Review of Stacy Morrison’s, Falling Apart in One Piece

Filed Under (Acceptance, Creative Non Fiction, To Get To The Other Side, Writing) by Estee on 13-04-2010

falling_apart_in_one_piece_ “Forever can be undone in a second,” says Stacy Morrison, author of Falling Apart in One Piece: One Optimist’s Journey Through The Hell of Divorce (Simon And Schuster).

Stacy is a successful editor of Redbook Magazine. She begins at “the end,” she says — when her husband declares without counseling or any other clue, that “he’s done.” He leaves Stacy to piece together all the possible reasons for his leaving (over 300 of them apparently, which she has numbered), as well as the pieces of her life and very being. She is left to raise her three-year-old son Zack and learns to become a single parent, throughout trying to figure out where she belongs.

Chris, her ex, hangs around a bit, although he clearly doesn’t take a role in parenting in the beginning. With all of her obligations, her job, her type A personality, Stacy stumbles, crashes, falls, and then swims into new existence for as long as two-years post divorce. She finds she does not fit into old social networks, is struggling to keep all the balls in the air, while dealing with an “evil” house that gushes water in the basement which she must repair before selling it post-separation. The theme of gushing water runs throughout her memoir as she finds a new home for herself and for Zack. The sound of water (and she even experiences the gush in her new apartment from a leaky toilet) haunts her in her dreams even as she has moved into her new place and it serves as a metaphor for her feeling of drowning post-divorce. “I was still afraid of my not-quite-ex-husband and the way he seemed to hate me. And I still had to start over on starting over, because here I was almost two years later still stuck, still falling apart, still floundering, still drowning, goddammit. Still under water.” (p.205)

What was startling to me was to read how such a confident, capable woman, similar to most women I know, was so scared and disabled by having been left. It was striking because no matter how competent we believe we are, the dissolution of a relationship, especially one with a child, can be so debilitating and take years of recovery. It is endemic of our society that we think we can plan everything. It is this belief that we can actually be in control that leaves us standing dumbstruck at the aftermath, wondering why it all didn’t work out.

Chris, her ex, seems supportive of this book, wherein she regards his unfulfilled dreams having been one of the reasons for their divorce. “He hated me for being capable. For dealing. For buckling down and handling the stress of life. For being someone who attracted stress into our life. For being someone who liked challenges. For being the person who would step in when he had to step out.” (p. 63) For letting Stacy write this, I give Chris so much credit and it attests to his strength. It must be difficult to read about your short-comings from your ex, your unfulfilled business dreams (which I hope have since been fulfilled). Yet, on balance, Stacy lists a multitude of her own shortcomings and she has to work through the perceptions of Chris about her as well as of herself.

“At night I could feel other reasons sneaking into my head. I caught glimpses of where Chris and I didn’t see eye-to-eye, the parts to me that I didn’t necessarily even like myself, the instances in our marriage in which I had been selfish or mean or ungenerous, the moments when I had doubted our relationship. Maybe I was a bad person. Maybe I wasn’t who I thought I was. Maybe I was unlovable.” (p. 40) “Every single piece of who I thought I was was being called into question as I sifted through our shared history, looking for my answers.” Stacy talks about how he called her an “unhappy person” and “crazy,” which seems to be, as she notes later on, Chris’ issue. Yet it effects her to her very core as she tries to heal from the breakup.

In one exchange, she gathers her wits and says to Chris, “‘I am sorry that is how you see me and how you experience me. And I know that you do. But I know in my heart that I am a generous and loving person.’ It was the turning point, the moment I realized that I didn’t have to meet anger with anger, that I didn’t have to marinate all the terrible things he wanted me to feel….I could also see that Chris was lashing ot at me partly because leaving me hadn’t cleared him of his responsibilities to me and Zack, but I knew that whatever anger he was feeling about that was for Chris to deal with on his own. In that moment of vulnerability, of being open to his anger, I sensed a strength in myself that I knew I could trust.” (p. 121)

Stacy shares so much of herself and of her struggle to stay afloat emotionally for herself and her son and she learns to grow into a new relationship with Chris while letting go of the dynamic they once shared. She lets go of all the “complicated reasons a marriage starts to fray,” and reflects on her friends and colleagues need for a reason — did someone have an affair? Who was at fault? Although she was the one who “was left,” she doesn’t have a high opinion of how onlookers need to find reason or blame, and postulates that perhaps finding those easy reasons (at least easy in terms of logic) shields them from the many cracks in their own relationships. All one has to do is to look at Elizabeth Edwards and not feel terrible after what she has been through. The fact that a woman has to be blamed for “emasculating” her man if he has an affair or two is just but one example of how society wants to find a simple reason for a failed marriage. Certainly we all want to believe that we are untouchable by the possibility of breakups. We all want to believe that what happened to our friend, that politician or celebrity would never happen to us.

Stacy’s moral is that no life can be planned, and as a arch-planner, this was one of her lessons. She says, “Life is good. Life is hard. These two truths are unrelated…Everyone has pain in their life. It counts all the same.” (p. 230) The truth is, it can happen to anyone. There don’t seem to be any rules we can abide that can truly determine a successful relationship. There are too many factors in life, too many circumstances, too many turns to be able to determine a cause for either success of failure. Perhaps too, there is no such thing. Perhaps we are simply fortunate to have had a relationship at all — no matter what the duration.

While she becomes successful at learning to leave Chris’ opinions of her behind and leaves him to sort out his own issues, I once again applaud Chris for allowing Stacy to write this memoir so honestly. There is not a hint of self-pity in this book and for every one of her perspectives, I believe she is fair and she cites many of her own “faults.” It is simply an honest tale of how two people have grown apart and their need to find their own paths. In writing it five years post-divorce, she also calls her own situation “fortunate” in that she and Chris are still raising Zack together. “I think about how Chris is a much better partner now than he could ever have been if we had stayed married,” she says.

When reading her memoir, I think back to how excited I was to marry Adam’s father and how we spent our thirteen years together as a couple and all the joyous and challenging days. I think about how proud I am of having had that relationship and having Adam come from it. I had always called Adam our “love child,” as he was conceived right after our marriage. I remember the courting, the planning and how excited we were from all of that and how the whole family got involved and how important it was for me.

