I’m sitting here thinking of our weekend and thinking of our children. Sometimes I still wonder where the time went. Our three kids are all adults now. We watch Andrea and Andrew from a distance now as they live their lives. They both live hours away from us, and while that can sometimes be sad it’s also very fulfilling for Gary and I to see them so happy in the lives that God has given them. Andrea is in graduate school studying genetics, and Andrew was recently hired by Cruz Pedregon Racing as a member of the pit crew.
Aaron, of course, still lives at home with Gary and me. Even when he may someday move out of our home, he will still be under our close care and supervision. Such is life with a child with special needs. Thinking back on the years of raising our children, it seems that times with Aaron stick in our memory the most. With Andrea and Andrew, we had all the typical home schooling and life activities………..music, sports, friends, church. With Aaron, we started out with those things but as time went on, he became less and less interested. Life for Aaron became harder instead of easier. He had such a difficult time with making friends or with wanting to be involved in outside activities. Or sometimes he wanted to be a part of a normal life but he just didn’t know how to do that, or simply couldn’t meet the expanding expectations of a person who is supposed to be growing into adulthood.
It’s hard for family life to be normal when parents are trying to manage and understand an issue as complex as autism. Throw epilepsy in the mix and it becomes very muddled. We had many frustrating days when Aaron was a teenager and then in his early twenties. One issue that kept coming up was jealousy. It was sad for Aaron to watch his siblings move on with life while he was stuck with doctors and medicines and surgery and hospital visits. Yet in many ways Aaron took it all in stride, even enjoying the time and attention that these events afforded him.
Aaron has always had a special relationship with Andrea. First she was his buddy, his special friend and playmate when they were younger. Now he looks to her as a mother figure in many ways. He misses her since she’s moved away, and often asks, “Mom, when is Andrea coming over?”……….as if she only lives a few blocks away and just comes over every now and then. She and I were on the phone the other night. Aaron walked in the room and when he realized that I was talking to Andrea , he wanted to talk to her as well. I put the phone on speaker and off went Aaron, bending over and rubbing his hands together in delight as he nearly yelled. “Andrea! Is there such a thing as deadly mutant viruses?!!” No “Hi, Andrea! How are you? I miss you.” We would faint if he ever expressed such emotions verbally, but Andrea and I both through our laughter knew that Aaron was happy to talk to his sister.
Aaron’s relationship with Andrew has been more complex. Aaron has always shown some jealousy toward his brother. I wonder if it’s something to do with both of them being male. It seems that there is a competition there on Aaron’s part that he has just never known how to handle. As they got older, Aaron had fewer friends while Andrew had more friends. Aaron was very jealous of Andrew’s friends who would come over, especially if they spent the night. Aaron loved sleepovers and always wanted to do that. Who could ever forget the day that a female friend of Andrew’s stopped by for a quick visit? Aaron stood at the top of our stairs and yelled down, “Andrew! Is she sleeping over?!” Poor Andrew. Who could forget all the rude comments that Aaron made to Andrew’s guy friends that would be at the house, or the time that Aaron hit Sam in the stomach? Or the day that Andrew got his driver’s license and Aaron saw him drive the old truck in the driveway that we bought him……..and Aaron quietly said, “Andrew drives? I wish I could drive.”
We had some good times with Aaron this past weekend…….just normal life but things that Aaron enjoys. He went for a haircut and even got a shampoo…….something he’s never done before and which delighted him a lot. We went to Dillon’s afterwards for him to get a Cheddar Pasta Salad and some of his favorite jelly beans. He ate dinner with Gary and me, talking between bites of his pork chops and fried squash that he loves. We played Tri-Ominos and we watched Wheel of Fortune. He ate some pizza, and then on Sunday evening he tried a new dish at Taco Bell as well as his tried-and-true hot fudge milkshake from Sonic. He talked our ears off, as always, and he did his quirky things that make Aaron…..Aaron. Like putting his peanut jar in his ever-present bowl on top of a plate, and then eating the peanuts out of the jar inside the bowl on top of the plate. That is SO Aaron! And he found my restaurant coupons that I’ve told you about…….the ones that I don’t want him to cut……….and that I found all in a pile……….CUT ON THE DOTTED LINES!!!! Oh, Aaron.
