“This movie is rated G and is suitable for all audiences.” Adam sat on the couch when we arrived home from Florida, both of us exhausted after waking at 3:30 in the morning to catch an early morning Westjet flight that was cheaper than the rest. The early bird catches the worm indeed, but you have to be prepared to be sleepy for the rest of the day. As I turned on a movie for Adam and I to watch together, this silent caption came on the screen and he read it, fully understandable to me. Adam’s speech over the past several weeks is becoming markedly clearer. Then, something suddenly went wrong with my cable box (as it has all year long — I need to write a separate post on the ABSOLUTE RIDICULOUSNESS OF TELEVISION TECHNOLOGY AND HOW FRUSTRATED IT MAKES ME, but let me save that for another day), and then the sound went mute.
“Oh my God!” exclaimed Adam. “Oh my God,” he said again like a Valley Girl. It is something that I say when I’m COMPLETELY AND UTTERLY FRUSTRATED WITH THIS NONSENSICAL TECHNOLOGY, and my boy is listening indeed. Coming out that cherub mouth, that voice that still sounds so very tiny let alone the mouth that says so little, I am of course ecstatic and laughing.
“You’re right Adam,” I affirmed by hugging him and scruffing up his dark blonde hair, “Mommy is really fed up with Rogers Cable. Just wait and I’ll see if I can fix it.” I attempted changing inputs, mumbling my frustrations to myself lest Adam learn some words I’d prefer he learn later on in life, checking cables and rebooting several times — all which seem smart and logical attempts at fixing the sound problem. Instead, Grandpa, who studied electrical engineering no less, jiggled the box and voila… the came sound back. If only I had thought of that. There is irony in this, I hope you see. Sometimes we try so hard to fix things when all it needs is a little jiggle.
I have to say that this Monday morning, the day after Adam’s 8th birthday and back to work and school, I am kinda floating on air. It was very apparent to me how much Adam needed me during this trip and how happy he was to see his mother happy again. Something has shifted during the heavy period of separation and we seem to be settling in. I think it started when I created my own space, made it mine and began to live in it. I knew that fixing a house was a process of also fixing me. I had thrown every effort and last bit of energy making it Adam’s and mine — a place where we could be happy again, and it saved me during this most difficult time. Yet by throwing myself into this, Adam was also needing me. While I was still living in the matrimonial home during the process of fixing up this house, the weight of it felt as heavy as being buried six feet under. The house I had built with my ex now came to represent loss. The foundation that had been faulty in that house and needed rebuilding, so symbolic. So how fortunate I was to have the time to create something new for Adam and I — something now that I have come to appreciate so much. So blessed do I feel today with spring upon us and having finally made that move so that we can move on with other things.
The house has a lot of light which was important to me when I found it. I wanted Adam to feel the light and the air as well. Moving was tough, as many of you already read in previous posts. For Adam, security is found in environments. It takes him time to adjust and this was extremely difficult beginning from late last fall. Every time I thought we were over a hump, we were right back where we started with really bad-looking spasms. I did not see Adam smile very much during this period, and it made my sadness and worry ever more pressing.
Despite having the house prepared, there is always more work once one moves in — things don’t work properly and living in the house day and night, I began to feel how it wanted to live. The house asked me to learn all of its idiosyncrasies. It asked me to support it and work with it. It has been a couple of months now since we moved in and I believe I am getting to know her well. I think the house is certainly feminine because she is beginning to support us.
In Florida I was relaxed and didn’t worry about the house or anything back home as I had in the past. I had completely relished in taking Adam many places, and swimming with him every day. I noticed his great huge smile returning, the way he listened and talked to me more than ever before. It seems every year and every trip and every new experience (even after hard ones) sends us forward again. Adam wanted to be with me so much as he grabbed my hand or told me what he wanted to do, looking up at me, smiling. All he wanted was his mother back and all to himself. Going through divorce I know I had tried even harder to be present for Adam, feeling so guilty about the breakup and upsetting his life. Such contrast in my states of being seem so stark now that time has passed and I am feeling relaxed again.
