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We were enjoying our off-campus visits with Jonah.

Until we weren’t.

One weekday visit, Jonah attacked Andy in his apartment. Andy called for help, and luckily his landlord was outside and came running. It was a violent attack, and it scared the hell out of Andy. He may not have been able to subdue Jonah on his own. Then Jonah attacked Briana at the residence, and the other staff member at the house couldn’t get him off her. She called on the walkie-talkie for additional staff. She was bitten several times, and I don’t know what else – but she was out of work for several days. The last straw came in the car, on another weekday visit. Jonah wears a safety harness, but his legs and arms are so long that he was able to kick and grab at Andy. Andy almost got in an accident pulling over, then nearly got hit getting out of the car.

It’s just not safe to take Jonah off the campus anymore. We had a behavioral team meeting and we urged them to place Jonah back on a 4-person takedown protocol. We gave permission for Anderson staff to record Jonah’s aggressions (though how they’re going to do this is beyond me). And we made our case for the necessity of this move, though in my eyes it’s clearly evident.

And so we’re repeating the “slow on the driveway” visits we had earlier in the summer. For the past two weeks, I’ve met Andy on campus to get Jonah. We bring him a breakfast sandwich and he eats it on the picnic table outside the residence. Then we drive him around and around and around the campus while he chooses the music. This past Saturday he tried to grab me from the backseat of the car. If I had my long hair, he would’ve gotten me…but I pulled away quickly and escaped injury. Andy pulled over, I got out, and we gave Jonah a “time out” from music and car ride.

Andy says, “Jonah, I want you to have safe –“

Jonah: Hands.

Andy: And?

Jonah: Feet.

Minutes later, my son and I are singing along to “Watermelon Sugar” and smiling. Andy guides the car along the campus roads, pulling over and getting out every so often to take on a hygiene task, breaking them up so as not to overwhelm Jonah. One stop is for teeth brushing. Another is for cleaning his ears. Another to clip his nails. Clean his hands and face. Pop a pimple. After an hour or so, we tell Jonah “two more songs and then campus walk.” One more loop. Time for walk.

We knock on the residence door to tell them we’re going on the walk. The first time, Briana came with us, bringing her walkie-talkie. This past Saturday, we walked him around the campus on our own, making sure to bring our cell phones to call her if Jonah flipped out. He didn’t.

Once again, we are navigating new waters. If the weather doesn’t cooperate, there are mock-apartments at the campus center for us to use. We’ll have to do the best we can.

During all of this eating, car-riding, and walking, Jonah wants reassurance we are coming back. “Repeat?” he asks. This means he wants us to tell him when.

Andy: Daddy’s coming in 3 days. Daddy’s coming on Wednesday.

Jonah: Repeat?

Andy: Daddy’s coming in 3 days. Daddy’s coming on Wednesday.

Jonah: Repeat?

Andy: Daddy’s coming in 3 days. Daddy’s coming on Wednesday.

Jonah: Repeat?

Andy: Daddy’s coming in 3 days. Wednesday.

Jonah: Repeat?

Andy: Jonah, listen to me. Daddy’s coming in three days. Daddy is coming on Wednesday. Now be quiet and listen to the music.

This might buy us a while. Half a song or so. Sometimes I provide the answers Jonah seeks. Daddy’s coming in 3 days, Boo! Daddy’s coming on Wednesday. Momma’s coming in 6 days. Momma’s coming on Saturday. I vary the pitch and tone of the answer, sometimes singing it.

“Repeat?” he asks again and again. The repetition of repeat is too perfect.

Andy and I adapt and settle into whatever new reality comes along with Jonah, to the best of our ability, changing it up as many times as is necessary, which in 2020 has been a lot.

Our son is tall and handsome in the autumn sun.

Whatever we have to do to keep him (and everyone else) safe and happy, we will do, of course.

I stopped pondering why he was able to go 18 months without aggressions and now they’re back – with a vengeance, as they say. I guess because of Covid. Plenty of breaks in routine and strange people. Months without seeing mama or daddy. Changing visits – first we can’t go off campus, then we can, now we can’t again. I suppose we were due for this.

First, there is a mountain. Then there is no mountain. Then there is.

Since the rise of Covid, I’ve gone from walking 2 miles a day on the treadmill to painting 2 rocks a day to meditating 2 times a day. I guess I’m still walking and painting, just not as much.