In the midst of life with Aaron, we enjoyed hearing about Andrea’s research and her time on Saturday with her boyfriend Pete and his parents. We also got to watch the NHRA race from Charlotte, and to see Andrew on television. This part of Andrew’s life now is something that we’ve tried to downplay in front of Aaron, but he found out about Andrew’s new job and the fact that he’s on TV sometimes. Aaron has seen Andrew on the screen. Aaron didn’t show much reaction to it the first time. This past weekend, he again saw Andrew and he again didn’t act excited……but I did hear him at one point mutter, “So what?” Oh boy, I thought, here we go.
On Sunday night I went in Aaron’s room to say goodnight. He was sitting up in bed reading his Handy History Answer Book (of course!) with his pillow just right and his back scratcher there beside him and his other pillow on his lap and his stuffed snake that used to be Andrea’s stuffed snake laying there beside him and his covers all wrinkle free and just so-so (of course!). I hugged him and I listened to his usual talk and I had a hard time leaving the room because every time I would ease over toward the door he would say, “Mom! Wait!” Then he would quickly think of something else to say or to ask in his attempt to keep me there as long as possible. Finally I said a final good night, and as I closed his door I heard him say, “Good night, Miss woman who wants to watch Andrew on TV.”
There it was, that old green monster of envy coming out. The next morning, yesterday, Aaron was talking to me as I got my make-up on and he said, “You just like watching Andrew on TV. And you just like talking to Andrew when he comes home.” I tried to explain to Aaron how little we see of Andrew and how happy we are for him, and that we do enjoy seeing him on TV. But I also reminded Aaron of the time spent with him and the love that we have for him, wondering if any of what I was saying was penetrating his hidden heart.
I thought of how I walked into Aaron’s room over the weekend and tapped him on his shoulder to tell him that we could play Tri-Ominos. He looked up at me with his headphones on as I sat on the bed right beside him. He made very direct eye contact with me, and with warmth and feeling he said, “Mom. I was waiting for you.” Something about his look and that comment just went straight to my heart.
I smiled and I gave him a quick hug………too much hug was not what Aaron wanted at that point. And I nearly cried. He looked so needy and so vulnerable. “Mom. I was waiting for you.” Oh Aaron, you don’t have to wait for me. You have me always. I am always here for you. You don’t have to be doing genetics research or to be on TV to be important or special to us. How I want him to know that he is loved and he is treasured for who he is………even when he’s driving us nuts! That is Aaron in all his many facets. I hope that he realizes that going to get a haircut and visiting Dillon’s and eating together and playing Tri-Ominos and watching Wheel of Fortune are just a few of the ways that we say, “I love you.”
So is making him the pretzels this morning that I bought a few days ago, letting him watch me bend the dough into that pretzel shape. And helping him get all set up in his chair with his blanket over his legs and his cups of coffee beside him, his hot pretzels fresh out of the oven on a plate in his lap, his napkins and toothpicks close by as well……….and then hearing him ask, “Mom, will you bring me a knife and a fork and a spoon? A knife….AND a fork……AND a spoon? All three……a knife, and a fork, and a spoon.”
Yes, Aaron, I will bring you a knife……AND a fork……AND a spoon. Even though you do NOT need a knife……..or a fork……..or a spoon……… while eating pretzels. But I didn’t remind him of that fact, because I know that Aaron DOES need a knife and a fork and a spoon, for some reason that we cannot quite understand but that we accept.
It’s just another way to demonstrate to Aaron that he is loved and that he is accepted. I hope that he sees that and feels it in his heart as he gobbled down the pretzels……..and never touched his knife or his fork or his spoon.
But they were there, within reach…….and so are we.