Aaron and The Wedding

 

Two weeks ago we had…a WEDDING!!!  Our first wedding!!!

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Our daughter, Andrea, was wed to Kyle Kester in a perfectly beautiful outdoor ceremony at the Texas home of Kyle’s grandparents.  It had rained a lot there, even the morning of the wedding; but God told all the weather forecasters that He was sorry to spoil their forecast…that He had lots of people praying for no rain, so no rain it was. 

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It was a small wedding, the way Andrea and Kyle wanted it, and was full of close friends and family who helped with everything and shared in our joy.  Even my brother, John, married them…and his wife, Jeanie, was the coordinator. 

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Family.  When all is said and done, is there anything or anyone more precious to us than family?  And especially at an event as special as a wedding, family is there.  The pictures are taken, the hugs shared, the laughter abounding.  Family love is everywhere during a wedding.

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Yet when all the wedding photographs are finally ours to see and enjoy, we will look at our family wedding picture and have one missing member. 

Aaron.

Aaron could have been there…and yet he couldn’t.  Let me go back in time and explain.

Kyle, from the first time he walked into our house nearly three years ago, was a natural with Aaron.  We love that about Kyle.  He is patient…treats Aaron as an equal…knows how to talk to Aaron…and knows when to redirect Aaron more than most people do at this stage in their relationship. 

Aaron has a very close relationship with Andrea.  Aaron is the older by 18 months, but he still sees Andrea in somewhat of a mother role in his life.  He loves to talk to her on the phone, almost always about himself, but still he wants to tell her everything about his current movie or game or activity. 

But two things happened when Kyle came into this perfect picture.  The first thing is that, to Aaron, Kyle was taking Andrea away from him. 

“I still want Andrea to be my sister!” Aaron exclaimed when he realized that Kyle just might be here to stay.  We explained and explained, over and over, that nothing would change…that Andrea would still be his sister, forever…and that she would still come to visit, and we could go visit her.  And that if they got married, he would gain a wonderful brother!

The second thing that happened to Aaron was the process of figuring out just who Kyle would be in our family, and particularly who Kyle would be to him…to Aaron.  Aaron struggles with just who is who in family relationships.  He may meet a couple and later say that the man is the woman’s dad, not her husband.  Uncles, aunts, and cousins are completely impossible for him to understand.  And brother-in-law?  Forget it!!

Aaron wants to forget in more ways than one! 

“I don’t NEED a grand-brother!!!” he blurted out one day as he expressed disapproval over the upcoming marriage. 

We didn’t even tell him that a “grand-brother” isn’t a thing. 

Many of Aaron’s thoughts about all this marriage business, and the dynamic driving his thoughts, will hopefully be the stuff of another blog one day.  Back to our decision now about Aaron and him coming to the wedding…

Andrea called late one Saturday night last December with the very happy news that this had happened:

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 Kyle and Andrea’s engagement was not unexpected at all, but the reality of it was cause for so much joy.  We were happy, happy, happy!! 

Yet with Aaron, we were slow to tell him the great news.  We knew that he would not be happy, happy, happy.  The next day, on Sunday afternoon, we told him what he suspected to be true…that Andrea and Kyle were engaged to be married.

Not long after, I looked out the window and this is what I saw.

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 Aaron was crunching up mulch.  This is his long-standing way of relaxing…of unwinding…of thinking…of dealing with stress. 

My heart just went out to him as I looked at him sitting there, alone with his mulch and his thoughts.  How difficult it was, and would continue to be, for him to adjust to this huge change looming in his relationship with Andrea.

I opened that door of my heart and I cried.  I cried off and on that whole afternoon…some happy tears for the engagement…some sad tears for the reality that is always Aaron.

My thoughts had already, for months, turned to how we would fit Aaron into a wedding.  Initially, I tried to figure out ways that we could make it work, having a wedding down in Texas where we wouldn’t have someone who could help us with Aaron.  I knew that Kyle’s sweet family would do whatever they could to help us.  But still…

A couple weeks after the engagement, everyone was home for Christmas.  We have such a fun time all together, laughing and eating and telling stories as we catch up.  But Aaron doesn’t have such a fun time.  He does for awhile, but then reality hits him.  He is not the center of our time and attention.  He must vie for his place, take his turn talking, and eventually come to the dawning conclusion that our interest in aliens and nanomites and volcanoes and outer space is waning after several hours…and most definitely after several days.

Then there is all the hilarity as we laugh and tease and hug.  The cherry on top is our annual Christmas Eve Bingo game, with gifts to be won or to be stolen…loud and long…and miserable for Aaron.  He does not like parties…he does not like emotion, including too much laughter…he does not like Dad being goofy as he directs the game…and he does NOT like having his gifts stolen. 

It inevitably leads to what Andrew calls, “Aaron’s Annual Christmas Meltdown.” 

And it is not a tradition that we treasure. 

