Yesterday Aaron had a dentist appointment, so as usual I told him that we would eat lunch out somewhere – his choice. This of course makes Aaron very happy. He climbed in the car and settled in for the ride to Chili’s, with our music cranked up but with Aaron still trying to talk over the sound of Billy Joel. Nothing deters Aaron from talking. Trust me.
It’s fun to just sit with Aaron in a restaurant and let him guide the conversation. Control might be a better word. As soon as we were led to our table, the talking began and continued non-stop for the entire meal. Only when chewing his huge burger was Aaron quiet. I also knew from the moment that our server, Christy, came to the table that she got Aaron. She was relaxed with him, smiling and interacting with him, which showed me how much she liked and enjoyed him. She had none of the nervous glances and stony looks that so many others do when they meet Aaron. This also put me at ease.
Christy asked right away if we wanted an appetizer. Aaron perked up and asked, “What’s an appetizer?” Christy and I tried to explain appetizers to Aaron, but all he cared about was revealed in his next question: “Does it have bread?” You know how Aaron loves bread. Anyone who buys 36 rolls at Wal-Mart does indeed love bread. Christy went on to get our water while I continued to answer appetizer questions and assure Aaron that we did not need an appetizer, and that no, there was no bread appetizer.
Next, Aaron wanted to know what a margarita was as he studied the poster on the wall. No, Aaron, you cannot have a margarita, either. Now please look at the menu at something that you CAN have………..and of course, he ordered the biggest bacon burger that he could find……….after looking at all the menu pictures and having many questions about the food that he saw. He always comes back to burgers………with bacon, surely.
His eyes are always moving, observing every detail around him. He liked the tile table where we sat, bright and unusual. “Mom, this design looks like a snowflake……….and this one looks like leafs…….with snowflakes.” Which led him to remember pepper. “Mom, remember when I looked at pepper in the microscope? It’s all leafs! Why would we eat leafs?”
He was bothered by the water left on the table from where it was cleaned before we arrived, so he began swiping the table with his hands. He also does this for crumbs, but I stopped him before we had even more water on the table from spilled drinks. Then he realized that he didn’t have his obligatory toothpick by his side that he must always have by his side when he eats. He got up to go get a toothpick that he had seen at the welcome desk near the front door, but I stopped him quickly. His eyes don’t miss anything! Christy was kind enough to bring Aaron a toothpick on a little paper towel………..which he promptly dropped and lost. Somehow he managed to finish his meal minus the toothpick.
He wanted to clap, so I gave him repeated reminders that clapping was not to be done in the restaurant. He still got a few in anyway, despite my stern looks. And talk, talk, talk! We talked about getting him new shoes after the dentist, when we went to Wal-Mart. Whereupon he turned in the booth and stuck his foot out to show me the semi-hole in his tennis shoes…………and poked his finger in the hole as he said, “See, Mom, you can actually feel the inside of the shoe!” Turn around, Aaron, and quit jabbing your finger in your shoe!
He held up the onion slice that was on his huge bacon hamburger. “Do you call these purple onions?” He knows the answer but will always ask anyway, so I answer the way that I always answer………..that these are not purple onions but are called red onions………which leads to a discussion of red vs. purple, and is he color blind like Granddaddy?
He remembers that he read a long time last night before bed and is now feeling tired. “Mom, guess what time I got up? I got up at 7:57!” He paused for a second and then continued, “I mean, not 7:57. It was 7:17!” When did you go to bed, Aaron? “I turned my light off at 11:23!” The precise world of Aaron. I would expect no less.
We also know all about the literal world of Aaron, which he hilariously demonstrated in this conversation: “Mom, Paradigm has a janitor now. I didn’t know they hired a janitor!” And I teasingly replied, “Well, it’s because of all you messy people.” With a straight face, Aaron said, “No, she doesn’t clean people. She cleans tables and floors.” He did not understand my laughter, which made it even funnier.
More talking, all the while eating……….or should I say cramming………..his huge bacon burger into his mouth. Finally, there lay on his plate the burger, the onions, the tomato, the lettuce, and the bacon. He continued to eat the bun smeared with ketchup and mayo, and then finished off each of the other items one by one. He saved the best til last……..the bacon………..and proceeded to cut one of the pieces in half. I wondered why, and then he handed me one of the halves. “Here Mom. You can have half of my bacon.” Oh, how sweet. But I declined, begging fullness on my part, and so he happily shoved both halves in his mouth and finished off his meal.
