Archive for May, 2011

This all starts Thursday night and I suppose could make up a very long entry.  I don’t know what’s going to happen yet in the writing of it, but the living of it has stretched out miles in every direction.

This is Jack, M’s 90lb. 2 year-old dog (American Bulldog + maybe some mutt) named after Laura Ingalls Wilder’s childhood dog:

Jack loves to pose, statue straight, like in this picture.  He’s a sweetheart of a dog, curious and full of life, trying to jump up for a chance to lick you.  But he’s also all-muscle strong, and when I took him for a walk Thursday evening and he saw a squirrel, he launched himself forward full-speed; I held tight to his leash and was dragged up and off my feet like a fish on a line, landing with a hard smash on the side of my head, complete with skinned, bloody knees and a stunned shock that left me just lying there.  Jack came running back to lick my face, and I managed to get us both inside so I could lay down to rest.

As the night went on, I just tossed around in bed, my head hurting more and more.  I got up twice to throw up.  By morning there was no question of trying to get to work and by 10am I couldn’t take the pain and puking anymore.  M came and brought me to the ER where I was given an IV-cocktail of anti-nausea meds,  morphine, and whatever they mean when they say “liquids.”   The morphine was magic, whisking the pain away like a cool liquid eraser.  A few hours later they released me with bandaged knees, a negative CAT scan, a prescription for Loritab, a bill for $100, and instructions telling me I had a concussion and should rest for the next couple days.  I didn’t need convincing.  Woozy and weak, I gladly climbed back into bed.

But I knew this would be a long and difficult weekend for Andy, what with Jonah once again aggressing so much that it’s an abnormality when he’s not hitting the window in the car, Houdini-ing himself out of whatever harness he’s in, knocking over the lamp, the fan, the end table, toys, a glass – whatever is in his path – and running at you to kick, bite, scratch, and swat.

His preferred method of getting me is by reaching out lightning-fast (usually when I am putting him in his car seat) to grab my face in one hand, his fingers splayed like a starfish, each nail digging into my skin and scratching hard unless/until I can get away.  Let’s just say my reflexes are growing faster.

I felt well enough by mid-Sunday afternoon to watch Jonah some.  About an hour before I’d arranged to pick him up, Andy called me.  “Can you help me?” he asked, Jonah wailing and screaming in the background.

“Just go get his wagon from the park,”  he told me when I asked what I could do.  So I drove to the house, parked in the driveway, and walked up the street until I got to the little park behind the school.  And there, on the grass next to a green fire hydrant, was the little red metal wagon my mom had gotten him for his first birthday.  I stood for a moment and just stared at it, picturing Jonah flipping out, imagining how Andy managed to get him home, and wondering how many neighbors are witnessing exactly what kind of freakish folk we are.

If I’d had my camera on me I would’ve taken a picture of the empty red wagon.  It felt strange to take its black handle in my hand and drag it back onto the pavement, along to the corner, and down the hill of the street to the driveway with no passenger, a racket of rattling and banging announcing further craziness abounds! – a metaphor for everything I am, and do, and feel lately.

How were the visits yesterday and today with Jonah, M, and me?  I think if you read my blog much, you know.  It was difficult.  Our options are limited.  But we did go to grandma’s twice and he did have some good times too, like here on the slip-and-slide she’d laid out on the lawn…

…but even when happy he asks to go on to the next thing – car ride?  swim pool?  daddy?  train? swim pool?   I’d give a lot to have a pool, our own pool, where we wouldn’t be yelled at if he jumped or ran, where there were no other little kids for him to hurt, where he could swim his little heart out.  But there is no such magic pool.  My friend H even invited us to her pool, but she has a 3-year old so that wouldn’t work.  And we’ve been told that, because of his behaviors, he can’t attend the normal summer camp program; for the first time he has to stay back at school with other kids who, for one reason or another, can’t go to camp.  And guess what they have up at the beautiful Altamont camp?  A big huge pool.  SIGH.

M and I try to devise different things to do with Jonah – an empty park to take him to, a new car ride route, a walk in the woods, the SUNY fountains maybe?  We don’t know.  After 3 and a half hours or so, I am gladly bringing him home to daddy.

