeling (the impact) and then I find I can go over and give him that hug. A hug that will ultimately mend us both. A hug that that tells him that I love him and he loves me and that we are in this thing called autism together. Forever.

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The Eagle Is About To Soar

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Yesterday my boys, Andre and Paul, received their Life rank in Boy Scouts. It is an amazing feat especially when one factors in all their challenges. Next up: Eagle Scout the final and highest rank. They are already busy deciding what their project will be. It has to be something that benefits the community. They have to plan it, fundraise for it, and organize volunteers to help complete it.

I have to admit I have been a lousy Scout mom. With all the other things I have done in the past or am doing I have rarely attended meetings and only occasional events. It is B who has done on a million hikes and campouts, attended every meeting, flipped pancakes for fundraisers, helped them earn merit badges and has taken a week off of work to make sure that the boys attended Boy Scout Camp. Without B, there would be no Eagles in the making. He has been there for years helping the boys to learn new skills and helping Andre when he falters. I am so proud of all of them.

As I watched Andre yesterday, his autism in full gear for whatever reason, walking in circles and shaking his head; I know that I have the Boy Scouts to thank for all he has accomplished. For all that both boys have. And while I have not always agreed with the policies put forth by the organization, I know that my kids have mastered skills that will benefit them in the future and may well save a life one day. In fact, Andre did earn a rarely given award, the Honor Medal, for saving a life.

So as they enter the final frontier of Scouting I want to congratulate my boys and thank all the adults who have mentored them and pushed them through. All those volunteers who have made Scouting fun and exciting. Because it is a joint effort by all involved and everyone involved are responsible for the fact that our soon-to-be Eagles are about to soar.

 

 

Holes… Or When I Am Gone

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Me: I am going to miss you when I am gone (B and I are going to SLC this weekend)

Andre: I’ll miss you too

Me: Why will you miss me

Andre: You do my laundry, you cook for me, You make my lunch

Me: Is the only reason you’ll miss me is because of all the things I do for you

Andre: Well, to be honest it helps
Me: So what are you going to do when I am not able to do those things for you
Andre: Well, I guess I will get married

 

I love my son. Truly I do. But because of his autism everything to him is from a “what are you going to do for me” perspective and very rarely a “what can I do for you” thought even occurs to him. The one daily chore he is expected to do is often a battlefield and it doesn’t matter to him that everyone else is doing their part. This lack of reciprocal interaction or loving behavior on his part often makes me feel hollow inside.

With most children you have some sort of back and forth relationship. A relationship in which the child wants to please the adult in their life and vice versa. Usually it’s a fairly balanced equation. We get something and we give something back. Even if that something is just a touch or a smile. That just isn’t really important to Andre. He spends more time figuring out how to get his way at all costs than ever considering the fact that sometimes people need a hug or a kind word to keep them going. This “I give to you and you give to me” thought process never occurs to him and sometimes it gets very old. Sometimes it feels like I am doing all the giving and getting little to nothing in return. When this happens it feels like a day spent outdoors in the hot sun just digging hole after hole after hole.

For me, this is one of the hardest parts about autism; this “I don’t give a shit about anyone else but me” thought process. Give me a monster tantrum anytime. Give me nonsense talk too. Give me the messy room, the sneaking food upstairs and the snarky comments. I can take all those and more. But sometimes what I long for is just a genuine back and forth dialogue lasting over 5 minutes followed by an Andre initiated hug at the end of our time together.

If I could change how autism looks in regards to my son this is what I would change. And who knows maybe this will click into place for him someday. Until then, I will sit here and wait knowing in my heart of hearts that even though he rarely shows it that my son really does love me. For that is all I have to sustain me at the present time.

 

 

 

The First Rose

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As parents we are always doubting ourselves when it comes to our kids. There are no manuals and every child is so completely different from the other especially when they have issues that other children never have to face. I know of what I speak. With six children I have learned much and each one has taught me in a completely different way. Yet, I also know about those deep, dark, slippery wells that you sometimes feel like you cannot climb out of  when things are tough which often seems to be the case when your children have life impacting disabilities. It makes you question yourself and all you are doing to an even greater extent than ever before.

Paul struggles. He has autism and several other medical issues but his social skills are pretty much on track. Until you are around him for awhile you would probably never guess the extent of his issues and how they impact him everyday. But impact him they do. And our family too. Constantly.

Sometimes parents whose children have a disability find it hard to let go. Sending them to the store alone, even though it is just down the block, is terrifying when you know that your child is somewhat gullible and naive. But when the older teen years hit you realize that holding on too tight is a hinderance and not a help so you start loosening the strings. So recently Paul has been walking to the store by himself which gives him a sense of freedom that any 15 yo boy needs.