On my 51st birthday I started using this app I found called Serenity, which has 10-minute guided meditations. The first 7 are free; after that I was hooked, so I bought a 6-month subscription for 20 bucks. I don’t think I’m alone in saying meditation has always been difficult, the few times I actually tried it. My monkey mind provides a near-constant self-narrative comprised of visiting the past, predicting the future, critiquing myself and others, recalling song lyrics, movie scenes, and conversations, etc. But what I am learning allows for all of this. The goal is not to yank your mind away from the chatter but rather let it flow, gently guiding your mind back to the breath, back to the breath. I am breathing in. I am breathing out. I am breathing in. I am breathing out.

Repeat.

But there is so much more. Serenity teaches different ways to explore your mind – visualizing thoughts as words or pictures on a screen, recognizing types of thinking patterns as they occur to prevent fusing with them, practicing gratitude, fostering compassion, allowing both body and mind to rest. Stretch your arms, wiggle your fingers and toes, she says in her (Australian?) accent at the end of each meditation. I’m on my way to enlightenment, guys, 10 minutes at a time and enjoying the journey. I never thought I’d look forward to meditation but I definitely do, and find myself carving out more and more time for it.

Then I read Lovingkindness: The Revolutionary Art of Happiness by Sharon Salzberg, and learned how to send metta to myself and others. Then I read it again, and bought copies for 3 friends. I encouraged my peeps to try the Serenity app – I think there are 5 or 6 of us doing it now. It feels so good. What’s not to like?

I’m learning ways to sit in meditation on my own, unguided, each time creating larger and larger pockets of “silent mind.” It has been transformative. I think the greatest benefit is the cultivation of mindfulness. I practice noticing emotions as they rise and placing distance between them and my action/reaction or speech. I practice doing what I’m doing and being where I am – two things with which I’ve always had difficulty.

For example, when I am doing the dishes, I need to just do the damn dishes – not thinking about what I’m going to do after I do the dishes.

Now I am breaking it down even further… to just pick up a dish, then just pick up the sponge. Then just reach for the dishwashing soap, then just apply the sponge to the dish, and so on. Each task – and each piece of that task – met mindfully. What I used to write off as clumsiness really was me just throwing myself from task to activity without really ever thinking about what the hell I was doing.

In addition, I was rushing through Monday to get to Friday. Rushing through dinner to get to dessert. Rushing through things I thought of as “bad” to arrive at others I have labeled “good” – when all the while there is only the present moment. There is only now.

Ahhh, Daniel-san. If do right, no can defend.

I crack myself up with these eureka moments when I think I’ve got it all figured out. Go ahead, laugh. I’m laughing too.

When things ring true, though, I can’t deny the truths. I feel as though I am approaching life from a place of greater peace. And I can’t deny the results, even though I only have the faintest comprehension of the process. It feels good the way the walking and the painting feels good –and then some.

I come back to the breath, back to hope, back to love.

Repeat.

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Resentment: Def. A feeling of indignant displeasure or persistent ill will at something regarded as a wrong, insult, or injury – real or imagined.

Andy has brought Jonah to three post-op doctor appointments this week.  God knows what would happen if he did not live where he does and have the job(s) he does.  E and J have been unable to bring him to his last 4 appointments.  What does the school do if there is a child who needs an eye surgery and doesn’t have the transportation to get there?

The laser surgery was medically successful, at least initially, but I had to take the whole day off Monday because everything happened excruciatingly slowly.

This video shows Jonah, gowned up and ready to go, stuck in a room Does he like Dora? the nurse kindly asked and we said yes and we said sure and we said thank you when all we wanted was to get going. Andy is standing between Jonah and me as Jonah walked his circles in the small space of the room.

Five minutes after this Jonah had a major flip out, throwing himself on the floor in the hallway, kicking, screaming, pulling hair, biting.  Nobody came out to help us.

Eventually we got him back to the room and calm.

O

The operation itself was quick.  Jonah got sick afterwards and kept wanting to itch his eye.  so I used a tissue to gently press on the eye, and I kissed it soundly, over and over.  Kiss eye?  Kiss eye?  Yes, Boo.  Kiss eye.  Of course kiss eye.

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It was more difficult than usual to send him back to school, an hour and a half away from me, where I see him so infrequently and have so little control over what happens to him.  I have to trust.  One of the check-in people on eye operation day noted that Jonah was at a residential facility.  She mentioned that her daughter was autistic and how she would never, ever trust anyone to take her precious baby away from her.  “I don’t trust nobody with my baby,” she declared.   It was as if she had slapped me in the face.  Who says that to someone whose kid is already in a residential facility?  What do you know about why we did it?  I wanted to yell.