Once again I pause to wonder at Andy’s mental and physical fortitude; his courage, determination, and patience.

He is stronger than I – always has been – and I am grateful he is the one caring for our precious, out-of-control, enigmatic puzzle of a son.  Please God get us placement for him somewhere soon – even as it rips at me – I feel like we’re losing him and they can bring him back.  I’m counting on it.

I’ll be not-unhappy to go back to work tomorrow, skinned knees and all.

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hard times

“When the rains came, the tears burned, windows rattled, locks turned
It’s easy to be generous when you’re on a roll
It’s hard to be grateful when you’re out of control
And love is gone

The light at the edge of the curtain
Is the quiet dawn;
The bedroom breathes
In clicks and clacks
Uneasy heartbeat, can’t relax…”

~ Paul Simon, who says it all for me today.

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“If an empty train in a railroad station
Calls you to its destination,
Can you choose another track?

Will I wake up from these violent dreams
With my hair as white as the morning moon?

Questions for the angels…
Who believes in angels?
I do…
Fools and pilgrims all over the world.”

~Paul Simon; Questions for the Angels

– – –

Well we didn’t all get raptured, but my Great Aunt Ellen and Andy’s parents’ dog, Barkley, did.  (I think Ellen actually passed away right around the Saturday, May 21st 6pm EST rapture time prediction made by the flabbergasted Harold Camping.)

I remember her as a gentle, smiling, strong Irish woman.  Most of my memories are amalgams… impressionistic; soft like fog.  I think she would have laughed at the ‘rapture’ coincidence.

While I knelt beside her at the wake, I prayed but I also almost smiled, imagining my Great Uncle Jack waiting for her – the two of them together and free of pain.  I’m sorry for everyone who has lost her but I am happy for her, leaving the human cage of brittle bones behind to fly away.

I don’t remember if she ever got to meet Jonah.  Maybe only once or twice – but I think I’ll ask her to be a guardian angel for him anyway.  She seemed, even in life, to be the guardian angel type.

Barkley, on the other hand, got to hang out with Jonah lots of times.  Barkley’s parents, Andy’s mom and dad, fashioned a toy for her from a tennis ball knotted in an old sock.  Andy would swing it high and far in the air and Barkley, ever eager to please, would run like the speedy black lab she was and snatch it mid-air (unless they let me throw the toy, and I’d spaz it into a tree).  Jonah loved the display of throw-and-catch, and still often asks for Barkley at random times.

  I will miss her.

I don’t have any photos of my Great Aunt Ellen, but if I did, I’d put them up too.  Photographs convey.  They can even stop time.  That’s pretty powerful.

This is a page of all my favorite photos I’ve ever taken.  I’m no photographer but I love these pictures.  And then there are the thousands I’ve taken of Boo:

I’m terrified of spiders; this was his “Halloween costume” last year.

I sucked my thumb til i was 7 or so…I loved sucking my thumb.  So does he.

Jonah adores the helium balloons my mom keeps buying him but when he’s all done with one, he just lets go and stands there, watching it lift into the sky.

He is unfazed by its loss, its disappearance.

He just wants to watch it fly.

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About 3 or 4 weeks ago I decided to order some Fish Oil chewables for Jonah (100mg a day).  I’d read some articles like this one saying most people don’t eat enough omega-3 fatty oils anyway, and there may be some basis to the theory that the Fish Oil supplements may alleviate symptoms of autism: (from http://autism.healingthresholds.com/)

Some scientists have proposed that autism, dyslexia, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and dyspraxia are a related group of neurodevelopmental disorders that are caused by problems in the metabolism of EFAs (3, 12, 13). The idea is that, for unknown reasons, the brains and bodies of individuals with autism and related disorders have problems converting the EFAs from foods into the forms that are necessary for many biochemical reactions (7). In addition, omega-3 fatty acids seem to be lower in individuals with autism than in others (9, 14).

Both of the omega-3 fatty acids DHA and EPA have been found to affect many aspects brain function (1, 3). Specifically, changing the amount of DHA and EPA in the diet alters the amounts of certain critical genes in the brain, at least in rats (15). In addition, one study found that giving animals a diet with a ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 EFAs of about 1:4 improved experimental measures of cognition in the animals (1). Finally, mood and behavior problems in humans have been linked to a lack of omega-3 EFAs in the diet.