But this is who Aaron is, down to his core.  He can’t help it and he can’t change it…and certainly neither can we.

So when we were all here this past Christmas, while Aaron was occupied in his room and with Andrea’s beautiful diamond sparkling on her finger, we had a family wedding talk.  Specifically we had a “how do we fit Aaron into a family wedding” talk.  And the consensus was unanimous:  Aaron would not fit into a family wedding.

It sounds harsh, maybe.  Unbending on our part.  Heartless.

But you see, Aaron doesn’t see things like we do.  He has no emotional interest in family events like we do.  What matters to Aaron…is Aaron.  I say this a lot, but it’s because it’s totally true.  Aaron wouldn’t care about a wedding, on many levels, just as he never cared about family funerals or celebrations or anything else that was full of other’s emotions.

Emotions drive Aaron nuts.  So does having his routine disrupted…sharing attention with others…sleeping in strange places…and having to be around lots of noisy people who are not aliens.  He would love it if they were aliens, but they are not.  Just another bummer!

And what if Aaron was having a bad seizure day on the wedding day?  That would have been just awful.

So our only reason for having Aaron with us would be FOR us.  For us to say that Aaron was there.  For us to have the whole family together.  For us to have the photos taken (which Aaron would HATE, by the way). 

Andrea and Kyle’s wedding day was a day for them, and for both our families.  A day to relish each other and to enjoy every sweet moment to the fullest.  Aaron, honestly, would have made it impossible to do so.

Therefore, Aaron stayed back in Kansas.  Abigail “watched over” him, as Aaron says.  She and her fiancé Corey, and Abigail’s parents, David and Melissa, had tons of fun with Aaron.  At least I like to think it was tons of fun for them.  Ha!  It certainly was fun for Aaron. 

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And let’s not forget Gracie and Cosmo, who became Aaron’s furry friends.  He loved every minute of doggie licks and snuggles!

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We all live life wanting no regrets.  But when you have a child with special needs, especially behavioral issues, you sometimes must shift around your definition of “regrets.”  We do regret that Aaron couldn’t be at the wedding, but we don’t regret our wise decision to not make him attend an event that he would truly detest. 

Our special Aaron definitely makes our life unique and forces us to sometimes make very difficult decisions.  Often the best decision for Aaron, though, is the hardest decision for us to make, but Aaron’s needs and his happiness is what must come first.   

And trust me, we’ve all learned that lesson the hard way over the years…more times than I can say. 

Now the holidays are right around the corner, and we’re about to see how Aaron handles his new…

GRAND-BROTHER!!! 

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Parts and Pieces

I walked out into the garage the other day and this caught my eye.

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What is this?  It certainly looks like a small trash can that contains little pieces of paper.  It is that, but it is also much more.  So much more, at least to me. 

You see, this trash can holds the small pieces of paper that are left when Aaron cuts out a coupon for me.  Aaron cuts out the Sunday coupons every Sunday, rain or shine, do or die.  He has quite the coupon cutting routine going on as he positions everything just right.  His pillow on which he sits, his coffee beside him, a particular pair of scissors that are used ONLY for coupons, the coupon box…it’s all placed just so-so before the cutting process even starts.

Then he methodically cuts each coupon on the dotted lines (more or less), and if there is final perfecting needing to be done…if the dotted line cutting isn’t quite accurate enough…then he will continue to cut around the coupon that he is holding until it is just right.  Thus he has small strips of paper that fall to the floor in front of him. 

These strips of paper cannot just be scooped up and thrown away.  No, no!!  He carefully takes each thin strip of paper and cuts it into even smaller pieces as he holds it over his little trash can.  For weeks and weeks, these paper strips pile up inside his green trash can until finally, someday…when the can is very full…Aaron, and only Aaron, will decide to throw them away and start all over. 

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When I glanced at the familiar trash can that day, seeing all the colors and sizes of papers inside, I immediately thought that this is such a true picture of Aaron himself.  There are so many parts and pieces of Aaron, just as all of us have parts and pieces, but Aaron’s are truly unique because of his autism.  Looking at all the pieces of what makes Aaron…Aaron…gives much understanding of what makes him tick.  Maybe it will also give all of us some needed understanding of so many others who are one-of-a-kind special people, yet similar in many ways as well. 

Let me give you some examples of our Aaron’s parts and pieces.

I’ll start with coupons.  Sometimes I will put a Dillon’s coupon in the red coupon box.  If I haven’t had time to sort the coupons by the following Sunday, this is where I will find the Dillon’s coupon. 

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It’s under the bench beside him.  This is because Dillon’s coupons are odd to Aaron and don’t belong with regular coupons. 

This way of thinking is also why I found these a few days ago.

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These are Skittles, but not just any Skittles.  They are misshapen in some way, so Aaron won’t eat them.  To the side they go, to be later thrown away.