We drove through the car wash, where every aspect of every feature of the car wash was expounded by Aaron……….even up to bedtime last night…………every aspect, believe me. The dentist visit was next, where it was discovered that Aaron has a crack in his tooth. We remember when it happened not long ago at supper, where he was vigorously eating steak. Now we are hearing all about cracks in teeth, crowns on teeth, and the prospect of his next dental visit soon to come. Gary and I are just seeing dollar signs. Wal-Mart was the usual going here and going there and hearing all his observations about EVERYTHING…………do you know how much there is to talk about at Wal-Mart??!! We left with his favorite non-flavor-bursting sour cream and onion Pringles………….Cheez-Its because we ran out because he ate them all………..and a box of croissants……….of course.
Driving home by the recently plowed farmer’s fields, he wondered why part of a field was bare. “Mom, why is there bald grass there?” Bald grass? “Yeah, there’s nothing in that field. It’s bald grass!” As always, I’m following Aaron and enjoying his language…………but agreeing with what he had said previously at Chili’s.
“Mom, I clapped at Paradigm one day and the janitor told me that I need to take a chill pill. Why did I need to have that?”
Oh Aaron, if only there was such a thing as a chill pill! There are times that if you didn’t take one………….I would!!!
Yesterday when Gary and I left church we ran a couple of errands. We also decided to eat lunch at Olive Garden. I’ve just returned from a week at camp, so the time alone with Gary was very nice. I really enjoyed our lunch……..the good food, uninterrupted conversation, and just time alone with my husband. Later in the day, Aaron was hungry and asked if he could have some Taco Bell. He and I jumped in the car while Gary was watering some new grass. Aaron and I stopped to throw some newspapers in the recycling bin, pick up a prescription, and finally ended up at the Taco Bell drive-through to buy his supper. Aaron wanted to know if I was getting any food, but I told him that I wasn’t really hungry.
On the drive home, Aaron asked why I didn’t buy any Taco Bell food. I again told him that I wasn’t hungry. I felt like I knew where this conversation was headed. Aaron was pondering about why I wasn’t hungry. He was wondering what I had eaten and when I had eaten that would cause me to not be hungry at this time of day. I wasn’t trying to hide anything from Aaron, necessarily, but I just didn’t want to make a big deal out of the fact that Gary and I had eaten out……….without Aaron.
Therein lies the problem……….we ate out without Aaron. And sure enough, as Aaron and I played a game of Skip-Bo before bed, Aaron brought the subject up again. “Mom, at Taco Bell, why didn’t you get food?” I repeated to him that I wasn’t hungry, even as I knew that now we would face this issue head on.
Aaron continued to probe. “Did you eat?” I told him that I had indeed eaten. And he asked, “So what did you eat?” I’m not going to lie, and therefore I told him that his dad and I had eaten lunch out.
“Where did you eat?” he wanted to know. Funny how I was feeling like a delinquent teenager who had to give an account to his parents for going somewhere that he should not have gone. Feeling badly now, I told Aaron that we had gone to eat at Olive Garden. He then gave me a look that touched my heart. And his words………oh my!
“You should have told me. I would have gone. Didn’t you want me?”
Stabs of guilt pierced my heart. Aaron’s shoulders slumped some, and I was initially feeling miserable at this turn in his mood and this sadness when he spoke. “Oh Aaron,” I assured him, “Your dad and I would have loved to have you go with us. It’s not that we didn’t want you…….but sometimes Dad and I need time together, too.”
Aaron seemed to accept this explanation, and his mood lifted as we continued to play Skip-Bo and talk about other things. He had no idea of how badly I felt………how conflicted. This conflict is one that any parent of a special needs child feels, especially an “adult child” that can put two and two together enough to know when he is being left out. For this is how Aaron sees this situation. He is simple in his thinking and very egocentric. He is being left out of an event that he loves………eating out………….with people that he loves to be with. He doesn’t understand the relationship of husband and wife. He doesn’t understand or care about the fact that Gary and I relish some time to be alone and to be “normal.”