So I figured 100mg a day is innocuous enough (esp. since the kids in the studies cited were given 1-3 grams a day) and may even help his growing brain a little, and so he’s been chewing one daily along with the Risperdal ever since.

Then, on Monday and Tuesday, miracle of miracles, Jonah had zero aggressions at school.  This hasn’t happened in months – maybe a year.  I’ve lost count.  Of course I hear the words of doc Reider echoing in my head:

Correlation doesn’t necessarily imply causation,” and I know intellectually that 100mg of Fish Oil chewables for 3 weeks has not caused this two-day no-aggression anomaly, but the mother in me couldn’t help but hope, just a little, that I’d hit on something.

Then, on Wednesday, I went to Jonah’s CSE meeting at Wildwood.  I always hear stories from autism moms online whose CSE meeting experiences play out like horror stories, where parents feel ganged up on and must advocate, fight, hell, even hire an attorney to be present – to ensure their child gets the appropriate supports and services.

Maybe our experience was not like this because Jonah is undoubtedly autistic – it isn’t as if he is on any kind of borderline between autism and neurotypical (NT) – and now he is so obviously in need of residential educational placement.  Maybe we’re lucky to have such an enlightened team of teachers and special education school district administrators.  For whatever the reason, I don’t dread the meetings and have never come out of one feeling like Jonah wasn’t given every possible support, service, and consideration.

One thing I learned is we need to keep Jonah on the waiting lists of all the schools, so I called both Anderson and Tradewinds and asked them to put him back on their lists.  I guess I was wrong about the fact that you can’t keep your child on all the lists.

The thing is, November is a long way off, with 3 weeks of time at the end of August and beginning of September between the summer program and school starting up again.  Tradewinds or Anderson could have a spot before that 3-week hell descends upon Andy and me (especially Andy), and since we liked all 3 schools, we decided to take the first spot that has an opening.

I think.

Once again, my time line is gone.  Shit, I didn’t like having it, anyway.

At any rate, the folks from The Anderson School are thankfully willing to come and observe/evaluate Jonah in his school environment, and it’s going to happen on June 14th which is, among other things,

  • Boy George‘s birthday
  • my Aunt P’s birthday (I call her Tree-Shee)
  • Flag Day
  • and the day I found out I was pregnant with Jonah

Not that any of that necessarily means anything, but I still like that it’s happening on June 14th.  And so far as my Fish Oil theory is concerned, Jonah did only have one aggression both yesterday and today, but they were each “very high intensity” according to the dreaded log book, meaning they are aggressions requiring two or three staff members to remove him from the classroom and into the “safe room.”

The residential schools don’t have safe rooms.  They have the staff and capability to handle whatever is happening right then and there, ostensibly.  I don’t know.  One even toilet trains the kids immediately.  It’s all done with ABA, something I was never really on board with, but now of course I question my original stance.  All the residential schools we’ve toured use it.  It works.  All the kids looked happy, the staff dedicated and engaged.  I’m not looking for Jonah to be Einstein or Temple Grandin;  I just want him to be happy, as independent as possible, and able to learn and grow.

My problem with ABA was formulated in 2006, when Jonah was 4.   I think it was born from the hope/assumption that Jonah was going to end up higher functioning by now than he turned out to be (and certainly not aggressive at all).   I thought, if taught through ABA, he’d just be a robot…trained to act, speak, and look normal.  It seemed horrifying to me.  Something Orwellian.  But I had the confidence of a woman whose child, though autistic, was at the very least not a danger to himself or others.  He’d had every modern advantage a child with autism can get.

After all, doc Reider had noticed something was up with Jonah when he was just 6 or 8 weeks old:  our boy was staring at lights, not faces.   (In our infinite ignorance, Andy and I had already nicknamed him “Moth Boy.”)

So we stayed on top of the situation, got him early intervention before he was 19 months old, and enrolled in Wildwood School full-time just before his third birthday.  We thought we were doing the right thing.  If we had got on board with full-time ABA all along, would he be better than he is today?  I don’t know.  Who knows anything when it comes to autism?

If you’ve met one kid with autism, you’ve met one kid with autism.

