I’ll Be Your Friend

I pulled up to the curb in front of Aaron’s day group yesterday, a little early to pick him up at the end of his day.  Soon Aaron walked outside, heading toward the van, followed by Barb.  Barb is like Aaron’s second mom.  She is also a manager at Paradigm.  Sometimes Aaron wants Barb to come out to talk to me so that she can tell me something fun about Aaron’s day.  However, fun was not part of our conversation on this day.  I realized this right away as I looked at the tears on Aaron’s face when he sat down beside me in the van. 

“Mom!” Aaron choked out through his tears.  “Natalie got mad at me and called me…….”  And on and on he talked, his voice thick with emotion and his hands rubbing together in frustration. 

Aaron loves to give his money to his friends, especially to Natalie, and it’s sometimes a real problem.  Aaron isn’t supposed to give away his money, and Natalie isn’t supposed to ask him for money, and when they are found out, it can be touchy.  Both Aaron and Natalie have trouble controlling their emotions when things get stressful, which certainly happened yesterday.  Words spill out…tears are shed…accusations made… 

If you close your eyes, and if the voices were far younger, you would think that once again we were on the school playground trying to settle a spat between two kindergartners.  But these are two adults, who because of their special needs happen to, at times….many times….still operate as little children. 

Aaron was being very dramatic, which showed me how much his giving heart was hurting.  He had done wrong and tried to deny it.  Natalie had done wrong and got very mad at Aaron.  Both were hurt and upset.  But Aaron…his heart wants to give everything he has to his friends and when it all messes up, he feels betrayed and lonely and adrift.

“I don’t have any friends,” Aaron sadly declared as his voice broke with emotion.  “And I don’t want to come back tomorrow!!”  Just then, standing behind Barb, came the voice of Koren.  She’s Aaron’s friend, and though at times she’s hard to understand, I clearly understood this.

“I’m your friend, Aaron,” she said.  “I’ll give you a hug.”

So Barb stepped aside and Koren gave Aaron a dear, kind hug along with a few pats on his back.  It was just the sweetest thing!!

Aaron and I sorted through the story with Barb before finally pulling away from the curb.  But soon Aaron said he had left his billfold with Barb, so I quickly turned around and drove back to Paradigm.  I went inside, and when I came back out, there was Aaron leaning inside the van that held Natalie.  I was concerned!  But as I stepped closer, I heard Natalie say, “I’m still your friend, Aaron!” 

Aaron backed out of the van, his face a picture of relief…and Natalie’s face alight with a smile. 

Later Aaron, as he so often does, asked me if he could give Natalie a card the next day.  After saying he didn’t want to go to Paradigm the next day, I knew that wanting to take a card was a good sign that he was softening about going.  So I found a card for Aaron and he carefully wrote Natalie a note…a short note with a huge message.

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We all need a friend, don’t we?  One thing that amazes me at Aaron’s day group is to walk in and see the interactions of these special adults.  They love being and having friends, just as much as you and I do.  Life is so very hard for them, harder than I can even begin to imagine.  Sometimes it would be easy to feel sorry for them, sorry to the point of tears. 

But then I see them welcome Aaron when he walks in the door.  I see their smiles, their hugs, their concern for each other expressed in various ways.  I see Aaron welcomed and loved, even after having a hard day previously. 

His friends there are a picture of love and acceptance.  I don’t see jealousy or judgment or bullying.  Maybe those things happen at times.  But there, among all the varying special needs and all the medical conditions…from wheelchairs or braces…with halting speech or deaf ears…curled hands and bent bodies…I see so often the joy and the love of friendship. 

That scene has touched my heart more than I can express.  I would love to share pictures, but privacy issues won’t allow it.  So you must take my word for it, and try to imagine it yourself. 

Sometimes the most needy ones are the ones who give to each of us a picture of what we need the most. 

Genuine, unconditional friendship. 

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I’ll Go Happy

Last Monday, Aaron had a rough and grouchy day at his day group.  Sometimes we can pinpoint the cause and other times we just can’t.  I’m so thankful for the understanding staff at Paradigm.  I don’t know how they do what they do on some days, but I do know that they don’t get paid enough for all they endure on those days.  I love their philosophy:  Tomorrow is a new day and we start all over.

As I said goodnight to Aaron at the end of his rough day and gave him a hug, Aaron said, “Mom, tomorrow I’ll go happy!”

So on the next day, the new day in which we were starting all over, Aaron was indeed happy.  His attitude was entirely different than the no good very bad yesterday.  And on this better day we also got some wonderful news from our daughter in Houston.  She has a break between jobs and was coming home for a visit!!!!  Not only Andrea was coming, but also her boyfriend Kyle!!!!  Not only Andrea and Kyle were coming, but also Andrea’s two dogs and Kyle’s dog!!!!!   

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Can you tell I was excited?  You bet!  Aaron was excited, too.  He loves and misses his sister.  He’s getting to know Kyle and to realize that Kyle is a new part of our family.  But oh, I know Aaron and I know that having a house full of people and pets can be challenging for him.  We face this issue any time that we have extra people around…..extra noise……extra routine disruptions……extra attention grabbers away from our usual main attention grabber.