This same Aaron principle is why I sometimes find pieces of food on a napkin, set aside by Aaron to be thrown away instead of eaten.  Usually this part of his food is shunned because it’s too crisp.  He can’t just push it aside on his plate.  It must be completely removed from the plate.

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Aaron must nearly always have a spoon and fork when he eats, even if he’s eating a finger food that requires neither.  And multiple napkins, for sure!

Aaron always, always has a salad when we eat in a restaurant.  Often the salad is served on a plate, which he never minds at all.  But here at home, salad must be in a bowl.  One night I suggested that he eat his salad on a plate, to make it easier.  He stood by the table, staring at the offending plate, and then told us that he just wouldn’t eat salad that night.  He wasn’t angry…just very matter of fact.  So I got out his bowl and he ate his salad. 

Aaron enjoys watching Wheel of Fortune at 6:30, after supper.  One evening I asked him if he was going to watch, and he said yes, so I told him to turn on the TV.  He paused.  Why?  Because it was 6:25…and Aaron will NOT turn on the TV for Wheel of Fortune until 6:28.   Yes, you read that correctly.  6:28.  On.  The.  Dot.

6:25 was a ridiculous idea.  Aaron stood there, staring at the clock for a few seconds before his eyes riveted back to the television screen, black because it was OFF.  Clock.  Screen.  Clock.  Screen.

Finally, he spoke.  “Should I turn it on at 6:27?” he cautiously asked.

I took this event as seriously as he did as I told him that I would turn it on, so he ventured out and did just that. 

VICTORY!!!  At least for that one night. 

He wants to only eat lunch at 12:00 on the weekends when he’s home, or maybe after…but NOT before 12:00.  I asked him one Saturday if he wanted to eat lunch and he said yes.  Then he stopped and looked at the clock.  He then said no to lunch.  I knew why, but I asked him anyway.

“It’s 11:48,” he replied patiently to his silly mom.  “I’ll eat at 12:00.”

I’ve watched him sitting on his bed carefully watching his clock before writing his time-to-bed in the log that he faithfully keeps.  As soon as the clock is precisely on the next minute, he will write down the time.  Or I’ve seen him write down the time, look at the clock as it suddenly is on the next minute, and then watch as he scribbles through the time he wrote in order to put down the exact minute. 

And when Aaron watches a DVD, he watches it from the very beginning to the VERY end…all the credits…EVERY single line and word.  He does the same with a book, reading the very first page, the table of contents, and ending with the index in the back. 

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I’ll never forget how I learned that about Aaron.  Years ago, he was reading one of his Handy Answer books and he came to me with a question.  “Mom, what does http/www. ,mean?”  I asked him to show me what he was talking about, so he showed me the very end of the book with all the references to various web sites.  Even after I told him what it was, and that he didn’t have to read that, he continued to read every single one. 

Living with Aaron can be so many things because of his many parts and pieces.  It can be hilarious, fascinating, entertaining, demanding, frustrating, and maddening.  All in one day!!

And just as there are outward displays of his varied parts and pieces, there are many inner examples of Aaron’s unique design.  His way of thinking…of processing life…of feeling valued, or not…of feeling important, or not.  Those parts of Aaron are sometimes very difficult to predict, to understand, and to handle correctly. 

It’s his inward desires that, if unmet, are often understood better by us only after angry eruptions on his part.  This is very typical of those with autism.  Aaron already has a hard time talking to us about his feelings or desires, but it IS those very feelings and desires that drive him to outbursts of anger and resentment. 

So again, we are seen trying to fit together another aspect of Aaron…more parts and pieces, like his coupon pieces, that demand to be seen and understood for what they are. 

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We have been a party to this inner part of Aaron for some time now as it relates to his sister falling in love.  Andrea and Kyle will be married next month, so this occasion has opened a whole new door to us…and especially to Aaron.  Matters of the heart actually open all sorts of doors.  It’s been a very interesting, and sometimes very sad, process…one that I will write more about later. 

One that has plenty of parts and pieces of its own!  Stay tuned! 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mentioning It

On our way to Aaron’s day group this morning, we started listening to Aaron’s current music choice – The Best of Alabama.  Aaron LOVES listening to music while we drive, unless he’s talking non-stop…which means he will stop the CD, say his piece, start the CD, stop the CD to say more, start the CD, stop it again. 

You get the idea. 

He will often, after those stops and starts, decide to push the button that takes the CD back to the beginning of the song.

“I couldn’t hear it, Mom.  You were talking,” he explains.

ME???!!!

And Aaron doesn’t seem to notice at all my long sigh or my rolling eyes.  His eyes are staring straight ahead out the front windshield as he is absorbed in the song.  If the song is one of his very favorites, he will work his finger magic – rubbing his hands together and doing his unique finger work, sometimes very briskly and with a huge smile on his face.  Other times he is slow and methodical.  Here’s a video:

 

 

In the van, he usually holds his hands up high enough for people driving beside us to see his hands.  He honestly looks like a mad scientist hatching a new experiment.  I wonder what the other car occupants think as they see Aaron.