It saddens me, however, that we still, in a liberal day and age when we are learning to get along in many different familial configurations, that divorce can still become so acrimonious, and how it can end so abruptly. It is devastating for so many people — family and friends combined. While anger is natural, it is just but one stage in the process of divorce. It was this paragraph by Stacy that I liked that I feel could help people heal better, in order to honour a partnership so significant:

“I believe there has to be a better, more connected, more compassionate way to help people around us honor the end of one of life’s most beautiful leaps of faith.”

And that is what marriage is. It is a beautiful leap of faith against all odds, and like Stacy, I’m still glad I did it. By being glad, by honouring the time we spend with someone, we permit ourselves to move forward with evermore hope and joy in our lives. It seems that both Chris, Stacy and Zack have been able to do just that.

Adam’s 8th Year

Filed Under (Acceptance, Adam, Communication, Single Parenthood, To Get To The Other Side) by Estee on 12-04-2010

“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.

_DX03632The 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:

47 inches
Adam, 8 years old
April 11, 2010.

Right there, on the wall of his bedroom. Like the flag being put into the ground.

Home.

My Very Important Job

Filed Under (Adam, Joy, To Get To The Other Side) by Estee on 02-04-2010

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I had a very important job today. One that surpasses all administration, bills, and the like. My mandate for the day? Make Adam giggle… a LOT. I realized that he hasn’t been giggling as much as he used to. Adam, who is about to turn eight, is becoming a much more serious little boy, but he is also a little boy who is experiencing so many changes.

Adam is on vacation and as usual, we head to his home away from home: Miami. I haven’t been away with Adam since December and we are both having a really good time. Adam looks up at me often and smiles, hugs me, grabs my leg and is a lot more verbal down here. He seems glad to be spending lots of one-on-one time with his mother who is not otherwise distracted getting our lives back on track. I realized, while walking along the edge of the ocean hand-in-hand with a contented little boy, that in between school and programs and the big move, we have been drifting through our days trying to survive all of the changes of separation and divorce. While it’s a part of living, may it only be temporary! Adam sure likes his mother happy (and so it goes, mother likes Adam happy too).IMG00332

Sometimes we just keep doing things day-after-day and we forget about the sun, the ocean and the importance of doing very little in order to make room for all of the possibilities. In the sea of change, we try so hard to find the lifeboat forgetting that all of this too is what life is about. Change is the only thing certain — so goes the saying. With change, opportunities.

When the sun shines and Adam smiles, there seem to be so many more of them.

Mind-Body Problem

Filed Under (Acceptance, Poetry, To Get To The Other Side) by Estee on 30-03-2010

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When I think of my youth I feel sorry not for myself

but for my body. It was so direct

and simple, so rational in its desires

wanting to be touched the way an otter

loves water, the way a giraffe

wants to amble the edge of the forest, nuzzling

the tender leaves at the tops of the trees. It seems

unfair, somehow, that my body had to suffer

because I, by which I mean my mind, was saddled

with certain unfortunate high-minded romantic notions

that made me tyrannize and patronize it

like a cruel medieval barn, or an ambitious

English-professor husband ashamed of his wife —

her love of sad movies, her budget casseroles

and regional vowels. Perhaps

my body would have liked to make some of our dates,

to come home at four in the morning and answer my scowl

with “None of your business!” Perhaps

it would have like more presents: silks, mascaras.

If we had had a more democratic arrangement

we might even have come, despite our different backgrounds,

to a grudging respect for each other, like Tony Curtis

and Sidney Poitier fleeing handcuffed together,

instead of the current curious shift of power

in which I find I am being reluctantly

dragged along by my body as though by some

swift and powerful dog. How eagerly

it plunges ahead, not stopping for anything,

as though it knows exactly where we are going.

—–
— poem by Katha Pollit (winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award)

Spring

Filed Under (To Get To The Other Side) by Estee on 24-03-2010

imagesWhat is it about spring that makes us want to throw off our shoes and dance in the grass, okay, even if it’s a little wet. In our new home, unlike our former home, the children are out and about in this neighbourhood and it reminds me of my own childhood days. I remember the spring and the first crocus blooming — the promise that summer is around the corner.

So as it happens, I don’t want to write much and I don’t want to work. We Canadians are already enjoying an early patio season whenever any opportunity presents itself. The blackness makes us yearn for the light. I too want to be basking in the sunshine, for I finally can. I can finally enjoy it after a momentous yet prolific darkness. I am taking my dance classes, my Buddhist meditation classes and have my writing assignments in front of me. Every Wednesday evening, Adam and I have developed a new ritual of taking a very long walk where-ever he wants to go and then we had out for pizza at a nearby restaurant just footsteps from our new home.

It is our way of learning our new path…and basking in the moment. Sometimes a girl (and her little boy) just has to get out there. Even we parents with special needs children are allowed.

A Letter from Lewis Carroll

Filed Under (The Joy Of Autism, To Get To The Other Side) by Estee on 22-03-2010

images On Saturday I saw the adaptation of Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland in an attempt to catch up on all of those wonderful movies out there. I wrote about Carroll and his autism here. I have come home to receive a “love letter” from my son and then to coincidentally read a love letter by Carroll. To his Gertrude he wrote:

“My Dearest Gertrude,

You will be sorry and surprised and puzzled to hear what a queer illness I have had ever since you went. I sent for the doctor and said, ‘Give me some medicine, for I’m tired.’

He said, ‘Nonsense’ and stuff. You don’t want medicine. Go to bed!’

I said, ‘No, it isn’t the sort of tiredness that wants bed. I’m tired in the face.’

He looked a little grave, and said, ‘Oh, it’s your nose that’s tired: a person often talks too much when he thinks he knows a great deal.’

I said, ‘No, isn’t in the nose.’ Perhaps it’s the hair.’

Then he looked rather grave and said, ‘Now I understand: you’ve been playing too many hairs on the pianoforte.’

‘No indeed I haven’t,’ I said, ‘ and it isn’t exactly the hair: it’s more about the nose and the chin.’