Gary and I both have to balance our own relationship against that of our relationship with Aaron. This is paramount for any couple with children, and I believe especially important for those who parent special children who take so much time and energy. Gary and I are in a place in life when parents are typically experiencing empty nests. I’ve written about that before (Our Nest). We don’t know how long we will have Aaron at home with us. We do know that Aaron is smart enough to piece together that we went to a restaurant without him when we could have taken him. We do know that Aaron feels hurt about being left out. We do know that Aaron knows how to make us feel guilty, whether intentional or not. And we do know that we must not let this guilt rob us of our relationship with each other.
We can explain these issues to Aaron and we can assure him of our love, but we must never sacrifice our bond in an effort to always include Aaron. There’s a balance to be kept on both sides. It would be wrong for Gary and I to be so absorbed in each other that we neglected Aaron. Likewise, it would be equally wrong to be so taken up with Aaron and his needs that we neglected our own time and growth together. Thankfully, neither Gary nor I are ones that feel a need for constant attention or big trips together or going out every weekend. A dinner alone here several times a week is a respite for us, a time to recharge and converse and connect. It’s really a matter of the mind more than anything.
And sometimes those mind games can be very tricky. I refuse to feel guilty for enjoying time alone with my husband………time without Aaron. Time without listening to him talk of his latest movie, of something he has read, of what someone said, of the weather, of what time he went to bed and what time he got up, of global warming, of icebergs, of what food he’s eaten, of cavemen, of the legend of the trash men or the legend of the beagles, of the medium window he broke…………..I could go on and on just like Aaron does!
Sometimes Gary and I run out of things to talk about. Maybe we need Aaron around more than we realize!
I just returned home yesterday from a week at our church youth camp down in Davis, Oklahoma. I’m one of the cooks. The week is full of laughter, fellowship with my cooking buddies, hugs from the youth, sore feet, and many special memories that are made. This is our fourth year of camp, and each year I’m so grateful to Gary for making it possible for me to go. Sometimes he has taken vacation the week I am gone, or Andrea has been here to help with things. This year Gary did not take vacation and Andrea is no longer living here. Aaron was able to handle his mornings just fine, though. He knows the routine for the couple hours that he was here before his day group staff, Cody, picked him up.
There was one morning that wasn’t too smooth, though. On Wednesday, Aaron was apparently throwing his back scratcher down the stairs like a Frisbee, he said. We’re not exactly certain how it all happened, but the small window in the door broke. Aaron ended up calling Gary, who came home from work to help clean up the mess. Thankfully things worked out fine and hopefully Aaron learned a lesson. Probably not, but we can still hope.
Usually when I’m gone, Aaron will call my cell phone repeatedly…………but this time, I didn’t hear from Aaron all week. Until Friday afternoon. Aaron was still at his day group and Krysten let him borrow her cell phone………..I hope she let him borrow it. He’s been known to help himself to phones. Anyway, my phone rang and I knew when I saw the name on the phone that it was probably Aaron. I answered anyway. And was I surprised!
“Mom! I miss you!!”
Wow! Was this Aaron? Or just someone who sounded like Aaron? Usually when I answer the phone, even when I’ve been gone, he launches right into some grand story without saying anything personal at all.
So I responded, “Aw, Aaron, I’ve missed you too!”
He chuckled, unsure of how to accept those words.
“So Mom, when are you coming home?”
“I’m coming home tomorrow, Aaron!” And he quickly asked, “What time?” It’s very important for Aaron to have details. Tomorrow has many hours and he feels a need to know the time. I told him that I wasn’t exactly sure, but that didn’t work.
“But what time?” he asked again. So I told him an approximate time. He was content with that. Then I fully expected a food question, but he went on to tell me about his day at the movies………….and eventually, he got the dreaded Wednesday morning incident off his chest.
“Mom, I was throwing my back scratcher down the stairs like a Frisbee.”
I told him that I knew about that. We talked about not throwing things, etc. And he asked, “But don’t you throw a Frisbee?”
Yes, Aaron…….but the back scratcher is not a Frisbee……….and even if it was, we don’t throw Frisbees in the house.
“Well, I threw it like a Frisbee and it broke the medium window in the door.”