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Jonah & Andy, walking the halls before the room where you gown up.

– – –

And so I crawl along, filled with dread, with grief and terror for this world, with my heart broken for those at Sandy Hook in CT.  I read all the intelligent arguments about mental illness, parenting, gun control, and violent games/TV, and I find no answer in my heart — and that, maybe, is what frightens me most.  My mental state becomes fragile when I am confronted by humanity at its worst.

Which did not help when very recently I was the target of verbal anger, delivered in front of others and with a ramped-up rage that left me in disbelief, filled with embarrassment, and completely stunned. Despite a nonverbal apology later for the “confusion,” (not the behavior), I think maybe too many people enjoy railroading over people like me, who don’t fight back.  One witness, upon seeing my face fall, told me coldly to “suck it up.”  Maybe I really don’t belong in society, such as it is, because that kind of behavior seems so foreign to me that I have no response but tears.  It will pass, it always does, I regain the strength and something restores my faith and I keep on going.

Yet there is a lot that’s wrong with all the people in this world.  With our priorities and with our ignorance and with our anger.  All of us.  There are a lot of things one can say about me but I will say this for myself:  I may be meek, but I am kind, and I don’t take advantage of people’s weaknesses or vulnerabilities, and I care about how other people feel, and I have never treated anyone the way I was treated today.  So perhaps people like me really shall inherit the earth, like the Bible says.  Watch out then, bullies, because things are gonna get a whole lot more mellow. (Quite rightly).

If I were a Buddhist all of this would play out in my head and heart quite differently.  I would be thankful to this person for their challenge to my ability to be compassionate and understanding.  I would consider them my teacher.  I would not only forgive instantly but also revere the perpetrator – very similar to Jesus’ “turn the other cheek.” That’s some serious shit to truly take on, though, which makes me admire earnestly practicing Buddhists and Christians all the more.  Perhaps I should just up and go to Plum Village for a while.  I need to pound the lessons into my head.

Of course this whole story – every little bit of it – is nothing compared to what has happened and continues to happen in Newtown, CT.  Burials, burials.  An entire community with post-traumatic stress disorder.  Pain-filled awakenings from nightmare hours of darkness.  God only knows the horror.  God help all the mourning people. I just can’t muster much joy in Christmas this year;  I have had the wind knocked out of me and am only a stranger, miles away.  But I can pretend, and the pretending will become real.  Smiling begets smiling.  Breathing allows for release.

Hope.

At least I am still able to crawl along.  To let go of the resentment.  Breathe, breathe.  Let it go… Feel gratitude.

I’m a Weeble, you see.  I wobble, but I don’t fall down.

Weebles just, well, rock on.

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Sorry for the Buddhist-poem-flake-out.  It’s all part of the necessary path, I guess.

“There’s no earthly way of knowing… which direction we are going…” ~ Willie Wonka

Not only don’t I know which direction we are going, but I don’t even know now where I am.  I sleep as early and as much as possible – greedily falling into the cushion-y darkness where everything turns OFF for long, glorious hours.  I wake confused, then teary, and I gulp down the pills that help me through the day.  I’m just not hungry lately either.  It’s as if I got to an anxiety/fear point so high I smashed through its glass roof (Willie Wonka style, speaking of the great confectioner) and now I’m flying around grasping at different ideas, completely ungrounded, definitely dazed, and evidently, flaking out as well.

All these thoughts.  I decided I ‘m going to learn Spanish.  I want to visit Mansfield, MO, home of my beloved heroine, Laura Ingalls Wilder.  I’m going to read books even as an English major I’d never dared attempt:  Les Miserable and War and Peace.  I’ll learn to play guitar.  Write a novel, maybe even out of this blog.  Visit my relatives, send them all care packages.  Volunteer to read to kids at the library.  Walk dogs at the humane society.  Do yoga.  Learn to paint.  Anything, everything.  Something so I’m not nobody doing nothing.

Sometimes I have these grandiose plans to change the world, at least my world and the people in and around it, making positive deposits in the great big bank of karma.

But still I play out scenarios of the day we drop off our son, over and over, with different circumstances and outcomes each time…except he is always gone at the end.  In the scenarios we always have to go, we always drive away.  He is always, always gone, and he will be gone, and he will be gone soon.  No wonder I am meditating on impermanence.  I can’t really comprehend any of it.