It’s a puzzle inside a mystery inside an enigma inside a matrix of love, pain, frustration, guilt, helplessness and anger; amazement and joy.  You take wrong turns and make mistakes.  You come to question everything.

Autism is the agnosticism of impairments;

you have to be okay with “I don’t know.”

And so we sally forth.  Andy’s sick with something…the flu?  Walking pneumonia?  He managed to work today.  And I’m tired.  Lots of meetings today, a ton to do at work.

Time for Match Game.

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My only remaining prayers are please and thank you.

I don’t know what else to pray.  I don’t know what else to say.  I want to stay in a place of gratitude.  Jonah was a good boy for M and me when we took him today; he enjoyed car ride in the rain, and we took a few very cool grey-skied foggy droplet pictures:

a dozen or so goslings with their mom and dad…

we’re not sure why the rooster crossed the road

the woods were like dream visions.

We even risked the wrath of Jonah to turn around and zoom in on the great blue heron.  You don’t see those every day.

The truth is I’m just trying to keep it together.  I’m phone-shy and out-in-public shy.  I don’t much want to talk to anyone, even people I love.  I like silence, and listening to Guster and my new Paul Simon CD.  At work I listen to classical music all day.  I eat sporadically and my sleep is full of dreams.  I’m reading, but slowly, a chapter at a time.  Practically the only thing I can stand to watch on TV is Match Game, with Charles Nelson Riley’s campy 70’s antics.

Oh, and I write some, and make endless bead necklaces.  I used to complain I have ‘no countdown’ with Jonah and the residential schools; I hated that I didn’t know when Jonah would have to go away.   Well now I know, and now I complain about that.  Can I stop fucking complaining?

May, June, July, August, September, October, November…

This time next year I will be, in a lot of ways, no longer playing a mother-role.   It’s not like some of the other families, who turn a great deal more attention to their other kids.  There are no other kids.  I am relieved and aggrieved by this, just as everything I feel or say or think or do feels paradoxical these days.

I will not be bathing my son, helping him put on his shoes & coat, holding him, riding him to see train or red barn or grandma.  Andy will not be putting him on or off the bus, giving him wagon rides, making sure he eats healthily enough, has his teeth brushed, and is kissed goodnight.

Jonah will not be bruising, kicking, scratching, hitting, biting us, or grabbing & mangling our glasses and faces anymore.  He will be in others’ care.  Experts’ care.  He will learn and grow and get better.

I guess I will probably see my son once a week for a few hours.  Will he know I am his mama?

Will he know I will always be his mama?

It’s as much of a mind-trip as it is the only thing left to do.  It’s time to try to begin to attempt to absorb it all.  I don’t want to.  I don’t want to.  I can’t.  I have to.  I’d rather they take him next week, or never.  It’s too long to wait.  It’s not long enough.  Please don’t take him.  Please take him.

Please, please love him.

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Springbrook called the day after we toured The Anderson Center for Autism and told me they were going to accept Jonah, in one of their brand new residences, most likely in November.  We took the placement; you can’t just stay on all the lists until the first placement comes up, so I had to call Tradewinds and The Anderson School and tell them to take Jonah off their lists.

Now it’s real, and I am a wreck.  I have researched and taken notes and gone into a state of mind where it is all objective – it was simply a project – albeit a difficult project – on which to work very hard.

Now the project is over and I am back in the subjective and it is real.

It is real and I have a countdown; it feels like the doomsday clock is ticking and I feel very very dangerously, frighteningly, frustratingly, ridiculously close to the day I admitted myself into Four Winds.

Somehow I have been shocked back into reality, where all this is really happening.  I really did fuck up my marriage and I really will give my son away soon and I really do feel like I do not belong in this world.

I have taken extra meds and I’ve got to be able to keep my shit together and get a lot done today.  I am thankful it is Friday so I can crawl home and cry when this day is over.  Jonah had 8 hard-core aggressions at school yesterday; it is not a matter of whether we are doing the right thing but rather how to actually do it.  My father has not seen Jonah since the day before Thanksgiving and it is because he is afraid of his grandson.