Then he looked a good deal graver, and said, ‘Have you been walking much on your chin lately?’

I said, ‘No.’

‘Well,’ he said, ‘it puzzles me very much. Do you think it’s the lips?’

‘Of course,’ I said. That’s exactly what it is!’

Then he looked very grave, indeed, and said, ‘I think you must have been giving too many kisses.’

‘Well, I said, ‘I did give one kiss to baby child, a little friend of mine.’

‘Think again,’ he said. ‘Are you sure it was only one?’

I thought again and said, ‘Perhaps it was eleven times.’

Then the doctor said, ‘You must not give her any more till your lips are quite rested again.’

‘But what am I to do?’ I said, ‘Because you see, I owe her a hundred and eighty-two more.’ Then he looked so grave that tears ran down his cheeks and he said, ‘You may send them to her in a box.’

Then I remembered a little box that I once bought at Dover and thought I would someday give it to some little girl or other. So I have packed them all in it very carefully. Tell me if they come safe or if they are lost on the way.’

Lewis Carroll”

What a fantastic letter! I have not received any such boxes for my birthday this year, but I have received a kiss from another little autie I know. And I may still receive a few hundred more.

Reference:

Love Letters from Great Men, Edited by Stacie Van Der Pol, Pacific Publishing Studio, 2009 (pp.13-14).

Another Bloom’n Birthday

Filed Under (Adam, Single Parenthood, To Get To The Other Side) by Estee on 22-03-2010

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Adam and I have birthdays fairly close together. It’s my birthday today and Adam and I spent the entire weekend celebrating.

Our first excursion was to Canada Blooms at Toronto’s Exhibition Place. We spent about an hour-and-a-half strolling and looking at garden constructions (which I love), and Adam seemed to enjoy it too. He loved the many water features and water falls and in particular, a tunnel made out of leaves in a children’s garden where little fairies were tucked into trees and other flora. Little surprises abounded like an Alice in Wonderland world — wine glasses embedded in wood logs, a tunnel made out of leaves, and other neat objects for the imagination. In our new garden at our new house, I’ve tucked away similar items for Adam to find — mostly animal and Buddhas. I think I may be hiding a few more things to make it more magical. There’s nothing better than watching a child intrigued and delighted by such things — simpler things that we can create rather than those we must buy.

As you can see from the photos above, this was the first time that Adam ever allowed his face to be painted. He chose the “red lady-bug,” he said specifically. “Red.” He smiled and tilted his head a little at the tickling feeling of the paint brush against his skin. I am thinking of how crowded it was and the little guy enshrouded by taller people. I specifically remember that feeling as a child — in malls and other crowded places where adults felt like a dense jungle above and around me that eventually I’d feel overheated and get a headache. While we left before it became too much for him, I’d say an hour-and-a-half was a pretty good chunk of time!

The following day we spent out for lunch and a walk, and finding ingredients for the recipe of (red) tomato soup he wanted to cook (he is reading a lot of cookbooks). So we made a list and went to the grocery store where I asked Adam to push the cart, and find each item on the list. He really enjoyed this even though he only spent about ten minutes with me in the kitchen because, frankly, I do not want Adam chopping onions and garlic for the handling of the kitchen knife. Instead, he got to stir the pot. Just the smile on his face from being able to do his own shopping was enough gift for me. Adam so wants to do many things and his pleasures are mine.

Then, we went to Riverdale Farm to see the animals. The Clydesdale horse came to see us and the cow’s face was so close Adam was enthralled. He watched it chew its cud for a long time and like watching him shop for groceries, I enjoyed watching him watch the cow. He reached out his little hand and I lifted him so he could pet the cow along its nose. He was also interested in the sheep. I reminded him of the sheep in Babe — the movie he watched almost every day when he was a toddler and wonder if he was thinking about them too. We walked around Riverdale and then came home to make dinner for my folks.

So it has been a simple birthday for me, full of earthly delights. And as for the ladybugs, let me quote Francis in Under the Tuscan Sun — may there be “lots and lots of ladybugs” in the coming year. I think I’ve shown this clip someplace else before, but this has been my movie of 2009:

Third Time’s A Charm

Filed Under (Acceptance, Adam, Communication, Single Parenthood, To Get To The Other Side) by Estee on 18-02-2010

images-1I’m not talking about relationships. I’m talking about Adam’s third night at his new home. After letting him explore, be tense, be happy and then settle, he spent his third night in his own bed.

The past two days when I’ve picked Adam up from school he has been running into my arms with a huge grin on his face. I have to admit that his hugs and grins are like Valium — the moment he does that my entire body relaxes. As his mother, I am happy when Adam is happy. Adam is happy when I am happy.

One thing is for sure as I watched his face searching mine this morning and on his way out the door to school is that for Adam, I am home. This is home because I am here. For all the worrying I’ve been doing, it dawns that I am the most important person in Adam’s life. I am the most constant, the most present, although, of course he has many people who also love and support him.

Below is a little snapshot of Adam when he came home from school as I let him relax. It doesn’t show the exuberance that came afterward — and the searching for mommy in order that he could snuggle in the crook of my arm for me to read him his favorite books (Little Ms. Shy and Mr. Quiet, no less). As I watch what Adam does and how he does it; as I pay attention to the books he brings me, he is telling me a whole lot. I say this as I am also skeptically reading about a cuddle drug for autism (Adam is the best cuddler and most affectionate child). It can be frustrating when I am worried about Adam and he cannot communicate everything that’s on his mind. Considering all the issues with autism and communication, it is those moments when I step back and pay attention that I can really appreciate Adam and the many things he has to say. Thank goodness for autistic behaviours for they are telling me so much! Adam is telling me how much he needs me and my support. He is telling me how much he loves me!

We are home.

Here’s the little after-school video:

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My Life In Files

Filed Under (To Get To The Other Side) by Estee on 17-02-2010

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I’m filing. Yes, it sounds tedious but I’m trying to approach this with a new zeal. Moving into a new home is one thing. Moving into a new life after a separation where all of a sudden I have to learn things like personal finance among many other nitty gritty things once shared with a spouse can be a little overwhelming at first. There are no secretaries to do the filing for me. No one to make that call or file that paper. I am taking care, for the first time in my life (believe it or not) of everything. I mean, I am a capable human being, but what is it about suddenly being on one’s own to encourage this level of emotional stress? Ah, right. It was loving someone. It was remembering when someone used to make me a cup of tea and when I helped that someone with other tasks. It was sharing.