Dad told me about the medium window, Aaron. As we talked he was feeling relieved, I’m sure, to have this conversation out in the open before I came home. We finished talking as I told him that I had to go. And the next day, just as soon as I walked into the house, I heard him lumbering up the stairs. He had video game codes on his mind and didn’t give me a hug right away, but finally at Gary’s reminder, Aaron gave me a sideways Aaron hug.
And soon after that, he asked the question he had been saving all along.
“Mom! What’s for supper?”
Now that’s my Aaron! I missed you, Aaron!
Saturday morning I decided to run Aaron down to Great Clips for a much needed hair cut. I hoped that we would beat the crowd, and thankfully we did. As the worker there looked Aaron’s name up on the computer, I realized she was glancing nervously at Aaron. The hair dresser who would cut his hair and trim his beard also had the same reaction. Oh brother! It always amazes me how I can tell in just a few seconds whether someone will “get” Aaron or not. I was fairly certain that these two girls were in the “not” category. I was right.
Aaron was delighted that he didn’t even have to sit in a chair to wait for his turn. “Here Mom!” he said as he took his glasses off and handed them to me. Then he took his treasured ring off is finger for me to also hold. Good grief! I was wondering if his shirt was next! Those nervous girls were taking it all in, becoming even more nervous. I smiled. Just be yourself, Aaron. Yet Aaron can also sense when someone doesn’t understand him, so he was very quiet. The girl didn’t engage him in any conversation whatsoever while she quickly cut his hair and trimmed his goatee. Her loss, for sure. We were both glad to escape and head on over to Dillons for a few groceries.
I was checking out the cantalopes and Aaron spied the artichokes. He quickly grabbed one and loudly said, “Mom! Remember these?” He was so happy with his find that I just had to snap a picture and laugh with him at this most unusual vegetable that he has always loved. Always, always, Aaron loves the unusual. He IS unusual, so it fits!
Up another aisle, Aaron was once again amazed at his find. Cactus in a jar! Another exclamation and another picture, and something to talk about for the entire weekend. His day group will no doubt hear all about it today, too. Later, as I stood in an aisle visiting with a neighbor, Aaron was spying all the wonderful finds in the meat department. I had one eye on him and one on my neighbor, who smiled as Aaron brought me some Brats to examine, another package of yet different brats, and then I heard, “Ewwwww!!” Of course, he found a Leg of Lamb that really did look like a leg of a lamb…………..and this was indeed a great discovery of grossness to pick up and show us!
I leave with our church group today for camp, where I and my buddies will don our camp cook aprons. I’ll miss Aaron and his enthusiasm. I will not miss his whacks on the back or thumps on the head. Last night as I told him goodbye and goodnight, and was closing his door, he said, “Goodnight Sweetie!”
That’s Aaron for you!
Aaron bounded in the door today and saw me in the kitchen right away. “Mom! I ate two large buttered popcorns at the theater……and a Twizzlers……….and I have acid now!” So started another “Aaron is home!” moment…………or a couple hours, actually. He seemed even more talkative than usual today, if that’s even possible. So many subjects……….so much to say……….and he doesn’t care how much time it takes.
He was very excited that one of his day program staff’s children came to his day group today, and that they brought their little dog. At least I think the people that came were Barb’s children. “Mom, Barb’s sister was at Paradigm today. Or was it her child?” I asked how old this person was and Aaron said she was young, or maybe a teenager, so I told Aaron that this girl must have been Barb’s daughter. He continued to talk about the little dog and the daughter (I think), and then paused and asked, “So is she her child? Or sister child?” You know, Aaron’s family tree must have lots of twists and turns! Where would you put a sister child?
I went to pay for some repairs on Gary’s truck, and then to go get Gary at work. Aaron wanted to ride along………and talk……….talk………..talk……… As we walked into the service center, I told Aaron to be quiet. I walked up to the counter and one of the mechanics was on the phone, bent over at the counter talking and so of course didn’t acknowledge us. Aaron stood there about 5 seconds, and then said, “Hey!”
Aaron!! He’s on the phone! I said to be quiet!
So Aaron decided that being quiet didn’t mean to not speak, but it meant that he could speak…………in a whisper. He whispered, “Well, I was trying to get his attention.” And I found myself whispering back, “He can’t talk to us when he’s on the phone.” The manager came out then and waited on us, and as I was taking care of the bill, Aaron was still making his whispered comments. “Mom,” he said in his hushed tone, “those are some big tires on the wall.”