On Sunday Paul asked to go to the store. He had earned some money and wanted to buy himself a special snack… so off he went, hands deep in his pocket holding on to his hard-earned cash.

About 15 minutes later he returned with a perfect red rose in his hand which he shyly gave to me.

“I know I haven’t been treating you very well lately so I bought you a rose to show you how much I love and appreciate you”

I cried. He smiled and I think he knew that in giving me that beautiful rose he actually gave me so much more than just a flower. He let me know, that despite my mistakes and frailties as a parent, I really am doing something right by my kids. And even more importantly, I see him growing into a lovely young man who is doing good things like every decent and wonderful human being does on his own and without my help.

God, I love that kid!

 

Fences- A Positive Post

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Yesterday Paul needed to get some service hours in for Scouts. He elected to paint the fence at our church. It was hot and the fence sat square in the path of the intense rays of the scorching sun. Six hours spent working in the sun is difficult for anyone but even more so for a young autistic teenage boy with no previous painting experience. Fortunately, one of the older members of our congregation (R) was there to provide guidance and cheer him on.

I love it when old and young connect. There is something almost magical that happens when wisdom meets youth. Learning occurs in an unstructured setting and life’s lessons are conveyed easily. More importantly, both parties share those things that are important to them and greater understanding of the world and each other is obtained by both.

When he arrived home Paul was stoked and could hardly wait to tell me about his afternoon. But it wasn’t the fence he talked about. It was the connection that he made that mattered the most to him.

“Did you know that R served in the Korean War?” my sweet Korean boy asked.

“I had no idea,” I replied.

And so Paul sat with me and excitedly told me all that R had shared with him. Things about the war, what the country of Paul’s birth looked like back then, and how his life had changed because of his service. They also talked about what boys did growing up in the 40’s, how times have become more complicated and R’s ideas about the important things in life. But most of all Paul gained a friend. A man who could teach and discuss without being parental. A person with whom Paul could relate his troubles regarding peers in school and his concerns for the world as he navigates becoming a young adult.

It’s funny how sometimes in doing things for others you gain something special and totally unexpected for yourself.  This weekend Paul learned from R the value of a friendship with someone older and wiser than himself. He learned to share problems and issues and listen to good advice in return. And more than just learning about how to paint fences he was also taught how to mend a few too.

 

 

 

 

Think Of Them

 

Sometimes I am just so disappointed in both B and myself on behalf of our children. Ideally, no child should be a child of divorce but our kids have even more compelling reasons than most not to have to their parents split up.

Our youngest three children are all adopted. Obviously adoption involves loss and children who have been adopted have already lost their first family. They already have certain holes in the hearts and as adoptive parents we do everything we can to try to patch them. But as hard as we try, for most adoptees, something is still missing. Some don’t examine these feelings or loss or abandonment until they are 20 30 or even 40 years old. Some, like my son Paul, live with this wound their entire lives. Always wondering who they are and who they come from. Always believing there was something “wrong” with them rather than something wrong with the situation they were born into. None of these kids deserve to have their family severed again. My heart aches for them should we divorce and the guilt is tremendous. I mean, we willingly and lovingly brought them into our “forever” family, as the adoption community refers to it. But we may not be forever to children who desperately need the stability of forever.

Both Andre and Paul have autism while Paul also has some mental health issues. In talking to their psychologist she says that divorce would devastate Paul and could take him to a place from which he cannot return. Who does that to a child? Who knowingly divorces knowing that this is a possibility? I don’t even know how to wrap my head around this and I don’t understand how B could either.

And Gracie is at the age where losing her family could impact her ability to sustain her own relationships. According to studies older children remain profoundly effected by vivid memories of suffering due to their parents divorce. They are concerned about the unreliability of relationships and fear of betrayal when they are older and divorce happens.

I know that there are good reasons for divorce and I know that not all kids suffer because of them. But I also know in a family like mine that divorce will be most likely be catastrophic because of the special issues that are involved. It seems so ridiculous and selfish to be talking divorce just because a marriage isn’t “perfect.” Nothing is perfect in this world and I hope our children don’t internalize it as this divorce is occurring because they are not perfect either. Although we would sit down with them and try to convey that it has nothing to do with them, I suspect that they will not buy into any easy platitudes.

So I sit here and hope with a heavy heart that things improve for us and for the sake of our children. For if we divorce they have the most to lose. They are the innocents.