Now, it feels like all I have are to-do lists for Adam, the house, for me… for EVERYTHING that it resembles Santa’s Wish List from all children around the globe.

I have to admit I am getting cranky. I felt guilty about that until I read (in a Toronto service for divorced people) a check-list for stress. One of them is being irritable and easy to set-off. The stress is pretty heavy. I’m trying to transition Adam and forgot that I am also still transitioning myself. I’ve gained weight (I am the kind who puts on weight when stressed out). I haven’t been looking after me — something that most moms of special needs kids talk about a lot, never mind adding divorce stress on top of it. Maybe it’s a little feminist of me to suggest that maybe I let other people take care of me a little too much. I resemble the capable, intelligent woman who deferred many of these tasks to a man. Yet I also don’t believe that sharing the tasks is a bad thing at all. It’s not learning and not knowing how that can be dangerous. When confronted now with sorting new things out in life, it feels foreign and I need to map it out.

To my surprise, Adam was very happy last night exploring the new house and making quite a mess of it — opening doors, taking things out of cupboards and I figured that as long as he was safe this was important for him to do. Like discovering routes (yes, intended pun), my little Autie is making himself feel at home. Who am I to tell him to put everything away when I’m trying to make him as comfortable as possible? He needs to know what’s behind all those doors. He needs to sort out his new environment. Many an autistic person will attest, like Adam, that routes and familiarity are very important.

So the house was in shambles this morning. I tidied up after Adam left. Putting things away leaves me with a sense of order and peace that I’m looking for in my transition right now. I’m trying hard to slow down instead of rushing forward. I have decided today to take breaks which is something new for me — the kind of person who always always ate lunch at her desk. And yes, I’m filing. It is helping me think. Everything has a place and there’s a place for everything, as the saying goes.

My life is out of the boxes, but it’s going in files. It is helping me understand my new life as much as Adam needs to empty out all the closets.

So far… Success

Filed Under (Adam, To Get To The Other Side) by Estee on 15-02-2010

I just want to report that little Adam came to his new home. He was quiet. Grandma, grandpa and mommy all gathered around him and ate dinner and he just looked and looked. He hadn’t been to the house in the evening before. The lights cast a gentle glow. Evening is a time when everything feels strange. The day is ending and dusk is uncertain.

“Raindrop,” he said of my lamp that hangs like that in the corner of our living room. “Bubble lamp -” we named our chandelier over the table. His eyes were focused on the light.

We all snuggled around him after dinner on the couch and watched a quiet video of photos of Adam’s family and this past year that grandpa had made with classical music. Adam enjoyed it and was also content to read the books and look at the toys I had placed in the room. We went gently upstairs and he climbed into the “snuggle chair” I bought so that the two of us can read together. With very little struggle, he then fell asleep.

He knows everything has changed. Yet I’ve done my absolute best to make all the time leading up to this transition as smooth and as positive as possible. As you readers know, I was quite worried about all this, and even though I’m somewhat relieved, we still have some days ahead of us that I cannot predict.

But now the first night is done. And it seems we’re off to a good start.

Carry On

Filed Under (Acceptance, Adam, Single Parenthood, To Get To The Other Side) by Estee on 14-02-2010

cracked_heart-1802It is Valentines Day. Aside from the red commercial hearts and roses we will buy only because the storefront displays will beckon, I wonder if people will remember fragility. The red hearts may be plastic but the real human ones bear no resemblance.

Today is my official final day in my old home — the home I built with Adam’s father. I did move from it a few days ago — I don’t think leaving precisely on Valentine’s Day would have been easy because my mind tends to brood over such Hallmark things, despite my keen awareness of plasticity. As I said I would in a previous post, I ritualized in my own way. I said goodbye to the rooms, picked out a stone from the backyard. But I couldn’t stay long. It was just too painful once all of my things were gone. My memories are still too recent — Adam and I there snuggling just a few days earlier.

“Someone else lives in the house I thought I’d never leave. And the life I’ve lived in that house, I now speak of in the past tense….The keys now belong to someone else. I can’t open that door anymore, and the place beyond it is now as inaccessible to me as all the life I’ve lived there, retrievable only in photographs, story and memory. Still, while I lived in that house it seemed that my life would continue there forever, that it was as substantial as the sofa I settled into in my study with a cup of tea at the end of each day.” (Excerpted from Louise DeSalvo’s On Moving: a Writer’s Meditation on New Houses, Old Haunts And Finding Home Again.)

IMG00278I created The Autism Acceptance Project in that study. Now, I’ve created a new study where you see me sitting now. I am moving on. Aside from organizing a few things, I am trying to settle in my new home. I feel like maybe I can get back to deadlines, TAAProject and my writing. This evening, my friends and family will gather in my new dining room to help me toast a another new journey in another new home. Again, I believe rituals are so important.

I await Adam to return on Monday afternoon from his mid-winter break so I can help him adjust here. We saw the neurologist last week who believes his spasms have more to do with transitions than anything else. Yet, to be prudent, he must still have the EEG to ensure this isn’t something biological. My suspicion, however, is that Adam has been just as stressed as I have been. According to that infamous “top-life stresses” list, moving and divorce are right up there. Dash in a few other things over the past two years and the plate, as they say, has been pretty full. Being in the new house and taking it in for a few days on my own helps me calm with it, and I need to be calm for Adam. He feels and takes on every emotion I have. As his mother, it’s hard not to feel guilty, but I try to fend that off as it is such a waste of precious energy. I have to teach Adam many things two of which; 1) I am human and, 2) that the only reason we are here is to make the best of what we have. I believe these are good things to teach autistic children — the children we so often say need consistency and structure. While I believe that to be so true, it’s not always the way life goes.