I wonder what lots of people think as they see Aaron.

I know what I think.  Well, actually, my thoughts depend on many things.  But on a normal day…normal for us, that is…I think that Aaron is pretty amazing and often very funny.

Autism is like that.  We have levels of amazement mixed with levels of laughter thrown in with levels of frustration.

Aaron is the constant.  He is the reason for these levels that we experience. 

Our constant…Gary and me…must be God and each other as we handle the other constant – Aaron.

So back to the Alabama music.  The first song was “Gone Country.”  Aaron was his usual excited self as he did his hand and finger thing while we drove down the road. 

“He’s gone country,” Jackson sang, “look at them boots.  He’s gone country, back to his roots.  He’s gone country,…”

Finally, Aaron said with some exasperation, “He keeps mentioning it!!”

HaHaHa!!! 

Aaron, of course, was paying attention to each word and those repeated words were getting on his nerves!

Now this is particularly funny to me because if there is anyone on planet earth who keeps “mentioning it,” it would be Aaron.

For instance, just after Aaron observed the repetition in Jackson’s song, we passed a little motel.

“That’s a motel,” Aaron flatly said.  I knew exactly where he was going with this because Aaron has observed that there are motels, but there are also hotels.  He has talked hotel and motel into the ground, but he can’t resist the urge to keep “mentioning it.”  We have looked up the definitions of motel and hotel, too.  Anything to explain it to Aaron, trust me.

I mean, who would even notice that?

Aaron would…and he did.

“There’s another motel,” he continued as we passed one. 

“There’s a hotel,” he then said seconds later.

And a couple miles down the road, I heard him soberly say, “Inn.”

Yes, we drove by an inn.  Great!  Now we have a new word in the mix!

Again, he didn’t notice me shaking my head.

There are times that Aaron does notice the messages that our bodies are sending.  Those times usually occur when Aaron is angry or on the verge of anger.  And often what he thinks he sees is nothing that we have done on purpose.  I probably see this more in the mornings than any other time.  That’s because if Aaron wakes up on the wrong side of the bed, he is hyper vigilant and sensitive to every word and every movement that comes from me.  I can be as flat in my reactions as possible, but invariably something will catch Aaron’s eye.

I saw this one morning when Aaron trudged into the kitchen, instantly saying that he was tired and that he didn’t want to go to Paradigm.  My affect was unemotional as I told him I was sorry, and then proceeded to get his coffee.  I have no idea what I did, but Aaron saw something.

“You make weird hand signals,” he commented.

And I knew that I needed to just go about my business, not responding or arguing or asking for an explanation.

I especially knew it later when in his bedroom Aaron got in one more parting shot as I walked away.

“Weird hand signals lady!” he said with more energy.

Talk about “mentioning it!”  Aaron won’t let these issues go easily, but if I comment it’s like throwing gasoline on a fire.  He drank his coffee while I got ready, and later he was fine.  No more mention of my weird hand signals.

And trust me, the irony was not lost on me as we drove to Paradigm later and he rubbed his hands together with delight during a favorite song.

Weird hand signals, huh? 

Aaron wanted to stay home one day this week.  He was tired after some intestinal issues the day before, but still he could have gone.  I didn’t push it, though, but he knew I wasn’t happy about it.

“You’re being quiet toward me,” he observed. 

It’s good for him to know that…good for him to see the effect that HE has on us…and good for him to verbalize it. 

The next day, he did go to Paradigm but he wasn’t very happy again first thing in the morning.  As he wearily talked to me in the kitchen, and I responded, he was eyeing me carefully through his tired eyes.

“Mom!” he blurted out.  “Stop doing things with your funny eyes!!”

I had to hide my funny eyes and face at that one.  I was thankful that he walked away so that I could at least smile largely. 

A trip to Dillon’s on our way to Paradigm that morning cheered him up tremendously.  Talk about things to notice and things to mention!  Dillon’s is full of possibilities.

And did he ever find a big one!  As I checked out his pack of gum he found, he had walked away…and soon I heard this.

“MOM!!  Can I put this in my bedroom??!!”

Everyone else turned with me to see Aaron carrying this huge thing.

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Others smiled and laughed with me, little children were looking up with wonder at loud Aaron holding this large spider, and the screen behind Aaron said, “Monitoring in Progress.” 

As if seeing this in person isn’t enough, we were also on the monitor screen!

So I paid for his gum, walked back to the Halloween shelf with Aaron, and together we also looked at all the varieties of spider skeletons, dinosaur skeletons, bird skeletons, and on and on…with lots of laughter mixed in!

Speaking of “mentioning it,” Aaron told Gary all about it and our next door neighbor and the boys across the street.  He talked and talked about it during the evening. 