Andy and I met with a mediator and we have workbooks to fill in, just like we did at the church when we were planning to marry.  Everything is cyclic.  We will wait until Jonah is at his new school and then we will re-convene, workbooks completed, bringing yet another thing to its conclusion.

My friend H (bless her) invited M and me and Jonah to her pool again tomorrow, thank you thank you thank you little H.  To her it may not be much but to us it is everything.  Yesterday M and I had to drive Jonah around the entire time we had him; there was simply nowhere we could go.  It poured rain and Jonah didn’t want music.  I got him singing at one point but then he started his repetitive requesting-phase:

Wannatakeabath?  Wannatakeabath?  Wannatakeabath? Bye Bye M.  Wannatakeabath?  Daddy?  Wannatakeabath? Bye Bye M.  Daddy?  Daddy?  Grandma?  Swim-pool? Swim-pool? Wannatakeabath? Wannatakeabath? Wannatakeabath? Wannatakeabath? (Insert BLOOD-CURDLING SCREAM instantly followed by giggling laughter).  WannaseeJack?  WannaseeJack?

And I curse myself for gritting my teeth and wanting to shout SHUT UP because soon enough I’ll wish I could hear his little voice, no matter what it was saying or shouting or screaming.

Oh, what a weird place in time & space this is.

“For the rowers keep on rowing,
And they’re certainly not showing
Any signs that they are slowing…

~Willie Wonka

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“The seed of suffering in you may be strong, but don’t wait until you have no more suffering before allowing yourself to be happy.”
Thich Nhat Hanh (The Heart of the Buddha’s Teaching)
 
I am losing a lot, like it or don’t, as P would say.  But I’m tired of myself, tired of carrying on in my grief, so I’m turning (as you may have noticed) to Thich Nhat Hanh, one of my favorite Buddhist monks, for guidance and peace.  I’m turning to the Buddhist view of impermanence – that which says nothing has permanence, that permanence is an illusion we cling to.
 
Well I’m a Buddhist by circumstance, then. Yet I am also many more things: raised Catholic, I still go to Mass on occasion and cling to my roots, finding solace in the ritual of the Mass.  I may be other things I haven’t even discovered yet.  So it goes, to throw in some Vonnegut.  This is my favorite little story about Kurt Vonnegut, taken from Wikipedia:
 
In the mid 1950s, Vonnegut worked very briefly for Sports Illustrated magazine, where he was assigned to write a piece on a racehorse that had jumped a fence and attempted to run away. After staring at the blank piece of paper on his typewriter all morning, he typed, “The horse jumped over the fucking fence,” and left.[17] On the verge of abandoning writing, Vonnegut was offered a teaching job at the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop. While he was there, Cat’s Cradle became a best-seller, and he began Slaughterhouse-Five, now considered one of the best American novels of the 20th century, appearing on the 100 best lists of Time magazine[18] and the Modern Library.[19]

The lesson I take away from all of this is I can’t abandon life by sitting in my soiled self in the sorrowful, shallow end of the pool.  I have to keep writing because it saves me.  I can come out the other side of this, make myself into someone good, be Jonah’s mother as best I can, be the change I want to see in this world (thanks, Gandhi) instead of complaining about the changes that aren’t happening.  I may moan and rave, cry and bitch, but I’m not going down without a fight.  I am recharged with people all around me, some who don’t even know me.  They care and they tell me so and it helps like they will never know.  I am not alone, I tell myself, mantra-like.  I am not alone.

Mary helps me too.  Yes, that Mary.  The mother of God Mary.  She sure had a difficult child, an only child (it seems) and she lost him too, in many ways, before she really lost him.  She understands. 

  • St. Josemaria Escriva: “Love our Lady. And she will obtain abundant grace to help you conquer in your daily struggle.”  “When you see the storm coming, if you seek safety in that firm refuge which is Mary, there will be no danger of your wavering or going down.”

How can I believe all these things simultaneously? 

“Do I contradict myself?  Very well, then; I contradict myself.  I am large – I contain multitudes.” ~Walt Whitman

(I’m actually quite scrawny, but I think Walt was being metaphorical). 

I am going over to see Jonah-boo tonight, to take him on the “Groundhog Day” tour of his favorite things:  the train, car ride, maybe grandma or a peanut butter roll.  If it is warm enough, swimming and splashing. 

I am looking forward to it, whatever it brings.  I love him so much.

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