Saying that, I’ve also learned an important lesson on the fragility of the heart and of the roots we think we build. In fact, I think the lesson I was meant to learn was that of impermanence. We all want our children to feel stable as it is an important factor in healthy growth, but I’m beginning to believe that an important gift we can give to our children is to also teach about how things change. “Paint peels, plaster cracks, and gardens, of course, are the most ephemeral constructions of all.” (Louse DeSalvo p. 149). I know we are supposed to keep structure in our children’s lives — particularly autistic children who are so prone to anxiety — but the fact of the matter is that all of life is outside of our control. We take what we are given and polish it. And it’s definitely okay to cherish it too.

“The gleam of a loved house lasts only as long as he who loves it can keep polishing.” (p.149) This goes for all the people we love too.

Happy Valentines Day.

Autism and Moving Homes

Filed Under (autism, Single Parenthood, To Get To The Other Side) by Estee on 10-02-2010

teddy-bearThis post will be brief as I am living in the moment of moving homes. Adam came to our new home today before he goes on a mid-winter break with his dad. His body-jerks have returned and he cries in his new room. “Are you scared,” I ask.

“Are you scared?” he echoes back with then a slight delay. “Scared,” he says forcefully.

We have made numerous visits to the home, but because Adam can understand what he cannot express fluidly with words, he is reacting. It is strange. He knows the move is now imminent. He is experiencing the stress that other children experience. He has experienced so much.

It brings me back to the time when I was six years old and my parents moved homes. I remember when they looked at it, when they purchased it — my dad and I put the “sold” sign on the front yard. So new was the house, the lawn was not yet in and we perched the sign in the dirt. Dad made a big deal out of it, I remember that much. He was proud. It’s amazing what impressions we retain from out childhoods. It wasn’t much longer after that — I returned from a weekend with my grandparents to sleep (all of a sudden) in my new home. I believe there was even a stuffed animal waiting for me in a newly erected brass mailbox by the front door. It was summer. The “welcome committee” was ready to do its job and make me feel right at home. That committee was my parents.

I remember that arrival and how strange it was, but I’ve lost the memory of sleeping there my first night. I’m certain my extremely attentive and loving mother did everything she could to make me feel I was at home. Yet, it didn’t feel quite right. I couldn’t ride my bike around the house in my old neighbourhood where a garden was planted and grass was laid and my good pals were gone (I was particularly close to the boys I punched in the stomach — it wasn’t my idea… it was my father’s. He tried to make me into a tough girl and STILL relays that story proudly to anyone who will listen…kind of embarrassing at my age). Nope, they were all gone and all I had was the bike and the dirt for my early introduction. The plumbing still wasn’t working in the block so new, that we had to use the model home down the street to take a pee. Indeed, that was a strange feeling.

My parents are still around and are extremely loving grandparents to my son, not to mention incredibly supportive of their daughter who is now not only a single mother, but also their only-child having another life “adjustment.” Let’s just say that they mean the world to me and I’m certain to Adam. On Monday, when Adam returns home from his break with his dad, those same grandparents will be the welcoming committee to his new home that he will settle into with mom.

Adam is only a year or so older than I was when I made the major move. I try to appreciate how strange this all feels on top of parents who are no longer together. I think of how confusing that must be; how stressful sometimes, and because Adam is autistic, he manifests that stress in physical behaviour. It is the only outlet he has. Even though we are all doing our best to help him along, Adam has been expressing how he feels about the matter.

Expressing boldly without words.

I now play a video I made with Adam’s grand-dad a few years ago. I love the little guy more than words can say. This is a look backwards with gratitude while also hoping the future will bring us both peace.

The Final Countdown

Filed Under (autism, To Get To The Other Side) by Estee on 09-02-2010

It’s the final countdown. Adam and I will move in several days. I’ve written a lot about it. Tomorrow Adam sees the neurologist. Last Saturday Temple Grandin’s story was aired on HBO. It all reminds me of Adam’s anxiety and how I found him two nights ago in his underwear drawer (closed) in a fetal position at 5:30 in the morning. The change is very big for such a little guy.

It manifests in his senses. I think his body jerks and desire to be in tight dark places have a lot to do with change and his parent’s separation. I certainly believe my little boy is telling me how he feels without words.

I really believe it. It’s why it makes me a bit frustrated that people think that autistic behaviour is “abnormal.” What’s the difference between a neurotypuical child who tantrums versus an autistic child who can’t tell me that he’s confused but seeks a drawer to find security?

Without words, Adam speaks volumes.

All I can say is that I look forward to putting some security/regularity back into Adam’s life (and mine). By next week I shall be posting from our new home.

Please wish us luck.

Of course I heard this song on the radio today transporting stuff from one house to another in my car:

More Than Walls

Filed Under (To Get To The Other Side) by Estee on 02-02-2010

momLeaving We are moving, Adam and I. Thirteen days and counting. Leaving the home I built with Adam’s father (literally — I’ve uncovered stacks of my working notes while building the house I am moving out of) and I ache. My back aches from moving boxes, my feet ache from running up and down stairs, and well, the heart is complicated.

Houses are more than what they contain. They are more than walls. If they weren’t, we wouldn’t drive back to the homes we grew up in, or show our boyfriends and girlfriends where we went to school. We wouldn’t go back to tree where we carved our names, or try to find the homes our grandparents lived in to imagine what history had happened to bring us to this very moment. We traverse back all of the time. We try hard to conjure up the memories, the conversations, Fred Flintstone and Campbells Tomato Soup, or maybe the sounds of children running in for lunch. Even though we can’t relive them in actual time, the moments live within us.

I remember when we started planning to build the house I will say goodbye to next week — the first day we ripped down the old structure that stood on this land before we built; Adam was a baby then and I had taken a walk from the other white home we lived in — the one I’ve written about in The Perfect Child, with black shutters and a huge maple tree, to witness the first dent the demolition crew made. We were building something and I was exhilarated.

It took us eighteen months to build this house we lived in since 2005. Every week, I’d walk Adam over in his stroller — getting him used to the new place; already worried about that thing I always talk about: “transitioning.” We walked by. Then we walked in. Then we could walk up a ladder that took the place of stairs. Then we could walk up stairs until finally, we played ball in the kitchen that was still being built. My mother accuses me (in the nicest possible way) of living in the future since I was a very young child. As Adam’s mother I imagined all the games we would play in this house, the guests we would have. I don’t knock imagination in the age of the Power of Now. We can breathe life into things!