Returning from the airport was a little strange as this was the first time we would return from Florida to our new home and I realized it when we took the new route. I was concerned that the house would feel foreign again after nearly two years of hard labour and emotional work. Yet, when Adam ran up the stairs towards the front door, threw off his shoes and ran into the kitchen with a great big smile, that was it.
I did it, I thought. I made this house a home. Adam’s smile and getting right back into his routines was testament to this and his being here with me upon a return was one of those markers in my life that I will never forget. It was as if he gave me further permission to relax as he stuck in his metaphorical flag in our family-room floor. We belong here and we belong together.
The following day I set out hurriedly to prepare a birthday party for Adam that was suitable for him — the chocolate birthday cake, the sparkler, his favorite friend and cousin, and some family. Presents came next. The boy who never understood that there were presents underneath that paper several years ago (the paper had been entertainment enough back then) has learned to open them with greater anticipation. He was happily answering questions and hanging out with people, and took his favourite friend by the hand to show him his room. When we parents checked in on them, they shut the door on us, not wanting us to disturb their playing.
Adam’s happiness clearly has a direct effect on mine, and mine seems to have an effect on his. His happiness over the past twelve days has helped me and his feeling at home in his new house makes me feel as if I’ve earned, and learned, something important. Both the house and Adam pulled me out of my head during one of the toughest times of my life. Adam needed me every day and it was every morning that he got me out of bed during the first six months of my separation. Then, it was the house and a vision of Adam and I being happy together again that became a necessary obsession. Working on the house was the promise of hope.
While I have not written about my situation, and my deadline for finishing my manuscript is the end of this year, I’ve come to realize that even writing about writing here is a little difficult because I’ve been so close to intense emotions. I’m not so certain that no matter how a divorce happens, that the details matter in the end, although they make for my truth and the story itself. A marriage is so utterly complex that it is difficult to pinpoint one exact reason for it not working, and it is simply too easy to cast blame on people. For now, that’s all I say about the subject, except that like I always talk about in autism, life is supposed to be filled with challenges and joys. We so often want to avoid the things that are difficult but we forget that all of life’s events are unavoidable so we might as well live them well and let them build us. For that reason that I must be an optimist by nature and I will always be a risk-taker. I will always believe in love, partnership, marriage — whatever works. I believe in it even when I have tripped and fallen on marriage before.
I am still on a path on my own and with Adam. I am finding out where and who I am again. These are two separate things — this healing from divorce as well as raising a son with autism, yet I cannot avoid intertwining the experiences as Adam and I grow together. I do find it difficult to relate to other people who are divorced, for they do not have autistic children, and going online to talk about parenting children with autism is a little difficult when the parents are not divorced. Like my house, our lives are unique and we are growing into them every day. While I’d love to find easy answers on some days, or support networks on others, they never quite hit the mark and then I realize that I am truly on my own, no matter how supportive and uplifting friends are.
After all the guests left after chocolate cake on a sunny spring day, I remembered the day Adam was born and showed him a picture that sits at the entry of his bedroom with his birth announcement. His dad was equally excited the moment Adam was born and it felt a little odd that he was not with us yesterday, but I plugged on knowing that this absence is now permanent, at least for me, and our relationship as co-parents is also evolving and growing — all another step in accepting what is and what makes Adam and I a complete family. I let the moment pass through me thinking back to those eight years and quietly asked Adam to the wall where I could measure how tall he was. I miss the old measures in our old house where I marked the wall there beside his bathroom. I no longer have the measures when he turned two, three-years-old and so forth and something about that makes me feel a more profound loss, as simple as markings on a wall beside a bathroom may seem.
So at twilight I asked Adam to stand next to the rocket-ship measure I placed on the wall beside his new bathroom. He stood against the wall and I put a book on his head to mark it right, saying very little, feeling hushed by this moment:
Adam, 8 years old
April 11, 2010.
Right there, on the wall of his bedroom. Like the flag being put into the ground.