Aaron thinks it’s ok for him to keep “mentioning it,” whatever “it” is at the moment.  Over and over and over and over, until Gary and I have glazed eyes and tired ears. 

But have I mentioned that Aaron sure can make us laugh and sure can make us see a side of life that we would otherwise miss?

THAT is worth mentioning over and over and over and over.

P.S.  By the way, the phrase “gone country” occurs 21 times in Alan Jackson’s song.  I know because I came home, looked it up, and counted it. 

You’re welcome, Aaron.     

Or should I say, “Thank you, Aaron!”  😊

 

 

Going Home

 

 

 

Gary and I just returned this past week from a most wonderful trip back home…home being the Smoky Mountains of western North Carolina, and the Appalachian Mountains of southern West Virginia.  We are both mountain born and bred.  Now we live in a different kind of beauty surrounded by southern Kansas farm fields and beautiful skies.  But when we go home to where we were “reared,” as we say back there, our hearts are stirred by our mountains…and more so, by the family we love even more than those hills and valleys of home.

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The reason for this trip began because of my one and only brother, John.  We four sisters love blaming our only brother for lots of things, so we’ll lay this one on him as well.  John has retired from 45 years of pastoring, the last 28 years being at our former home church in Princeton, West Virginia.  Johnston Chapel Baptist Church is where all five of us King kids grew up, both physically and more important, spiritually.  So there were many, many reasons why going home on this trip was so special to all of us.  And as I said before my sisters and I sang on Sunday morning, “Any time there’s a celebration about getting rid of John, we’ll be there!!”

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But as we all planned this special weekend, the trip morphed into much more than only John and Jeanie’s celebration day.  We added on a Hollandsworth cousin’s reunion on Saturday before the Heritage Sunday service.  Then Gary and I tagged on a couple extra days so that we could spend time with his sister and family in western North Carolina.  Aaron stayed home in Kansas with our friend, Casady, watching over him.

Gary and I flew into Atlanta, and then drove up to Bryson City in steady rain.  Even with the rain and the low-lying clouds, the mountains were so pretty.  I love the drive, and I love the stories Gary tells as we pass by little old mountain roads that wind up to sights unseen from the highway.  Stories of his youth, with certain details untold, I’m quite sure.

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How good to see his sister, Sandra, and his Aunt Mary Leah!  We had two nights there, the second evening being joined by Gary’s cousin Nita, and her husband Charles.  Such delicious country cooking, Sandra’s specialty!  And such fun conversation and sweet fellowship!

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On Friday we made our way to Weaverville, NC, where we visited the dear woman who was married to Gary’s dad – twice! – and about whom I wrote a blog earlier this year.  (The Last Puzzle Piece )   Leo is so dear to our hearts, being responsible for getting Gary and his dad to finally meet after decades of never knowing each other…and allowing our children to know their other Grandpa.  Ray died two months before my dad passed away.

IMG957830Gary and I were very happy to spend a little time with Leo and her daughter Jonni, along with Sandra and Mary Leah.  Leo is on Hospice, so our time with her was extra precious.

 

 

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Then up to Winston-Salem, NC, to visit with Gary’s Uncle Jay and Aunt Teetle.  We love them so much!  Jay and Teetle added Gary to their family of four boys during Gary’s junior and senior years of high school.  Oh, the stories they could tell!  They hold a very dear place in Gary’s heart, and mine as well.

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We then drove a few miles to spend some time with our wonderful friends from way back – Bucky and Janet.  Janet and I were college roommates but knew each other before then as we went to summer youth camp together.  How fun it was to get together, to catch up with life and kids, to laugh a lot, to see their son Whitson on his dinner break from the Sheriff’s department, and to thank the Lord for healing Janet’s cancer.

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Next we headed for West Virginia, taking a detour on old curvy mountain roads in the dark so that we could avoid long waits on the interstate due to construction.  Those roads brought back many memories to me of multiple trips to college, the many turns and the small towns and the rock cliffs all a part of me from decades gone by.  But before we left the interstate, Pilot Mountain loomed before us as always – this time its top covered with clouds, making this old mountain sentinel look eerily beautiful.

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I began the day on Saturday with my dear high school friend, Karen.  We caught up over breakfast, somewhat.  Time always goes too fast but how much it meant to both of us to see each other again!

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Saturday was a wonderful day – our Cousin’s Reunion!  Bob and Jan, my sister and her husband, did a fantastic job of orchestrating this day.  First we drove in a large rented van to Welch, West Virginia, through small mountain towns…towns ravaged by the downturn in the coal industry over the years.

Trains are the lifeblood of this state.  My dad spent his life working for the railroad, and my niece’s husband is carrying on that tradition.  Coal is coming back, so maybe hope will return as well to these little struggling mountain towns.

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We cousins have reconnected due to Facebook.  It’s been so much fun to get to know one another again and was especially sweet to actually hug one another on this day…and talk and talk and talk.  Our grandparents, Guy and Lillian Hollandsworth, raised their children…our parents…in the town of Welch.