We work to prepare Aaron for those disruptions before they occur.  I went over several things with him, like how he would use Gary’s and my bathroom while Andrea and Kyle were here.  We talked about the dogs and how we need to act with having four dogs in the house.  I tried to cover all the bases with Aaron, but Aaron brings out new bases quite often……based on what’s happening around him at the time…..things we just can’t predict. 

I let Aaron stay home from Paradigm on the two Paradigm days that Andrea and Kyle were here.  Aaron was SO happy with that idea!!  He loved going with us to eat lunch at Freddy’s.

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He loved going for a walk in Swanson Park.

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He loved being here with us and the doggies.

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He loved us watching Independence Day Resurgence with him while he ate snacks and snacks and snacks.

He loved trying to sneak snacks and snacks and snacks to the doggies.

He loved talking to all of us, especially to Andrea and Kyle, about all his favorite topics.  And this is where we usually start seeing some issues with Aaron, because Aaron doesn’t know when to stop talking.  Sharing the stage is hard for Aaron.  He truly wants to be included in our conversations as we sit around the dinner table, for instance.  We do listen to him and try to include him, but Aaron isn’t going to talk about the subjects that we talk about. 

Here is a sample conversation:  We may be talking about Andrea’s new job or talking about Kyle’s summer at sea.  Then Aaron will loudly call one of our names.

“Andrea!!”  he says.  When she responds to him, we often hear this from Aaron:  “Ummm.  Ummm.  Ummm.”  We wait.  “Ummm.  Did you know what the Queen Alien on Independence Day Resurgence looks like?!”

“No, Aaron, I don’t know what she looks like,” Andrea answers.

“Well, she looks like a…..I don’t know.  Mom, what do you think she looks like?” Aaron asks.

So I try to answer but I don’t really know how to describe the Alien Queen because it’s been awhile since I saw that movie….and I don’t really care what the Alien Queen looks like…..and in trying to muster some enthusiasm and interest in this question that I’ve heard a hundred times, Aaron can sense a shift in my emotions.  As much as Aaron struggles with social norms, he is very adept at picking up the subtle cues that we are not as animated about Alien Queens as we are about Andrea’s job or Kyle’s schooling. 

He views our world from afar, wanting so much to enter in, but never knowing how.  But he does express his frustration by comments that we later hear.

“Mom, you didn’t want to talk to me.  You just wanted to talk to Andrea or Kyle,” he will say. 

I try to explain that we do want to talk to him but that we haven’t seen Andrea or Kyle in so long…..and we want to catch up with them on their lives…..but to Aaron that doesn’t make sense.  Round and round we go, and where we land nobody knows.  Or when we land.

Which happened on Friday during supper.  Andrea’s friend, Sarah, had come over to see Andrea and Kyle.  They sat in the family room visiting and talking and laughing.  Aaron was up in his room, then down in the family room…..up in his room, down again.  He wanted to be a part and he was in many ways.  He just can’t be the whole part and so conversation would swirl around him.  Kyle was talking and laughing at one point, and Aaron whacked Kyle’s leg with a book.  I heard it but didn’t see it.  It was a sign of things to come.  Aaron was frustrated now, truly frustrated, and when that happens he picks a target.  Lucky Kyle.

I don’t remember all the details of what happened at supper.  I was up from the table getting slices of cheesecake ready to serve.  Aaron was at a boiling point and we didn’t realize it.  His system was on overload…..his pressure gauge was maxed out…..and he erupted.  He leaned forward and yelled at Kyle. 

Aaron left the table.  We apologized to Kyle.  He was understanding and patient.  Aaron came down later and apologized.  We watched the movie later and Aaron was very happy, as if nothing ever happened.

Why do I tell you this story, one you’ve heard before if you’ve read this blog for very long?  Because this scenario is just a very real picture of how Aaron processes…..or doesn’t exactly process…..the world around him.  Our world is ticking along like normal, but Aaron’s isn’t.  He is so impacted by nuances that we don’t even notice.  Sounds…..loud laughter that he doesn’t understand…..hilarity……silliness…..his routine changing….   All these things greatly affect him, more than we can begin to know. 

So he reacts, usually loudly and hurtfully.  Then he’s sorry.  It takes great understanding, as I’ve said, to deal with this about Aaron.  He doesn’t think like we do or process as we do or react over time as we do. 

But he truly wants to. 

Andrea and Kyle left to go back to Houston the next day.  Aaron was with us in the driveway, entering into things, when Andrea asked for a hug.  Aaron ducked his head and walked away, through the garage and into the house as he muttered to himself.  A hug in front of everyone?  Are you kidding me?!  We know this about Aaron and it makes us smile.  He can yell, but spontaneous hugs are very, very difficult.

One of the first things I did after they left was to get Aaron’s things put back in his bathroom.  “Us kid’s bathroom,” he calls it.  We got his cup with his toothbrush and toothpaste put back on the counter.  We got his body wash and wash cloth back in the shower.  We hung his towel on the towel rack. 

Aaron then noticed that his razor attachments were not in the correct place.  He rearranged them the way he wanted them.  He stood back and observed the counter for a few seconds. 

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Then he said, “OK.  It’s looking good.”

That night at supper, Aaron asked the blessing.  He nearly always says two things when he prays.  He doesn’t say the same thing with each prayer, but he says two things.  On that night he said, “Lord, thank you for the food.  And thank you that Kyle and Andrea got to come.”