And now, suddenly, I have this near-constant tinny ringing in my ears and vertigo.  When I reach for something I miss it by an inch.  When I try to pour something I spill it.  I am spelling all my words wrong and have to go back and edit this over and over.  

I have a strange sense of not even being in my body. 

“We’ve colored in the lines and followed all the signs;
Fought a war till the war was over…
Said you’d never be the kind with an ordinary life –
Now this how it feels to have a broken heart

Look at the mess we made
Now we stopped and we say what we always say
And then you make the great escape

With every year you’ll come to regret it…


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For a few years I’ve been meaning to plant tulip bulbs in our yard, and last fall i finally did – all along the front of the house and in a circle around the lamp post in the front.  But I do not have a green thumb nor do I know much about planting tulips – how deep to plant them, which end up, all that.  So of the two dozen or so I planted, only four came up…three multi-melon-colored ones in the circle around the lamp post,

and just one in front of the house, as if summoned by the Buddha my cousin D gave me.

Along the whole length of the front of our house, only one soft-red tulip stood loyally beside the Buddha.

And it bloomed before the others, enhancing the visual impression even more.  However, Buddha’s tulip died first as well.

Is there a moral to that story?   I”m going to call it a lesson in impermanence.  Just about everything is with Siddhartha.

In following the theme of our parable, Andy and I toured The Anderson Center for Autism today, accompanied (and driven there and back – thank you!)  by two of the folk from Wildwood.  Andy and I loved the place.  I took about fifty pictures, even of the bathrooms (with bathtubs!  Jonah’s favorite!) and toilet stalls to show my immaculate mother who’s terrified these “homes” are urine-stinking, dim institutions like the one where Salieri moans and raves in Amadeus.

I tell you it all looked brand new.   The school, the houses, the whole place.  I think the oldest building was built in the year 2000.

The kids we saw looked happy and the staff looked energized.  They have a pool and every kid almost always gets his/her own room; there’s art & music & outings, a special building with rooms you can reserve to visit with your child, an auditorium, gymnasium, 3 playgrounds, and on and on.  When they were building the school itself they even asked adults with autism to give them guidance in designing hallways and choosing colors.

Of course I cried at one point but I am getting better at getting through it and I do hope they can take him.  I believe he can get better at a place like this.  Now we have to wait to see if they will evaluate him, and if they will we have to wait to see what they say, and all the rest of the waiting game we’re already playing with Springbrook and Tradewinds.

I could go on about it all but I’m tired.  I’m always tired and drained (or maybe strained) emotionally every time we ride back from one of the tours; I do everything I can to avoid thinking about what it is that we are doing.

I chat and laugh with the folks from Wildwood, talk about how beautiful that area is – near Rhinebrook, Red Hook, not far from Kingston or Woodstock.  “It reminds me of Saratoga,” I am saying.  This is all so surreal, I am thinking.

To stop the surreal from sifting its way too deep into my head, I watch out the windows instead at the calm blue sky, the gentle sunshine – the new green leaves and almost-past-full-bloomed tulips – – like Buddha’s tulip.


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Phil Connors:  Well, what if there is no tomorrow? There wasn’t one today.  ~ from the movie Groundhog Day

This Mother’s Day was an amalgam of a whole lot of days with Jonah Russell, all rolled into one.  M and I had him for four hours.  There was grandma, the woods, waterfall, peanut butter roll, trains, kicking, hitting the car window, requests for black soda and Burger King and Cranberry GusterJonah even scratched me all to hell.  He’d requested mama to put him in his car seat, then he grabbed at my face and dug in tight with his little claws (time to cut his nails).  My resulting look was puffier, more painful, and bloodier than usual, and when I dropped him back home I was not sorry to go.

He’s on a new med again – Zyprexa, while continuing with the Risperdal.  It’s only been a couple of days but so far there isn’t any improvement.  As usual.  Round and round we go….one day mushing into the next, a routine of events that makes me so tired I could sleep for 100 years.

It’s another of those days when I will put up pictures instead of expressing useless self-pity.  My face will heal, and Jonah did have some happy times today, despite his on-again off-again agitation.

He’d said “bye bye mama” so I watched from the top of the hill.

Then I came down with him, slowly, as he was playing near & in the water…

…only to be scared off by splashes and a rock-toss.  I was far enough away to miss the rocks but not the splashes…

In the car he didn’t want his picture taken…

…then he did.