When Adam was three, we moved in. Leaving Rosemary (the white house), was difficult too. It was the home Adam’s father and I began to build our family life and where I became a stepmother. It was the place where I brought Adam home two days after he was born — April 13, 2002. I will never forget how it began to rain and that strange feeling — that the house I left was not the same house to which I returned. Adam, of course, changed all of that. The moment I put him down in his car seat in that front hall and I was overcome with the new life that I now cannot imagine living without.

I returned to Rosemary with toddler-Adam asleep in the back of my van soon after we had moved into this home which I am about to leave. I had to run in to fetch the bassinet my mother had refurbished for him — the one I also slept in thirty-some years earlier. It was “heaven’s bed,” or a “Himmelbett,” as they say in German. My German grandmother made it by hand just for me. Adam also deserved to lie under the same protection of the heavens and the angels.

As I walked into Rosemary it was about to storm — still so quiet and dark. I stood lingering and silent in each room. I had to think about everything that had happened in those rooms and all of those conversations. Although it was empty, the walls seemed to be whispering among the dust balls — remember when, remember when….

imagesWhen I was ready, I wrapped my arms around the bassinet and put it quietly in the back of my van, Adam still sleeping soundly, the thunder just beginning to gently roll towards us. I sat in the car and looked one last time. It was hard, but I had to say goodbye. I put the car in reverse and decided not to go back for awhile. A couple of years later, the new owners demolished that house and built a new one. I still drive by.

Saying goodbye to homes and a life I shared with someone is an important ritual. Just because some things don’t last does not mean we must abandon them in our hearts, our minds or with sour words. We must honour an ending as much as a beginning, for all our stories have them. I believe we have to approach such goodbyes with gentle regard for all of those days, nights, hours and years. All of those words spoken; all of those hopes and dreams. We build. We move. We demolish. We build again.

I have created a new home and it’s also lovely. Adam loves his new room, and I have created another piece of Himmel over his reading nook, where he has only visited but looks about curiously and tries to find his comfort.

Like everything else I do, I will get this done. I will say my prayers and my goodbyes as I stand in each room listening to what the walls say. Then I will take a rock from the backyard that Adam loves so dearly — where Adam’s father brought home his first big trampoline; where the grandfathers worked so hard to put it together. Our backyard was Adam’s haven and we spent many summer afternoons swimming and playing. At first, that rock will be difficult to look at, so I may put it away. I have a feeling, however, it will later become something I will need to look at. Something to cherish. I have to remember. For all those years were worth it. They are my story and, while it may come with some ache, I am proud of everything that was created over the past thirteen years. While my imagination is already working on my new home (and yes, my future as well as Adam’s), this is my way of saying goodbye.

Elizabeth Gilbert’s, Committed: A Skeptic Makes Peace With Marriage

Filed Under (Book Reviews, To Get To The Other Side) by Estee on 31-01-2010

Review of Committed: A Skeptic Makes Peace with Marriage, Elizabeth Gilbert
Reviewed by: Estée Klar

I’m a separated single mother. Last night, having dinner à la Sex in the City with my three long-time girlfriends, I realized that I am the only truly single lady at the table. My girlfriends may have had the recipe for relationship success right all along — they never, ever got married. They may be single, but they are all in long-term committed relationships.

This is not to say that I’m against marriage now just because I am separated, but since I feel I have not yet been successful, and in fact — let me borrow Gilbert’s own words —  “gutted” by the entire process, her new book may have come to me in the nick of time. Perhaps not just for me. Judging by the hot topics of discussion out there — like “All Kinds of Families” upcoming on television with Rosie O’Donnell,and the hit HBO series, Big Love, and 41waKzNI4wL._SL500_AA240_Desperate Housewives, well, Gilbert definitely knows what is on our minds. So long Ozzie and Harriett, Little House on the Prairie and Leave it to Beaver; these times…they have changed!

Gilbert acknowledges that she is no scholar of Western marriage, but her research makes us rethink our beliefs. Woven in between her own personal journey — falling in love with Felipe at the end of her Eat Pray Love journey, living with him on his three-month visas into the U.S. and vowing never to marry each other —  we learn a little bit more about her and how and why we think such things about finding soul-mates and marriage partners. “Sentenced to marriage,” because her partner Felipe will finally be deported out of the United States if they do not marry (no more three-month visas allowed), Gilbert decides to research almost out of terror. She has already been divorced. She has no children. She writes, she travels. She seems to covet her freedoms. But she has also fallen deeply in love with Felipe.

So she embarks on her next quest which manifests in this newly released book. Expecting the world from our partners to “make us eternally happy,” she cites an important, maybe crippling, contemporary theme — that the only quest worthy in life is to find happiness. “It’s the emblem of our times,” she says. “I have been allowed to expect great things in life. I have been permitted to expect far more out of the experience of love and living than most other women in history were ever permitted to ask. When it comes to questions of intimacy, I want many things from my man, and I want them all simultaneously….We Americans often say that marriage is ‘hard work…’ but how does marriage become hard work? Here’s how: Marriage becomes hard work once you have poured the entirety of your life’s expectations for happiness into the hands of one mere person. Keeping that going is hard work.” (p.48).

Of course, Gilbert can’t be excluding the same expectations of men who stake their happiness on a woman. Honestly, if I were to wager an un-researched guess, men have more difficulty in our culture being without a woman than women do without a man. If it’s a popular topic of discussion of our times, it does not belong exclusively to women-kind. But she does note that her father seemed to have fewer expectations of his 1950’s marriage than her mother: “…while it’s true that my mother has given up more of her personal ambitions in marriage than my father ever did, she demands far more out of marriage than he ever will. He is far more accepting of her than she is of him.” (p.197). So while Gilbert seems to identify in part the “shackles” that women find themselves in when they enter marriage, she also acknowledges that it can also be a repressive tool against men. “It’s an ancient truism across countless different cultures that there is no better accountability-forging tool for an irresponsible young man than a good, solid wife.” (p.198.) She cites Robert Frost who says, “in traditional societies single young men have a global reputation for squandering their money on whores and drinking and games and laziness: They contribute nothing.” (p. 198). But ask a thirty-something year-old single man, and I’m not so sure he would or wouldn’t agree. As woman have changed, I am hopeful that, since Robert Frost’s time at least, men have too.