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Yes, it was looking good now for Aaron.  He was happy that Andrea and Kyle were here, along with Darcy and Oakley and Aries and our own Jackson.  He will be very happy when everyone comes for Christmas. 

Aaron will have every intention of saying, “I’ll go happy!” 

He’ll go happy into our family time, but it will be a time of upheaval for him and of struggle as well.  It’s up to us to understand that and to allow that for Aaron, all the while trying to help him know how to take time to decompress and not to blow up. 

Only when things are back to normal…..Aaron’s normal…..will he be able to step back and say, “OK.  It’s looking good.”

And it’s very important for us to be able to look at Aaron’s world through Aaron’s eyes, and still be able to say, “OK, Aaron.  It’s looking good.”

Let’s go happy!  It’s sometimes the hard choice, but always the best choice. 

It Makes Me Think

I wrote earlier about Aaron’s difficult day on Monday, and about his desire to take a “sorry card” to his friend whom he had hurt.  ( Another “Sorry Card”)  Time now for a quick update.

I walked into Aaron’s room on Tuesday morning, carrying his cups of coffee and finding him sitting on the edge of his bed.  He was writing in his log book the precise time that he was getting out of bed, and still trying to fully awaken.  I know not to talk a lot to Aaron first thing in the morning.  He needs time to process his new day, time to drink his coffee, time to shower…..and I need time to evaluate his mood.  So I said a simple good morning as I put his coffee on the bookshelf beside his desk.  He never even looked at me, which is typical.

But he did speak. 

“I don’t want to go today,” he softly said.  “I have a headache.”

I never know if he really has a headache, or if he’s just trying to get fully awake.  I don’t try to talk him OUT of having a headache, and neither do I encourage him to indulge his headache. 

“I’m sorry,” I said as I walked out of his room.  “I’m getting in the shower now.”

“I don’t want to go today,” he repeated.

“But what about the “sorry card” and Burger King coupon for J, and the pillow for S, and the green pepper for Barb?” I asked.

He was silent.

I went on about my morning.  I heard him taking a shower and then later heard him on his computer, yelling happily…..which is always a good sign that his outlook has brightened.

I went to his room for his glasses so that I could clean them before we left for Paradigm.  There lay the pillow for S, and the “sorry card” for J, near his empty coffee cups. 

“I’m going, Mom,” he said.  He even sounded cheery, and I was very relieved.

We walked out the door later, Aaron carrying a bag in which we had placed the pillow and the green pepper.  His “sorry card” for J, along with the Burger King coupon, were in a plain envelope and placed in the bag as well.

Aaron went into Paradigm with no hesitation when I dropped him off at the curb.  I prayed as I drove away, that Aaron would be happy and kind and would actually give his gifts to his friends…..especially the “sorry card” to J, for that was most important.

That afternoon my phone rang.  The caller ID displayed Barb’s name, and my heart dropped a little.  Sometimes Aaron calls me using Barb’s phone, and some of those times it’s because he’s unhappy.  Sometimes Barb calls me, though rarely, but usually it’s because Aaron is having a really rough day.  Sometimes Aaron also calls just to loudly laugh and tell me how much fun he is having.  Sometimes answering that phone is like playing Russian Roulette.  I just don’t know what pressing that answer button will bring.

“MOM!!!!” Aaron yelled into the phone.  And I immediately knew that he sounded like all was well.  “I wanted to tell you something!!”

“OK,” I simply answered, hoping for the best.

“I’ve been having a good day!” he continued.

“That’s wonderful!” I replied.  “Did you give J the “sorry card” and the coupon?”

“YES!!!” he said.  “WAIT, MOM!!!  WAIT!!!!” he eagerly said.

Now this always means that Aaron is getting ready to hand the phone off to someone else.  Often it’s Barb, and I’ll hear Aaron say to her, “My mom wants to tell you something!”  And Barb knows full well that I didn’t say I wanted to tell her something, so she gets on the phone laughing and she hears me laughing, and we talk for a minute while Aaron – I’m quite sure – is standing nearby rubbing his hands together furiously.

So on this day I was prepared to once again hear Barb’s voice, but it wasn’t.  I heard a young man’s voice haltingly saying hello to me.  He was a little hard to understand, but I figured he was J.

“Is this J?” I asked him.  He said yes.

“Thank you for the card and the coupon,” he said.

“You’re very welcome, J,” I told him.  “I’m sorry that Aaron hit you.”

“Oh, it’s OK,” he replied.  And he said something else about the coupon.  I could tell he was very happy with that, and with the “sorry card,” too.

He handed the phone back to Aaron, who told me with great exuberance that he had also given the pillow to S and the green pepper to Barb.  We soon hung up, with me feeling very happy for Aaron.

As we drove home that afternoon from Paradigm, we talked about how much it meant to J to get the card and especially the coupon.  We talked about how S smiled when Aaron gave her the pillow.  We talked about how Barb thanked him for the green pepper. 

And we especially talked about how happy it made Aaron when he was kind to his friends……how much better he felt on this drive home because of being nice.

