Thanksgiving 2013: my mother cooked a whole traditional dinner for six people, including herself. She bought us cheesecake pieces from J.S.Watkins. She even replicated Poppy (my grandfather)’s time-consuming, amazing stuffing recipe – to this day, the best kind I’ve ever tasted. When the food was finally prepared, cooked, and cooled, she removed half the Tupperware from her cabinet and divided some of everything into all the containers.
She readies three bags and divides again, placing food “for Amy and M” in one container, for “Andy and Jonah” in another container, and for “Jim” (my father) in a third container. Whatever is left she keeps to eat, though she probably gives herself a lot less so that we all have what she considers to be “enough.”
The last “sit-down” Thanksgiving dinner we attempted was three years ago now, maybe? Other people used to come over to my mother’s house for Thanksgiving. Two aunts and two uncles joined us – and, before he died, Poppy came as well, arriving at sunrise to begin preparations as supremely awesome chef and overseer of the family and feast. And, of course, in 1999 Andy joined the table.
Then Jonah was born, and he was never-not-even-once the kind of baby you could place next to you in the car seat carrier while you ate, so I’d be up and down from the table to nurse or comfort him. When Boo was a toddler, we put Teletubbies or something on TV, let him wander around while we ate, and hoped for the best, because we really saw no other solution. A few more years went by and we kept using distraction techniques to get through it all. Either Andy or I would get up to watch him/change him, so at least one of us, at any given time, was able to eat.
Then shit got real, and Jonah started throwing things. This is the 4th Thanksgiving I’ve described here but I’m not all that inclined to look back and re-read about the incident which decided the rest of our Thanksgivings since. I think Jonah threw the whole turkey plate against the wall or something.
My mother always brought out her best china for Thanksgiving, so at least the smashed pieces of platter were very pretty. But we knew it was all done, the going-through-the-motions of a normal holiday – the hoping-he’ll-be-good-enough-so-we-can-at-least-eat. Nobody came over anymore after that, of course, and then Andy and I broke up, and then Jonah went away, and now this new routine is the only vestige of a Thanksgiving family event we can manage.
One year when Jonah was about three or four, we drove up to one of my cousin’s then-homes, up north in the Adirondacks. Jonah was an angel. I mean to tell you he sat nicely on mama’s lap and ate what I offered him, drank what I gave him, and looked all cute in the process. I was almost pissed, if you can believe it. They’re all going to say: I don’t know why Amy makes this autism thing into such a big deal. Of course they didn’t, and if anyone thought it, they kept it to themselves.
So this year Andy drove Jonah to “grandma’s house” (for which Boo constantly begs) and I drove separately from my house, meeting them there around 12:30pm. Jonah did well on the 90 minute car ride but was confused and agitated too. He thought it was Saturday. Any break in his routine throws him off, poor kid, and upon arrival he began rapid-fire requesting things right away.
My mother had made us sandwiches for us to eat and Jonah grabbed his, munching & pacing the kitchen, requesting….Oompa oompa? Car ride? (even though he’d just been on a 90-minute car ride) Potato chips? Crackers? Bath? Lem-a-made? Train?
We tried to keep him calm and were somewhat successful, at least at my mother’s house, where he ate his sandwich and chips and then asked again for train? train? train? train? (add 16 or so more train? s in there). Andy and I both know there is no train coming on Thanksgiving Day, but we put him in Andy’s car anyway and drove up past Russell Road and into Voorheesville until we were at the tracks.
There are four red lights on the signal post down the track a spell, and even Jonah knows that without a green light, there won’t be a train. (This four-red-light rule does have its exceptions, but never on Thanksgiving).
Long story short, we did this twice — back and forth from grandma’s in Latham to the train tracks in Voorheesville, Jonah seemingly accepting the lack of train and enjoying the comfort of the route. I took a few pics of him on the ride:
Though no trains arrived, we made it back to grandma’s okay – and with Jonah’s favorite Prince CD and our promises of Oompa Oompa, Boo was even calm. After a short last visit, Andy and Jonah drove back to Rhinebeck (Andy kept Jonah overnight at his apartment).