I hope there’s a tomorrow


P.S.  I still don’t know the identity of the flower-sender.  My bet’s on a miracle right now, ’cause that’s the most fun.

P.P.S. If you click on that box on the right hand side that says “We’re on the Fence” it will mean that I get one “like” and might get more readers.  Click only if you want to!

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Today, Jonah brought home some Mother’s Day presents he’d made for me at school (3 different cards/posters) and a pink, stapled package.  Inside the package was a pretty orange geranium (?) in a little ceramic pot- it made me grin.  Thank you, Wildwood.  🙂

Then when I got home to my apartment, M told me a box had come for me from 1-800-flowers. I could tell it wasn’t from him because he was just as curious as I was.   A Mother’s Day gift, I thought with a smile.  Likely from my mom, or my dad – or even Andy, even though he’d already told me that Jonah’s gifts from school were all I was getting for Mother’s Day. 


I opened the pretty multi-colored bouquet and arranged the flowers in the vase they came in, and then I found the note:

Dear Momma,

Thank you for all that you do for me.  Thank you for train rides, moneycoin, waterfalls, trips to Grandma’s, peanutbutterrolls and too many other great things you do for me (and with me) to mention!  You are the best momma any kid could ask for and I love you soooo much! All done.

– Love, Jonah Boo

After I stopped crying my happy tears, I tried to figure out who could have sent it.  Who knows my address now?  Who has the sense of humor to put “all done” at the end of the card?  Who did this wonderful thing for me?  Andy says it wasn’t him.  M denies it, as does D, who watches him most.  And neither my mom nor my dad would write that.  My friends?  K or H?  P or Mx?  Maybe.  Martie?  Someone from 4 Winds?  from Wildwood?  Someone from work?  Someone I used to work with? A random reader? Hmmmmmm.

I kind of want to know who did this and I kind of want to believe in the mystery of it – to allow it to be from Jonah – to give it his voice, to have it be like Santa Claus is when you’re a child…or something from an elf, a faerie.  Or from one of my very best friends who’ve died – Gina, or Jennifer-Sanx.  Something impossible, yet true.  It’s all so right up my alley.

In one of my favorite children’s books, poor protagonist Sara Crewe receives gifts and has no idea where they came from.  Every day new gifts appear to help her make it through desperate, lonely days.  She doesn’t wish to force the identity of the giver if that person wishes to keep him/herself a secret, but she yearns to thank her benefactor.  So she gets the idea one day to write the person a letter and leave it for the next time s/he came.  The letter says, in part,

“I want to thank you for being so kind to me – so heavenly kind – and making everything like a fairy story.  I am so grateful to you, and I am so happy…”

Like Sara Crewe, I say thank you.  Somehow I suspect you’re reading this, whoever you are, and I want you to know you have made my day.  Thank you!!!

…and you’re welcome, Jonah.   You’re my precious little son and I’ll always love you, no matter what.

All done.

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I don’t think you get to good writing unless you expose yourself and your feelings. Deep songs don’t come from the surface; they come from the deep down. The poetry and the songs that you are supposed to write, I believe are in your heart.   ~ Judy Collins

Music has always meant so much to me.  When I was pregnant with Jonah, I put headphones on my belly and played Mozart and Paul Simon and the The Beatles (I hadn’t discovered Guster yet) and all kinds of music, playing to him, speaking to him.  As soon as he was born I played music to him every day, and to put him to sleep at night.  He still cannot speak in anything but short phrases but he can sing entire songs.

Here he is, age 7, singing a Guster song called “Keep it Together.”

Now he demands Guster’s new album (Watch video #6!!!) when we’re in the car, requesting it by asking for Cranberry Guster, as I’ve said before.  I wonder why it’s Cranberry Guster to him.  My boy is such a wonder.

I have lots more to say, but only a moment more to type.  Guster is coming to town tonight and of course I am going – I’m so excited I wrote them an e-mail and also tweeted to them, inviting them to lunch. 

Boy, am I a geek or what?!  (rhetorical question)

Guster’s songs have ‘kept me together,’ and for that I am more thankful than they will ever know. 

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