These are simple, elementary truths that seem so hard for him to retain.  Aaron wants to be nice.  He really does.  But his impulses and his lack of filters sometimes drive his “nice” desires out of his brain quickly as he responds to the moment.

The next morning, Wednesday, Aaron wanted me to go inside Paradigm when I dropped him off.  He wanted me to talk to S about the pillow he had given her.  Sometimes my to-do list makes it hard for me to agree to anything extra, but something told me that I should do this for Aaron.  So I parked the van and we both got out, walking inside his day group together.

Aaron immediately strode over to the wheelchair where S was sitting, and I followed. 

“S!!!!” Aaron said, rubbing his hands together.  “Here’s my mom!!!!”

I felt like I was Vanna White on Wheel of Fortune.  “Here’s Vanna White and Pat Sajak!!!!!” 

I walked around to where S could see me, and I patted her arm as I told her hello and asked how she’s doing.  S always says that she is fine, as she is all bent over in her chair.  She amazes me as she does something else I always see when I am with her……she smiles.  A huge, sweet smile.

“Did you like the pillow that Aaron gave you?” I asked her.  There was that wonderful smile again as she looked up at me and said a simple, “Yes.”  But her smile said it all.  It must mean a lot to her, in her limited world, to have friends.  I know that Aaron understands that.

One day, when talking to me about his friendship with her, Aaron said to me, “S doesn’t have much friends.  Am I her friend?”  I told him that he is indeed her friend…..a good friend.

“It makes me think I don’t know what to think,” he answered after some thought.

How sweet!  How telling! 

Friendships do matter to Aaron, very much.  He just doesn’t always know how to make them…..how to maintain them……how to express his feelings to his friends without being loud and rough. 

But sometimes he does, like with S.  He talks a lot to us about her limitations and he feels empathy for her.  So even if he thinks he doesn’t know what to think, the very fact that he IS thinking about these things is very positive to us.  We’re thankful that this week turned out so well…..that Aaron hopefully learned some important lessons…..and that those lessons will actually STICK in his brain!!

Because trust me, there are many many days that Gary and I look at each other after an Aaron episode and scratch our heads.

Aaron’s words could easily be our words:  It makes us think we don’t know what to think!!!

But I do think that this week has been mostly positive, for me and for Aaron and hopefully for his friends. 

It makes me think that we have a very special son, even when he makes me think I don’t know what to think!

And that’s just how it is around here.

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A Sometimes Wonderful World

Aaron was with me all day on Monday because he had a doctor appointment in the morning.  Afterwards, we swung by the eye doctor to have his glasses adjusted; went to Taco Bell for lunch, which was the real reason that Aaron was happy to be with me; and then to Wal-Mart, his second real reason for being happy.  I experienced quite a few autism moments, too many to remember them all……for after all, Aaron’s whole being is influenced by autism.  So is mine.

There was the ride in the van across town, and Aaron’s excitement about listening to the CD he had chosen.  Pop Memories of the 60’s was quickly inserted in the player, and then Aaron’s instruction as he held his hand up, palm facing outward:  “Don’t talk.  I want to listen to the music.” 

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The number 1 showed on the CD player, so Aaron reached down to quickly pick up the CD holder and announce in his monotone voice, “Stevie Wonder.”  He bent over again to place the CD holder back where it had been.  The song began and Aaron said, “Mom, do you like Stevie Wonder?”

Notice who’s doing all the talking.

So we listened to “My Cherie Amour” as memories of high school flooded by brain.  But I didn’t share that with Aaron because I wasn’t supposed to talk. 

Then number 2 came on the player, so Aaron bent back over to pick up the CD holder.  “Kenny Rogers and The First Edition,” he again announced.  And back down went the CD holder.

Number 3:  Pick up holder…….“Tom Jones,” Aaron flatly said…….replace holder. 

Number 4:  Pick up holder…….. “Mama Cass,” was announced……replace holder.

You get the idea.  All across town, and back across town, he never tired.  Oh, and there was this one.

Number 10:  Pick up holder……. “Lois Armstrong,” he said as sounds of “Hello, Dolly!” filled the van. 

“Ummmm, Aaron, that would be Louis.  Louis Armstrong.”

“Don’t talk, Mom!  I want to listen to the music,” said guess who?

This doctor visit was to the psychiatrist who oversees his autism care.  Oh, could I fill her ears full!  I refrained somewhat, but Aaron didn’t.  He stretched himself out on her small couch right away, uninvited to do so, legs hanging out over the end, and proceeded to talk about Mom’s upcoming trip to Houston……his upcoming trip to NC with Mom and Dad……his new Superman set of movies that we let him have for the NC trip……and Ultraman.  Among other things. 

Later, at the eye doctor, he was rather impatient as we waited.  Doctors and glasses adjustments are such a bother, especially with Taco Bell just around the corner!  Then in walked a nun, dressed in her full habit from head to toe.  I hoped that if I began tickling Aaron’s back, he would keep looking down and not see her.  Aaron is fascinated with nuns and with their unusual clothing, so I wasn’t sure what he would say.  Too bad we didn’t have a CD playing so maybe, just maybe, he would be quiet.  He did look up and he did see her, of course, standing right there at the front desk.  But as she walked into the bathroom, out of earshot, all he said was, “Mom, she’s wearing a hood!  She must work for the church.” 