Among the Hmong people she sets out to interview, where marriages are arranged, the women she attempts to probe about love don’t seem to have any expectations of their men. It is set up more for civil function and child-bearing, and the woman remain with the women during their days, and the men — well they are off doing God knows what. When Gilbert asks the Hmong women about how they felt about the subject of marriage, she was greeted with laughter and confusion. Of the Hmong grandmother she said, “Neither the grandmother of any other women in that room was placing her marriage at the center of her emotional biography in any way that was remotely familiar to me. In the modern Western world, where I come from, the person whom you choose to marry is perhaps the single most vivid representation of your own personality. Your spouse becomes the most gleaming possible mirror through which your emotional individualism is reflected back to the world.” (p.35). In Canada, where the person we link arms with is an important choice that reflects who we “are,” whether I like the idea or not, I would have to agree.

Gilbert’s chapters are separated to many aspects of marriage: Marriage and Surprises; Marriage and Expectation; Marriage and History; Marriage and Infatuation; Marriage and Women; Marriage and Autonomy; Marriage and Subversion and finally Marriage and Ceremony where she ultimately makes peace with her “life sentence;” albeit with a lot of soul searching and research! It seems to me that she finds her success in being “separate” while also devoted to and a part of Felipe. It makes me realize how utterly lucky I am to have time to myself, to be alone at this point in my life before launching into something too fast and too soon. Maybe I can call it my Eat Pray Love kind of year — the eating and praying part for sure and the love I am gaining for myself as well as a recognition of an enduring love for my son. Maybe we all need at least one of those years in our lifetimes. It seems to be our fear of being alone and that stigma prompting the fear that may be the saboteur of a peaceful path to coexistence.

That stigma of being single looms. Just a quick look at the amount of on and offline dating services that exist out there, and we can see it. We are yearning for connection — looking for that lost half of ourselves. It’s not unfamiliar that concept — our “other half,” our “soul mate.” But is there such a thing? With Hollywood romance pounding the message into our brains that there must be one soul mate out there for each of us, we’ve certainly come to believe it, and all things Hollywood must be rigorously questioned.  Yet instead we go out into the world and look for our mates as if it is our life quest. Gilbert says “our choice-rich lives have the potential to breed their own brand of trouble.” (p.45). Apparently, as soon as we abandoned arranged marriages and began to choose for ourselves, divorce rates sky-rocketed. As I read her book thinking of our freedom to create different “kinds of families” that we either inherit by default because of circumstances, or choose, I consider that the reader will be left with the question: so which is better; to be able to be free to choose, to remain single or to go back to arranged marriages? Gilbert would opt for freedom, but not of the escapist kind.

When women began to have equal rights and opportunities, they no longer had to remain in bad marriages. Then came the myriad of choices, for better or for worse. While  Western marriage is comforting in the sense that it eliminates all choice, it has, as I’ve hoped to illustrate via Gilbert’s book, its own set of issues. Religion imposes a civil and “moral order” (religion assumes we are sheep that need guiding — another power schematic) — a role that today our lawyers deal with when we get divorced: how property and children are divided. After all, the State doesn’t care about our broken hearts. Gilbert discusses how women gave up everything to be in marriage in history – and let’s face it, to a large extent still do in modern times. In Europe’s history, cites Gilbert, “the legal notion of coverture — that is, the belief that a woman’s individual civil existence is erased the moment she marries…a wife effectively becomes ‘covered’ by her husband and no longer has any legal rights of her own, nor can she hold any personal property…Coverture was a French legal notion that spread to England as late as the nineteenth century. British judge Lord William Blackstone was still defending the essence of coverture in his courtroom, insisting that married women did not really exist as a legal entity. ‘The very being of the woman,’ he wrote, ‘is suspended during marriage.'” (pp.65-66). Woman eradicated as humans? This is not something I enjoy reading about, but I believe it  still exists in the deepest caverns of our collective minds. It plays out in marriages, in court rooms and infects the behaviour of many men and woman today — that our worth is hinged on marriage and men alone.

Just going out with many women, and seeing more middle aged women going out on the town with each other, I’m not altogether happy with what I see. Not only do women just want to go out — and now they can without the man which is of course, great and something we now take for granted — many of us womankind are still fiercely hunting. “MILFS,” (a sexist, unfortunate term meaning “Mothers I’d Like to _ _ _ _”) we in a certain age-group have now earned such derogatory terms — “Cougar” being another one of them. You can see it in the eyes — checking out the men who walk into the room, trying to look coy with that red-coloured martini in their hands (wait..I like red-coloured martinis), probably hoping with bated breath that some guy will approach her. While many women might say they have earned the right to employ on the goose what was done to the gander, I have to wonder if women are out really enjoying themselves, or if they are seriously hunting for a man for the sake of increasing her self-worth. I’m not suggesting that woman are solely to blame here, as She has been the object of sexual oppression for generations. Yet why perpetuate the cycle?

Without the pressure of man-hunting, the best possible relationship and the ones I really value are those of my girlfriends — married, unmarried, gay, and yes, even yearning. None of us are alone with the very same questions Gilbert raises — “sometimes life is too hard to be alone, and sometimes life is too good to be alone.” (p.81). Doesn’t that just say it all? Now single, I am even aware I may now be a threat, possibly, to some of my married friends. It even shocks me to encounter married women who think it is so wonderful to be single, so easy — as if I can party all night long. It’s all very ironic because none of it is easy. I may represent what perhaps some married women fear they may become and representing that comes with a price that has saddened me to pay. A single gal can’t always win with the married type. It seems married or not, we all want to believe the grass is either greener on the other side, or that it’s as scary as hell. And believe me, it really is hard the first year of transition from married to single life! Don’t let my going on and on about being single fool you for a moment. I cried for six months straight!! Nothing can spare us from the heartbreak following the break-up or a loss of a long-term partnership or marriage.