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Their house no longer stands, destroyed by one of Welch’s many floods.  But the school where Grandpa was the principal is still there.  We talked about how amazing it was that so many of his grandchildren were now standing in view of his school…the school our parents attended.

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That evening, more cousins came into town.  We enjoyed dinner together, and desserts at Bob and Jan’s house.  So much laughter, catching up, shared memories, and new ones being made!

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Sunday was Heritage Sunday for the church, as well as celebration day for John and Jeanie, and their family.

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What a very touching service, listening to so many testimonies about how John and Jeanie have cared for and shepherded this dear church.

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Jan’s girls, two sets of twins, sang beautifully.

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And we King Sisters tried to, as well, after many years of NOT singing.  We so missed our youngest sister, Kathryn, unable to come because of health issues.

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There was dinner on the grounds after the service.  No one puts on a spread like church members, especially in the south!

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It was just awesome to see so many old friends from my growing up years at Johnston Chapel!  So many hugs and smiles and memories!  Won’t heaven be wonderful?!

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It was over all too soon.  Everyone had to go back to their homes and jobs.  Gary and I drove back to Bryson City, relishing our sunny mountains on this drive…and relishing time with Sandra before flying back to Kansas…our other home.

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There is a bond with family that is unlike any other.  No amount of time apart or number of miles between can take away the shared connection of family.  And old friends have a connection nearly as strong as family.

It’s largely a matter of roots.  Our roots are imbedded in the ground of our youth…our growing-up years…our family and friends.  It’s where we are from, and it’s also who we are.  It’s the part of us that only our family and old friends truly know.  Going back to the place of my roots…to the people whose roots are entwined with mine…was, and always is, a nurturing time for me.  A time of thankfulness, refreshment, and peace.  A time never lasting long enough.

I love the song about home that Celtic Thunder sings.

“Home, I’m going home.  Home to the people I left behind. 

            Home to the love I know I’ll find.  Oh, take me home.”

 

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Feeling The Lines

Aaron walked into the kitchen the other night and my eyes were drawn to his feet.  Why?  Because this is what I saw.

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I poked Gary with my hand and motioned for him to look, and then we both stifled our laughter.

“Aaron?” I asked.  “Why are you wearing your slipper socks that way?”

“Because I get tired of feeling the lines,” he answered, matter-of-factly.

Who cares about the safety factor of non-skid lines NOT being on the bottom of your feet where they belong, right?  Comfort was most important to Aaron, as it always is…not safety, and certainly not style.

Comfort in areas other than clothing is also very necessary to Aaron.  However, these “other” areas are sometimes a mystery to us.  Or they are areas in which we know Aaron struggles because of his autism but are also situations over which we have no control.  And, I might add, over which Aaron has no control.  No matter how much we wish he did, or think he certainly could or should, he just doesn’t have the ability to corral his emotions and frustrations like a typical person does.

Here’s an example:  Aaron and I were recently in Longhorn Steakhouse for lunch before one of his doctor appointments.  There was a table near us where several businessmen sat.  They were having a normal conversation, but one of the men in particular was rather loud.  When his animated voice was combined with the normal give and take of the other men, their voices at times overtook our area.

I saw Aaron’s eyes dart over to their table several times.  Soon I knew that Aaron was bothered by the sound of their talking, especially the louder man.  They would talk, and laugh, and talk and laugh some more.  Finally, Aaron was downright staring at them, so I told him to stop doing that.

“Why do I need to stop?” he asked.

“Because you need to mind your own business,” I told him.

“How can I mind my own business?!” he impatiently answered.  “They’re talking and laughing!  I can’t stand it!!”

I was proud of Aaron for verbalizing his feelings to me.  I was also nervous that he would tell those men to be quiet, as he has done in other situations.  But he didn’t do that, thankfully, and I was able to keep him engaged in our own conversation about movies and aliens and other subjects that were far more valuable to him than all that silly, loud business talk!

Sometimes the slightest nuances can trigger Aaron.  Sometimes what triggered him yesterday might not trigger him today.  Or what upset him today is something that he laughed at yesterday.  We just never totally know or can predict with accuracy when his anger will erupt…or simmer.

This is one of the very most difficult parental aspects of raising a child…or having an adult…with the behavior issues associated with autism.  And even when you have had smooth sailing for a while, a storm can always be on the near horizon.

Another example:  Last week Aaron got out of bed and came into the kitchen.  I don’t remember what I said or did, but I think I told him good morning and I said it with a face that was a little more alert and happy than Aaron wanted at that moment.

He looked at me with bleary eyes, no expression at all, and then flatly said, “I wanted a normal face.”

And I knew, as well as I knew that the sun was shining outside, that Aaron was very irritated.  I mean, it was really pretty funny that he wanted a “normal face.”  But I know him well and I knew that if I laughed then I would be in for a very rough morning.