I was pretty relieved when she was called back immediately.  I had no idea what to expect with both of them sitting in the waiting room together, and it wasn’t her I was worried about.

Aaron loved lunch, of course, even amid my reminders about not whistling as we waited for our food or making various other unusual noises.  And then before we ever stood up to leave came my reminder to him about stretching.  Aaron makes quite a production of stretching when we get up to leave a restaurant, his back arched and his stomach stuck out and his amazing stretching noise.  So I’ve learned to remind him before we even stand up that he is not supposed to stretch, which I did there in Taco Bell.  He stood up, though, and did a suppressed stretch……what you might call an abridged stretch……which on Aaron still looked amazing and drew attention, I’m sure.  I’ve learned not to look at the people sitting nearby.  He just looked a little like he was puffing up and about to implode, right there near the drink machine.  Nice.

And then he saw it……the quarter that someone had dropped on the floor directly in front of the register.  He has such hawk eyes for things on the ground, unless it’s his dirty clothes in his room or his mounds of books on the floor.  I tried to stop him but it was too late.  He bent over clumsily and picked up the quarter, while the line watched him and I just stood there.  It was quite a sight, Aaron doing the old man bend.  The employee told Aaron to keep the quarter, which he gleefully pocketed, oblivious to the scene he had just created. 

Dear Aaron!  He is so unaware of how funny and unusual he is, or of how he comes across.  These autism moments, I call them, come in many various forms.  And yesterday at his day group, they weren’t so funny.  The not so funny autism moments cause anxiety and frustration for many other reasons.  He wasn’t so happy to go to Paradigm yesterday, but he went.  He ended up in tears for part of the morning, and then in the afternoon he was almost manic in his fake laughter and his “teasing.”  He calls it teasing, even though we all remind him over and over that if he’s the only one laughing……and others are hurt or angry…….it’s not teasing.

Aaron thinks it’s funny to say things to people like, “You’re fat!  You’re dumb!  You’re old!”  Or many other things as well, most of which are not funny at all.  He truly can’t seem to permanently connect what is correct to say from what he impulsively wants…..and does…..sometimes say.  This is especially true when he is frustrated about something.  Instead of addressing the issue of his frustration, he will verbally harass others, and then often regret it later.  And he does it under the guise of “teasing.”

He has a special friend who is all bent over in a wheelchair.  He has shown so much kindness to her.  I wrote once about how he waited on her at the end of the line as they walked to Quik Trip so that he could walk with her.  He loves giving her things or helping her eat.  But yesterday on the way home from Paradigm he said, “Mom, I told S that she’s ugly.  I was just teasing!” 

I was so hurt for S and I was so disappointed in Aaron.  I told him that S is a young woman who would love to be able to get up from that wheelchair, go shopping for pretty clothes and make-up, and get her hair and nails done.  I told him that she would love to go to bed at night thinking about how Aaron had told her that her hair was pretty, or that she had a pretty smile.  Instead she would go to bed that night thinking of how Aaron had said she was ugly……and she probably feels ugly every day. 

Aaron listened.  He talked about it last night at supper with Gary.  I have to say that it was hard for me to say the words I said to Aaron.  Part of me wanted to just assure him that I was sure S knew he was teasing……that it was OK, but he should do better……or that we all understood what he really meant.  But I knew that I needed to let Aaron know of the hurt he had inflicted, while it also hurt me to say the hard words to Aaron without backing down. 

Aaron had a small seizure at 5:30 this morning, but it was enough for him to wake up later with a bad headache and with bleary eyes.  I let him stay home today.  Later in the morning, he went with me to run a few errands.  On the drive back home, out of the blue, Aaron remembered.

“Mom?” he asked.  “Can we stop at Dillon’s so that I can get S a sorry card?”

My heart was so touched, and so thankful.  Aaron does know right from wrong.  He does feel bad when he’s been hurtful, even though it’s after the fact. 

So I told him that I had some cards at home.  Right after we ate lunch, before he took a nap, I got out my card box and found him a card that he liked.  It was blank inside, but not for long.  Short and sweet, he simply wrote these words, with her name underneath.

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I hope that he has learned a lesson, one that will stick and not be forgotten during his next crazy mood swing or unhappy moment. 

The last song on the 60’s CD was another one by “Lois” Armstrong – “What a Wonderful World.”  I want Aaron’s world to be wonderful, but I want him to also understand that he can quickly ruin the wonderful world of others by his words and actions. 

Likewise, he can make it right with things like his “sorry card,” and with an attempt to watch his words and his teasing.  Our job is to instruct, to understand, to be patient, to forgive…….and to be thankful for the wonderful world we share with Aaron, even on the rough days, always hoping that the rough days will be fewer and the wonderful days more frequent.     

Now, don’t talk!  Let’s listen to the music. 

Sing it, Lois!

A Nightmare and a Flower

3:30 a.m.  I heard Aaron stirring, then walking up the hall to the bathroom.  He closed the bathroom door with a thump because he never, ever closes doors quietly.  Soon the bathroom door opened, but instead of walking back up the hall to his room I heard our bedroom door open.

“Mom?” Aaron said in as much of a whisper as he can ever muster.  Whispering seems to be a lost art with him. 

“Mom?” he repeated.  I answered him and he continued.