What I starkly realized whilst becoming single (it’s a process), is the stigma — that I am less valuable if I am not attached to a man (one of woman’s greatest fears). I have also learned that this idea is farthest from the truth. As I grow and spend about as much time thinking about this topic as Gilbert has, being alone for a long stretch in one’s life without jumping into other people’s beds in order to escape loneliness is probably the most important thing we can do at least once in our lifetimes. And we all will — our spouses will die, our partnerships will break up. We simply have to learn to live well with and happily with ourselves. As a single person and a person who may enter any future relationship, it is most important to learn to value oneself first in order to be valued. One way to value oneself is to spend time alone…and not fear it. Elizabeth Gilbert protects her freedom, it seems for similar reasons. Like me, she enjoys traveling on her own. Like most women today, we try to find that safe place where we can have a partnership while also maintaining our need to pursue our own dreams. Ironically, even with all our hard-earned freedoms, it still can seem like an extreme sport.

Gilbert can get us really thinking with the amount of thought she and Felipe pour into their oncoming nuptials. For me the finest chapter was on Marriage and Infatuation. “History teaches us that just about anybody is capable of just about anything when it comes to the realm of love and desire.” She puts new words to the harsher adage “all’s fair in love and war.” It seems to me Gilbert, despite all the research, came up with the answer mid-way through her book about what makes partnerships last or not, and as I read this I considered by parent’s marriage of forty-six years. I witnessed them building their marriage like maintaining a beloved house. Walls had to be repainted, dying trees cut down and replanted, and some rooms eventually completely renovated. It was constant work and in between they lived out their frustrations and their joys. They are products of this historic belief system as much as my generation is, and future generations will be. Something in them and maybe even about them, I don’t know — they just stuck it out. Who knows what those factors were as they traversed life’s trials that bonded them together or nearly tore them apart. These are the intimacies I will never know. But, it does make me realize that to be in a partnership is to enter a contract that is tacitly renewed every single day. And yes, maybe that is supposed to be at times, “hard work.” Expectations or no expectations, it just can’t always be easy.

Gilbert uses the work of Shirley P. Glass, a psychologist “who spent much of her career studying marital infidelity…[whose] question was ‘How did it happen?’” So as I read the following paragraphs, I thought of the “house” with the strong foundation my parents built:

“The answer, as Dr. Glass explained, is that nothing is wrong with a married person launching a friendship outside matrimony – so long as the ‘walls and windows’ of the relationship remain in the correct places. It was Glass’s theory that every healthy marriage is composed of walls and windows. The windows are the aspects of your relationship that are open to the world – that is, the necessary gaps through which you interact with family and friends; the walls are the barrier of trust behind which you guard the most intimate secrets of your marriage.

What often happens, though, during so-called harmless friendships, is that you begin sharing intimacies with your new friend that belong hidden within your marriage. You reveal secrets about yourself – your deepest yearnings and frustrations – and it feels good to be so exposed. You throw open a window where there really ought to be a solid, weight-bearing wall, and soon you find yourself spilling your secret heart with this new person. Not wanting your spouse to feel jealous, you keep the details of your new friendship hidden. In so doing, you have now created a problem: You have just built a wall between you and your spouse where there really ought to be free circulation of air and light. The entire architecture of your matrimonial intimacy has therefore been rearranged. Every old wall is now a giant picture window; every old window is now boarded up like a crack house. You have just established the perfect blueprint for infidelity without even noticing.

So be the time your new friend comes into your office one day in tears over some piece of bad news, you wrap your arms around each other (only meaning to be comforting!) and then your lips brush and you realize in a dizzying rush that you love this person—that you have always loved this person! – it’s too late. Because now the fuse has been lit. And you really run the risk of someday (probably very soon) standing amid the wreckage of your life, facing a betrayed and shattered spouse (whom you still care about immensely, by the way), trying to explain through your ragged sobs how you never meant to hurt anybody, and how you never saw it coming.

And it’s true. You didn’t see it coming. But you did build it, and you could have stopped it if you’d acted faster. The moment you found yourself sharing secrets with a new friend that really ought to have belonged to your spouse, there was, according to Dr. Glass, a much smarter and more honest path to be taken. Her suggestion would be that you come home and tell your husband or your wife about it. The script goes along these lines: ‘I have something worrying to share with you…” pp.109-110.

While this piece of information hit me like a brick from that shattered house on my head and comes in the middle of her book, the rest of her book is worth reading too. I thoroughly enjoyed (obviously) reading about wo/man’s journey with marriage and where our beliefs may have derived. Most of us, even if we are good at being single, want friends and partners in life. We are, I believe, built to share. While “love based unions make for fragile tethers…maybe divorce is the tax we collectively pay as a culture for daring to believe in love.” (p. 83). I have learned while we need to have choice and freedoms, with them come many responsibilities — for nourishing ourselves and others and treating each other with respect and kindness. And this also grows and changes, like the institution of marriage in our culture, with that tacit contract. Maybe the contract, like people, get better with age. Maybe we come to understand the fragility. Maybe some of us learn, in this age of free expression and openness, that there are some things in life that should be left between two people. Gilbert certainly reminds us of the nature and importance of privacy and the need for a couple to really discuss and think about things, instead of expecting them.

Gilbert, after soul-searching this serious marriage business, finally marries Felipe in the house she buys in New Jersey (which ironically happens to be a converted church) when Felipe’s visa is finally approved. As they utter their vows, a dog suddenly lies auspiciously between them (which just happens to symbolize fidelity). I envision all the people out there writing their long list of pros and cons about relationships. I might be one of them one day. Yet very much like Elizabeth, I still believe in love.

I do, I do, I DO!

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About Me


ESTÉE KLAR

I’m a PhD candidate at York University, Critical Disability Studies, with a multi-disciplinary background in the arts as a curator and writer. I am the Founder of The Autism Acceptance Project (www.taaproject.com), and an enamoured mother of my only son who lives with the autism label. I like to write about our journey, critical issues regarding autism in the area of human rights, law, and social justice, as well as reflexive practices in (auto)ethnographic writing about autism.