I drove up to my father’s house to drop off his dinner and hang out for a while. Then I went home, where M and I heated up our delicious dinner and ate it on our laps on the couch, cause that’s how we roll now. I could have eaten the dinner alone with my mother, or alone with my father, but any way you sliced it (no pun intended), two out of three of them would have to eat Thanksgiving dinner alone this year. It’s a far cry from Better Homes & Gardens, but I did the best I could. Stressful and holidays go together for lots of people; it’s just ours are likely a wee bit weirder.
My mother is 70 now, and tired, and we talked about it all some. I don’t think she should do it anymore, the big dinners. Jonah won’t eat much turkey anyway, even after his dad brings him home to his apartment and prepares it with a buttery roll and some lem-a-made.
So why don’t I do the cooking? I’m incapable. I can cook meals, but inconsistently well. A turkey dinner would be the culinary equivalent of climbing Mount Everest. Next year we’ll order in or something.
Nowadays there comes the now-common dread mixed with hope on every holiday. This one could have been a lot worse, and I’m grateful it wasn’t. I believe Jonah is maturing, however slowly, and getting better at asking when he needs something. (I could kiss whoever taught him I want help please? for he uses it a lot and it avoids ramping up the frustration level for him).
I’m grateful too that throughout my childhood and teens, I had the privilege of celebrating Thanksgiving with a whole host of awesome, loving family members – aunts and uncles and cousins, sometimes 15 or us or more, held at Poppy & Gram’s house. Memories. Always there was the tray of carrots, sliced lengthwise and salted by Poppy. My cousins and I sat against the island-bar on stools. We twisted them back and forth, the wooden arms banging against the white and gold sparkle-piece patterned counter, until some adult told us to stop. We felt tight-knit.. everything was warm. There was so much love in that home!
My first Thanksgiving was spent with my foster-mother (foster-parents?), when my family didn’t even know I existed. How strange. Add to that the fact that I’m waiting to hear if my biological family even knows I exist, and everything becomes even more bizarre.
Anyway, my mom and I drove down on Saturday to visit again, and things were more normal, and Jonah was happier. And then all hell broke loose on our car ride. When I showed you that video of a calm Jonah sitting, eating snacks, and watching a movie and I called it an amazing thing, it is because this is more the norm:
You can see Jonah crying and his daddy getting into the backseat to calm and control him. Yes, I know I probably should have grabbed Boo’s feet, but he couldn’t hurt anyone but me so I chose photojournalism and getting kicked instead. Probably not the best choice.
We don’t know why he had a meltdown. We do know that breaks in his routine are the likely catalysts, and long holiday weekends are perfect for breaking routine.
My mom wasn’t there for this — she is now resigned to staying back and watching her shows until we return, unless I’m sick like I was last Saturday, and I don’t come at all. On those occasions she is welcomed into the car because Boo still gets the backseat all to himself. He does not like people sitting to close to him in an enclosed area like a car, and when he says “bye bye” as you try to get in the backseat with him, you best follow instructions and get while the gettin’s good. I’m glad my mom wasn’t there to see her boy crying and twisting out of his harness.
I’ve gotta give Jonah credit though, because once he was past his meltdown and we returned to the apartment, he was happy and lovey, giving all three of us a full share of hugs and kisses and once again watching Oompa Oompa with a grin.
Whenever he is happy on a visit and my mom and I drive away, we say thank you, God. And when it is an unhappy, disheartening visit, we say please, God. Please and thank you.
I know my mother also prays a bunch of other old-school Mary prayers like the Memorare and the rosary. I like them, but I pretty much stick to please and thank you. Most times it’s all I can articulate when addressing the divine.
I hope it’s enough.