“Can you come to my room?  I need to talk to you about something.”

So I followed Aaron to his bedroom, where he wanted to turn on the light so that he could talk better. 

“Mom.  I had a nightmare.  I dreamed that you and dad made me go live in a support home because I was mean.” 

So that would explain what I had heard him speaking in his sleep earlier……something about wondering if someone would come up to his room to see him.  We talked about his nightmare, as he called it.  He has such a fear of ever having to leave our home.  No matter how we approach that subject it never goes over well.  But we hadn’t talked about it at all the night before, or even at all recently, so I don’t know where the dream came from.  But it greatly bothered Aaron, enough for him to call it a nightmare. 

We talked for a few minutes and I assured him that everything was fine, and not to worry about us making him move because he was mean.  But it is important not to be mean, I had to add.  And with that I made sure he was all the way in his bed, said goodnight, and turned off his light.

He was up before 8:00.  He walked into the kitchen looking a little worse for wear.

“Mom,” he immediately said.  “I don’t feel good.  My head hurts.  I feel weak.”

I tried to encourage him, but finally he brought up the real issue of the nightmare.  He decided that this awful experience should earn him a day off from Paradigm, but he saw right away that I disagreed.  I exuded cheerful optimism, which he tired hard to override with his dreary post-nightmare pessimism.  We were in that familiar tug-of-war. 

A shower and three cups of coffee helped a little, but Aaron had decided that he was not going to Paradigm.  I always leave the final choice up to him, but he knows the consequences of not going.  I told him that we would run down to get him a haircut, which he loves, but after the haircut he was still pretty firm about staying home.

I agreed to take him home and then told him that I was running my errands.  After that, I said, I would be busy all day getting ready to leave tomorrow on an out-of-town trip for Gary and me.  By the time we pulled into our driveway, he was happier and I was on the phone.  He opened his door and in a flash, my door opened and there stood Aaron……holding something for me.

“Here, Mom!” he tried to whisper.  “I picked you this flower.  I picked it because I love you and I’m going to Paradigm.”

Then he handed me the flower, bent over to lean in the van, and gave me a HUG!!

You could have blown me away!!  Kind of like the little seed pods on the flower he gave me.  You see, his “flower” was this:

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But he was as proud of this old dandelion as he would have been if he was holding a dozen roses.  And trust me, I was too!  This bent over, half bald seeded dandelion was what Aaron saw first and so pluck it he did……for Mom!

After I got off the quick phone call, I thanked and thanked Aaron for the flower.  He just beamed.  He got his glasses and his watch and his wallet, and off we went to Paradigm.  I think his morning there was a little tricky, but the rest of the day seemed to go well. 

It’s a good thing I don’t have allergies, because I’ve kept my special flower in the kitchen all day.  It’s nothing spectacular, but it’s the best Aaron had.  It would have been understandable for me to not want this sad sample of a flower.  To maybe throw it away when Aaron wasn’t at home. 

But I keep thinking about how the best Aaron had to give me was…..well…..not what we would call great, but it was from his heart and that makes it totally awesome.  That’s so often what Aaron does and is, all through the days of his life.  We may not get exemplary behavior every day…..we may not see stellar progress on most days…..we may not even take the time to notice how hard he tries on other days.

But for Aaron, it’s there.  His attempts to fit in, to express himself, to understand this world we live in with him, are there.  Some days the best we get is for him to ask if I’m happy that he didn’t make “farting noises” with his mouth in the store, but he made “meow” noises instead.   Or that he didn’t clap SUPER loud or clap too AWFULLY many times.  Or that he didn’t get 10 toothpicks at the welcome counter at the restaurant…..only 4! 

He so wants us to be proud of him.  He so wants to conquer his inability to communicate what’s really on his mind…..what’s really bothering him……what’s in that heart of his.  But it’s just so nearly impossible sometimes for him to do that……to talk like you and I do.  He might react, like he did this morning.  He might hit or slam a door or be defiant.  But I’m convinced that part of the frustration that Aaron feels is not that he’s mad at the situation….he’s mad at how very hard it is for him to identify and express to us just what he’s mad about. 

So whatever he is able to share, we must take it gladly and try to understand.  We must grasp what he hands us and take care to handle it well.  Just like my dandelion flower.  Would I have chosen it?  No.  But Aaron did, and with it he showed me his love.  To me that gangly old dandelion is beautiful.  It represents Aaron’s heart. 

I hope that when he sees it sitting on the table, or maybe later in a vase, he’ll know that Mom not only loved his gift……he’ll know that Mom loves HIM. 

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I’m Sorry

A couple days ago, Aaron woke up in a very bad mood.  He’s been awfully tired lately, and he certainly was on this particular morning.  He was in no frame of mind to be messed with………and my telling him to get ready to leave for his group was definitely messing with him!  I knew we were in trouble when he said, “Mom!  I don’t want to go today!!  They’re having tuna sandwiches for lunch!!!!”  

This was on Wednesday, and on Wednesdays Paradigm fixes lunch at the center for the clients.  I’ve learned that if Aaron doesn’t want to go on that day, then he’ll tell me that they’re fixing tuna sandwiches…………figuring that Mom will wonder who on planet earth would expect their son to eat TUNA sandwiches??!!  In my deep empathy, I would certainly invite Aaron to stay at home and watch movies and play computer games and maybe even eat pizza, if he’s lucky.  I mean, come on………TUNA?!