So I just turned away…and therefore he couldn’t see my rolling eyes and my smile…and I made no comment.  Sometimes silence…my silence…is definitely golden.

But my silence was also to him, at that moment, a cause for further frustration.

“How about if I tell Sarah about your face?!” he said with challenge in his voice.

Sarah is one of the staff at his day group.  Aaron thought that I would not like him to tell Sarah about my abnormal morning face.

Oh, Aaron!  Here we go, I thought.  So I poured his coffee and escaped to my shower, door closed on both Aaron and his unpredictable anger.  Thankfully, by the time I was ready to go a while later, he was over his mad spell and all was well.  Plus, I don’t think Sarah ever knew about my weird face…but if she did, I’m sure she smiled behind Aaron’s back as well.

My friend, Wendy, texted me yesterday about her particularly rough time with their Elijah the night before.  She went to see a play that her other children were in.

“I thought I had my props ready, the stage set, E primed and ready for our outing…but oh, no.  It couldn’t be that easy.”

She went on to tell me that he wanted to take his hot chips and his balls into the theater, how he ran in front of a car, how he sat and very loudly crunched his chips, and how humiliated she was.

How I wanted to hug my friend!!  How well I understand how she felt!!

We have had those terribly embarrassing and difficult moments with Aaron over the years.  In fact, when Aaron attended the day school here for special needs students, we got a phone call one night from his amazing teacher.  Mr. Z told us that Aaron had won the Student of the Week award for best exemplifying the classes’ word of the week, which I believe was “patience.”  He told us that Aaron would receive the award the next day, and that he just wanted us to know about it before it happened.

Gary and I were amazed and thrilled!!!  I felt like Aaron had won a Nobel prize!!  I hurried down to the family room to tell Andrea and Andrew.

“Guys!!!” I excitedly started.  “Aaron is winning the Student of the Week award tomorrow!!!  Guess what the word of the week is?!!”

And without skipping even a beat, Andrea answered, “Hateful?”

We laughed and laughed and laughed.  Of course, Aaron wasn’t there to hear any of this.  But really, that was a true question.  Andrea and Andrew had endured many experiences like Wendy described with Elijah.

At times, Aaron and Elijah just cannot stand to “feel the lines.”  None of the rest of us mind the lines at all.  In fact, we don’t even see the lines.  But our boys do…and so do many, many others who struggle with the issues of autism, be it noises or lights or people or social situations or food or any one of dozens of other frustrating cues that only they see and feel.

So, if you’re out somewhere and you see a meltdown happening, and you see a desperate and exhausted parent, and very humiliated siblings – please don’t assume that this eruption is a result of bad parenting.  Don’t assume anything.  Just give a smile, lend a hand if needed or possible, show some understanding instead of judgment, and pray for that family as you walk away.

And know that in that paralyzing moment of public shame, every parent would look at you and say with Aaron:

“I just wanted a normal face.”

 

 

 

 

My Crazy Start

022419-061718It was a hot June 18 in Princeton, West Virginia, WAY back in 1955. Beth King was busy watching over her three children, ages 4 and under, as well as preparing for her parents to arrive from Florida. Her husband, Jack, was at work and so she busily got the house and dinner ready for her family to arrive. Oh, and someone else was getting ready to arrive, too. Beth was 9 months pregnant! And so in her typical hard-working fashion, she decided to tackle one more task that needed to be done. Grabbing the lawn mower, she set out to mow the large yard. She was barefoot – after all, this WAS West Virginia!

 

After mowing awhile, Beth ran in to check on the dinner in the oven. She had made a specialty of hers – Cheese Souffle – and knew that she needed to watch its rising very carefully. Bending over, she slowly opened the oven door and received quite a surprise. Her water broke!!

 

I don’t remember all the details at that point – I was the one about to be born – but I can imagine that there was much rushing around and changing of plans and phone calls and getting to the hospital!

 

Dr. Pace had to be called in from a family picnic on this beautiful summer Saturday. I had no concern for other’s plans, only my own! Dr. Pace was wearing a very bright Hawaiian shirt and didn’t have time to Patty as a baby with siblingschange because I was in a hurry. Mother had green feet from mowing the lawn. And so I was born, looking at green feet and a bold Hawaiian shirt.

 

Does this explain me to all of you? It should.

 

And guess what my favorite meal is, the one that Mom always made for me when I would come home from college or from being around the world as a military wife? Cheese Souffle, of course!!

 

I love you, Mom, for giving me life on this day 63 years ago – strange as it was!

Singing We Go

Aaron LOVES listening to CD’s when we drive places…and yes, we still use CD’s in our van, and sometimes in our kitchen, because we’re old and our van is old and Aaron LOVES CD’s. 

Why does he love CD’s?  Well, he can hold the case and look at the title of each song that is playing, as well as the number of the song on the back of the case.  This is orderly and sensible, which makes great sense to Aaron. 