“Yes, they are,” I whispered back. Good grief! Why was I whispering, too? I felt like we were in a library or a funeral home! The manager smiled and I explained that I had told Aaron to be quiet and I paid as we had a nice normal, unwhispered conversation, and we left before Aaron tried to get anyone else’s attention. He doesn’t have to work hard at that, believe me!
As we drove and as we waited on Gary later, Aaron had lots to tell me. Remember how I talked about Aaron and his way of trying to figure out where people are from? Today he said, “Mom, there’s a staff at Paradigm named Boo…..” and Aaron proceeded to tell me something that Boo had said. I was still back on that name. I have no idea if that’s his name or how it’s spelled, but Aaron insisted that his name is Boo. And of course Aaron had to add, speaking of Boo, “He’s a Spanish kind of way……….or Chinese, Korean, or Japanese.”
Oh brother……….here we go again! I am not listening anymore!
He talked about our Great Dane not listening to him. Aaron’s right……….Jackson doesn’t listen to or obey Aaron. Much like me. And Aaron said, “Is Jackson dumb?” I reminded him that Jackson is certainly not dumb, and that I’ve told him not to say that he’s dumb. I told Aaron that sometimes Jackson is stubborn, but not dumb. So Aaron asked, “Well, is being stubborn a reason to say he’s dumb?”
Speaking of stubborn………….
This morning I told about how Aaron was talking about Gary living on a farm when he was young. I don’t know what it is, but Aaron keeps going on and on about farms. We were driving home and Aaron pointed up to a housing area. “Mom, have you been in that neighborhood? It’s a farm area!”
Well, look Aaron…………we’re home now! See you later! I need to finish supper. Alone, I thought to myself. Please let it be alone for at least a few minutes. My head was full of all his chattering and whispering and questioning. But my mouth had a smile, too, because with Aaron there is always something to learn or to laugh about or to understand or to see in a different way.
And the fun memory of turning our music up loud in the van and holding our hands up in the peace sign as we bounced to the music, with Aaron laughing and saying, “I hope there’s no policeman around!”
Me too, Aaron, me too. I can only imagine what Aaron would tell him before I told him to whisper!
P.S. Aaron just came downstairs to tell Gary about Barb’s family that came to Paradigm with the little dog. He was once again struggling with the relationship. “Mom! They were Barb’s teenager children, right? Or her brother and sister?” Is there a Relatives 101 course I could enroll him in, I wonder?
Aaron has always been greatly interested in the fact that during part of Gary’s childhood, he lived in the country on a small farm. They had a garden, of course…………nearly everyone did. And they had some animals………some chickens, a few cows………you know, just a nice country setting in the mountains of North Carolina. Every now and then, Aaron will talk once more about Dad living on a farm when he was young. He wants to know what it was like, what animals they had, what did they grow, etc. In fact, just the other night at supper he was talking about it once again. He just really is fascinated with that aspect of Gary’s life.
This morning, Aaron was talking to me as I got ready and he said, “Mom, Dad lived on a farm when he was young, right?”
Yes, Aaron, he lived on a farm.
And he continued: “I told John at Paradigm that Dad was a farmer!”
I envisioned John thinking that Aaron’s Dad had been a farmer like a Kansas farmer, with thousands of acres.
So I reminded Aaron that it was a small farm, and he asked, “So what do SMALL farmers do?”
And I had to explain the difference in being a small farmer and being a big farmer, wondering all along why this subject holds so much interest for Aaron. I guess he just can’t imagine his Dad hanging out with cows, or pigs, or chickens.
As if to prove my point, Aaron then asked, “Mom, did Dad have roosters?”
I said that yes, I am sure they had some roosters.
“Mom, you know what I don’t like about roosters?”
What don’t you like about roosters, Aaron?
“I don’t like the way they act in the mornings!”
I allowed myself a loud cackle at that statement! So funny! Aaron reminded me that Aunt Sandra’s neighbor has roosters and that they are TOO loud in the mornings!
So we need to see if before our next trip home, someone can straighten up those rooster’s morning behavior! Get on it, Sandra!