What Aaron doesn’t understand is that:  1. I like tuna.    2.  I don’t get why he shouldn’t like tuna.    3.  I fell for the tuna trick once and that was enough.    4.  I know how to text Barb in order to check his story.

So text I did, and Barb told me that they were having ham and turkey sandwiches.  And I should add a number 5.  I had bought food for Aaron at Sam’s to take to Paradigm to eat for his lunch when he wanted.  Food that Aaron likes………..but on this Wednesday Aaron informed me that he did NOT like the food from Sam’s either.  He began playing the blame game, saying, “Mom, it’s your fault for getting me that food at Sam’s!!”  As well as, “Mom, it’s your fault for making me go!”  And of course, “Mom, it’s your fault that I’m tired!!”  Really? 

Now I’ve been sick this week, probably strep, and on that day was feeling none too good.  I was not in the mood for a fight or for a game of “Who Can Win This Argument?” or for any hateful behavior on Aaron’s part.  It was probably a good thing that I was moving like a turtle, both physically and mentally.  I was talking slowly and softly, moving slowly and methodically……………feeling like I was in slow motion.  Aaron seemed to feed off of my slowness, because he didn’t escalate like he usually does………even when I told him that he was indeed going to Paradigm, and that he could indeed eat some of his awful food from Sam’s. 

When Aaron gets really mad, he’ll try to break something – and often succeeds.  Many times he’ll break something that is important to him, like his watch or his remote.  He’s gotten better, though, since the day I told him that if he broke something then I would break something else of his.  He didn’t like those terms.  On this day, he picked up his remote and then put it down again, but rather hard, and I gave him my warning.  He followed me into the bathroom and continued to rant, increasingly unhappy that I had texted Barb and that I knew the fallacy of the tuna sandwich story.  His mind was probably already concocting another horrible lunch dish to try on me the next time. 

Aaron knew that I wasn’t feeling well, but I didn’t mention it at all during this episode.  I knew he would  show no concern or care, and that it would only make things worse.  I continued to move slowly, to talk softly, and to show no emotion.  And he began to de-escalate.  He was calming down, for whatever reason, and I was hoping that the worst of the storm was over.  I walked into his room and found him sitting in his desk chair.  He turned the chair and himself toward me as I stood there, and then the most surprising thing happened.  He reached for me…………and I drew back for an instant, thinking that he might be wanting to slap at me.  But he was reaching for me, with his head down………….no eye contact……….and so I went closer.  He wanted to hug me!  I reached out to put my arm around his shoulders, and he laid his head on my chest………..like little Aaron from years ago.   Then he said, “I’m sorry.”

It’s amazing how those two words, spoken with true contrition, can wipe the slate clean.  There are times that Aaron says he’s sorry, but he says it with such an attitude that you know he doesn’t mean it.  Something like, “OK!!  I’m sorry!!  Are you happy??!”……..just doesn’t cut it.  But his contrition and tone of voice were sincere, genuine, heartfelt…………and it deeply touched my heart.  I treasured that hug and I thanked him, then left the room………..still walking slowly but with more lift in my step and more joy in my heart. 

I stopped by Sonic on our way to meet his group, and let him buy a grape Slushie.  And we listened to his favorite CD………..The Four Tops, of course!  And of course, Aaron talked!

“Mom, what’s that jinging sound they’re making in that song?”

It’s a tambourine, Aaron.  You know, they hit it against their leg or against their hand.

“Oh, I thought they hit it on their head.”  And he laughed, and I laughed at the thought of hitting the tambourine on their head………even though I’m sure that Aaron would like that way of playing a tambourine much better than the normal, boring way.

“Mom, The Four Tops sang in the old days.”

Do the 60’s seem like the old days to you, Aaron?   “YES!!” he answered……..as I felt very old.

“Mom, I noticed something.  They sing about women.  What’s so important about women?!” 

I was just starting to expound on the importance of women when we pulled up to the van to join his group.  Too bad!  I had a lot to say on that topic!

I also know the importance of Aaron…………even on the bad days.  And I know the importance of his genuine “I’m sorry.”  How healing those words are, across the board, in our lives.   How impacting they are when they are said with true repentance and sincerity…………..and when they came from our Aaron.

 

Count Your………Our………..MY Blessings!

It’s been one of those mornings.  You know……..one of THOSE mornings.  I went to bed bothered by worrisome issues that I should not go to bed being bothered by……….those worrisome issues.  Can’t end that sentence in a preposition.  🙂    I went to my new location in Andrea’s old room that I’ve set up for myself……..a new desk and an alone place to have my quiet time.  The new location didn’t seem to help.  I felt stifled and ineffective in my time with the Lord this morning.  Distracted…….and thinking that I needed to dodge my prayers that were bouncing off the ceiling, going no where.  Is Satan unhappy about my desire for a more intimate time with the Lord?  Perhaps.

Later, I looked at the weather forecast and the upcoming week of temps above 100 and no rain only increased my weariness.  Our scratchy dog with allergies; laundry waiting to be washed or put away; dishes to take care of; even a Supreme Court ruling and an election in Egypt that I don’t agree with were piling up in my mind.  Talk about taking on the cares of the world.  Come on, Patty.  This is really ridiculous!