It’s pretty hilarious, actually, to watch Aaron go through this process, and to hear his voice.  He watches the CD player in the van, for instance, and as soon as the number of the song pops up, he then repeats the number to me and tells me the song title.  It doesn’t matter that I haven’t asked for this information.  He gives it anyway.

The current CD that we are playing becomes his sole focus for however long it takes us to finish this CD.  It’s usually several days, so for that period of time we hear all about the singer or the group.  Again, it doesn’t matter that we haven’t asked for this information.  We will get it anyway, an any time of the day or night. 

At this moment in time, Aaron is listening…again…to Ronnie Milsap.  He adores Ronnie Milsap.  He knows all about Ronnie Milsap…where he was born (near Gary’s hometown!)…his childhood…his blindness…and definitely his songs!  And I can’t tell you how many times Aaron has said, “Mom, when Ronnie Milsap sings, he goes like this!”  At which time Aaron jerks his head around just like Ronnie Milsap does, because Aaron has watched him on YouTube and has keenly observed Ronnie Milsap’s head jerking and swaying as he keeps time to the music.  But when Aaron copies those movements, it’s quite hilarious…and to people in cars beside us, it’s probably quite puzzling.

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Another musical trait that Aaron displays, proudly and loudly at times, is to sing a main phrase of the last song that he has heard before we exit the van.  There was the day, etched into my memory, when the last song that was playing before we entered Wal-Mart was Shania Twain’s classic, “Man!  I Feel Like a Woman!”  So yes, Aaron walked around Wal-Mart singing…more like saying…with his unexpressive and flat voice, “Man!  I feel like a woman!” 

That was a very interesting day.

Aaron had a doctor appointment today, so I decided that it was a good day for a morning haircut and beard trim on our way to lunch.  We drove to Great Clips, and on our way Ronnie Milsap was singing.  Aaron reached down between our seats to grab the CD, look at the number displayed on the CD player, and then match the number to the title index on the back of the CD box. 

“Number 6,” Aaron intoned.  “All Together Now Let’s Fall Apart,” he read with no expression. 

We soon sat in Great Clips after confirming our on-line check-in.  Aaron was ready for his hair cut NOW, but I told him that we needed to sit and wait…that it wouldn’t be long. 

I hoped.

Soon another customer entered and walked up to the counter.  Aaron immediately thought that she would delay his haircut.  In disgust, he uttered his favorite saying lately.

“Oh, puhleeeese!” he muttered.

“Aaron!” I then muttered close to his ear.  “Don’t say that!”

So I began tickling his back, which always calms him, and sometimes gives me hope that he’ll be quiet.

Then another customer entered.

“Oh no!!” Aaron said. 

Now I was REALLY tickling his back, pushing him down so that I had better access, and also so that his face and mouth were facing the floor!

He then decided to sing.

“All together now, let’s fall apart,” he spoke/sang in his usual monotone. 

No joke, I thought!! 

But soon his hair cut was done, lunch at Longhorn was happily completed, and we ran home for a few minutes.  I needed to let Jackson out to potty, and I also had another chore to do…a bit of a yucky one.

Aaron had informed me, just before we left for Great Clips, that he MIGHT have wet a little…maybe just a little…in his bed during the night.  It wasn’t a seizure, but instead a result of TOO much water before bed.  He has been read the riot act on that, by the way.

More of the story and the extent of the damage was found just before we left, with no time to clean it up.  I couldn’t stay too irritated for too long, though, when at Longhorn Aaron agreed to ask the blessing before we ate.  He stretched his hand across the table for me to hold.

“Dear Lord,” he began.  “Help me not to pee in my bed again.  And thank you for this food.”

How could I stay mad?

So at home, I gathered up his bedding…ALL of it…his many covers included.  I examined the carpet, and then knelt down in the tight spot between his bed and the wall.  The spray bottle wouldn’t work at first, but eventually it did.  But my legs wouldn’t work well, either, as I struggled to get up.  Just then, I heard Aaron at his desk…singing…

“All together now, let’s fall apart,” he once again flatly sang.

He has no idea how my loud laughter made getting up off the floor even harder!!  And how much it helped dissolve my frustration.

I have two Ronnie Milsap songs that I have decided are Aaron’s songs, though he is clueless about them. 

The first one was playing in the kitchen last night. 

“Number 11,” Aaron said with no emotion.  “There’s No Getting Over Me,” he read. 

“That’s a funny name for a song,” he added.

But it’s a PERFECT song for YOU, Aaron!!  There’s no getting over you!! 

And I don’t want to, either!

The second song?  It was playing when we pulled into the driveway after his doctor visit today.  It’s on the second CD disk, in case you’re wondering.

“Number 1,” Aaron said, of course.  “I Wouldn’t Have Missed It For The World,” he finished.

BINGO!!