After my shower, I heard good old Aaron in the hall.  “Mom?”  I told him that I would be out in a minute.  I could tell that I would have very little patience with him today………shame on me.  He thumped downstairs to take his pills and thumped back up to see if we could now talk.  I again told him to wait……….and when I did open my door, he was in his room and promptly told me to come look at his finger.  He held it up for me as I walked in, and there it was………….his index finger, all wrapped up in a bloody band-aid.

My patience was even less now.  “Mom, last night I had some loose skin and so I used my knife to cut it off.” Oh Aaron.  We’ve heard this story before and I knew what was coming………..and it did.   He wanted to know if he should have used his little pocket knife to cut off the skin; why not?; what would I use?; that he couldn’t help it that the knife slipped, etc., and etc.  I removed the band-aid and saw the raw wound where he had cut or pulled off his loose skin.  I could feel my irritation increasing.  I told him to go shower…………his whole body, by the way, not just his finger!  I know how he thinks.

Aaron showered and then came to my bathroom, where I further cleaned and medicated and dressed his wound.  He could sense my mood and so he scurried on downstairs, deciding to get his own coffee and carry it to his room himself without bothering his moody mom.  Soon I heard, “Mom, I spilled some coffee but I’ll clean it up.”  Oh goodness, Aaron!  Where did you spill coffee?  “On the stairs.  I’ll clean it up!”  No, Aaron…….I’ll get it.  All the while, I was muttering under my breath about how this is the last thing I needed and why did he have to carry the coffee up himself when he’s so shaky and of all mornings…………

Then I saw the spill, which looked more like a gushing of coffee.  It was splattered on several stairs, but one stair in particular was soaked with coffee.  Oh Aaron!  Look at this mess!  Next I saw coffee on the living room floor, so got the Swiffer and mopped that section.  I headed for the soppy stairs, with Aaron saying, “I’ll clean it up, Mom!”  But I grabbed towels and began the clean-up, while Aaron then said, “Here, I’ll help.”  He proceeded to carry a wad of paper towels from the kitchen into the living room and instead of heading for the stairs where I was, he started wiping off the piano.  WHAT??!!  Sure enough, some coffee had splattered onto the piano and Aaron was working to clean up the brown spots…………….while he stood on the still-wet floor.  I went from unhappy to unhappier, all the while muttering about how my nerves couldn’t take much more and of all mornings and please, Aaron, don’t talk right now………..

I continued my shallow thinking as I realized that I would indeed have a bad hair day, no matter what I did to try to improve the mess on my head.  The clothes I chose to wear today didn’t help any, nor did the sandals.  No time to change all that now.  Of all days for me to have a doctor appointment, I moaned to myself.  Little annoyances for the remainder of the morning reminded me of my misery.  Aaron and I hurried out the door, stopping at the grocery store on our way to meet his group.  I had promised him a Cheddar Pasta Salad to take to his group.  Of all mornings to need to leave early, I grumbled.

At the deli counter, as we waited to be served, Aaron began to notice all the dishes.  He leaned over and oohed and aahed over the Deviled Egg Potato Salad, The Layered Salad, the Fruit Salad, the German sandwiches, the Spaghetti Salad…………and his joy over simple food began to silence my distasteful attitude.  He had moved beyond spilled coffee, bad hair, wounded finger, scratchy dog, and hot temps.  He noticed the good things before him.  As we walked out with not only his Cheddar Pasta Salad, but also a bottle of flavored water and some Skittles, he chattered happily about anything and everything.  If I wasn’t listening, I would have missed his observation that the entrance sidewalk at the Warren Theater is, in his words, “…….twinkle stone.  Does it have jewelry in it, Mom?”

I had to pause in my heart and smile.  As we drove to meet his group, I told him that I was sorry about my attitude that morning.  He didn’t say a word, but I  know he filed that apology in his mind.  I needed to say it and he needed to hear it from his grouchy mother this morning.  Later, at Sassy Nails, I sat across from a stranger – another mom – while our toes dried.  We talked and she shared how her sister had died of cancer, and how through it all she had blessings to be thankful for.  This woman, this mom, this sister, had no idea about how much I needed to hear those words.  How easy it is to let the slight troubles of my life ruin my disposition and take my mind off the Lord!

So I have counted my blessings for the rest of the day:
1.  The spilled coffee matches the carpet, especially in the dim light.
2.  A coffee smell on the stairs beats a dog smell any day.
3.  The living room needed to be mopped anyway.
4.  My new pink toes hopefully took the doctor’s eyes away from my bad hair.
5.  I do have hair.
6.  It may be 107 degrees outside, but we have working AC inside.
7.  It may be 107 degrees outside, but I don’t have to be outside working.
8.  It may be 107 degrees outside, but we have water for our thirsty garden.
9.  Our neighbors have to  move for various hard reasons, and the man taking pics of their house this morning wasn’t taking pics of our house.
10.  I have a faithful God; loving husband and children; and Aaron to remind me of what’s important.

And I have forgiveness – God’s forgiveness – and even Aaron’s forgiveness……..unspoken but there none the less.