Special Aaron

 

No mother can ever forget the birth of their babies, each one so unique and completely amazing.  That first baby, though, holds a very tender place in a mother’s heart.  Our first baby was Aaron.  He wasn’t loved more than our other two children, but that first birthing experience was one of a mixture of fear and uncertainty that culminated in total wonder at the little squalling miracle lying in my arms.

A son!!  I remember a feeling washing over me that I had never experienced before.  Total love.  I knew that certainly no other woman could have ever felt as blessed and…well…as special as I did in those new moments of motherhood.  I know now that this wasn’t true, but you could never have convinced me otherwise during those first fresh days of holding my little son.

I examined him from the top of his fuzzy head to the very bottom of his wrinkled toes.  Every detail was so perfect.  He was so tiny and complete…wispy eyelashes, button nose, tee tiny little fingernails and toenails…just every single part was truly a work of art from God.

8eb0b-aaron1dayold

Lots of years have passed since my first introduction to motherhood in that old wooden WWII hospital at Fort Carson, Colorado.  So many details of Aaron’s future, unknown to us back in 1984, have woven themselves into our own future now.  Never, ever did we dream that our Aaron would continue to be defined as “special,” but now in the sense that we often call “Special Needs.”

Sometimes I still shake my head in disbelief at that title.

Yet there is no denying the reality of this path upon which God set our steps.  Aaron’s first seizure in Germany at the age of seven led us to a diagnosis of Epilepsy.  Seizures have never been out of the picture since that time other than for brief periods of reprieve.

Then later, at the age of 14, came the surprising diagnosis of autism…Asperger’s Syndrome.  This wasn’t a common condition at that time.  I didn’t even know what Asperger’s was.  But we’ve all learned along with Aaron just what it means to live with what we call “Special Needs.”

It’s very interesting to look up this word “special.”  It’s a word that we so routinely use that we don’t give it much thought.  So, I did just that…I looked up this special word in the dictionary…and I was touched by just what it means to be special.  Especially what it means to Aaron, and so to us as well.

 

SPECIAL:  Distinguished by some unusual quality.

Our family would laugh at this one, not because we’re cruel but because Aaron has LOTS of unusual qualities.  Many days I wish it was only one.  Some are funny; some are annoying; some he repeats over and over; some are loud; some are very embarrassing….

 

SPECIAL:  Readily distinguishable from others of the same category.

Well, that’s one way to put it.  He’s very readily distinguishable when he stops in the crosswalk at Wal-Mart and holds his arms up just to be sure that traffic knows to stop!  He’s totally distinguishable when I remind him to look UP as we leave the store and enter said crosswalk again so that he looks for traffic and not at his feet…and he stops in the middle of the crosswalk and looks up at the SKY!!

He’s also very likely to hover at the door of the nail salon like a stalker, watching the women getting their manis and pedis…fascinated by the smells and the sounds…but a little alarming as he curiously stares.

He whistles…he claps…he sings.  Or he stands in the little restaurant in the Wal-Mart entrance and delights in the fact that the attendant thinks he wants to order.

 

SPECIAL:  Being other than the usual.

Usual is so boring to Aaron.  Some days I wish for boring.  But Aaron does add a spark to life on most days.  Sometimes a raging fire, honestly.  Like Gary and I envisioned Friday evening in Cracker Barrel when Aaron decided to take the globe off the oil lamp…that was lit…with real fire.  All was well.  Nothing to see here, people at the table beside us.  Move on.

 

But there is also one more meaning to this word…this special word.  And this meaning is by far my very favorite.

 

SPECIAL:  Designed for a particular purpose.

You see, Aaron was indeed designed by God, just as much as all the other babies ever conceived.  He was designed for a particular purpose.  I don’t always live in that reality, especially on the hard days.  But I know deep in my heart that God made no mistakes with Aaron.  God’s sovereign hand made Aaron just the way he is.  It’s up to me to live in that knowledge, especially when I’m tired or upset or discouraged or embarrassed.

Honestly, one of the huge purposes that I’ve seen Aaron have in my life is to remind me of how much I need God.  How much I need His love and forgiveness and patience and strength.  How when I am weak, then God is strong FOR me and IN me.

 

Aaron reminds me to give:

IMG_0075

 

Aaron reminds me to love:

IMG_0111

 

Aaron reminds me to laugh:

IMG954226

 

WP_20170511_08_16_08_Pro

 

Aaron reminds me to enjoy life:

IMG_0254

 

WP_20180504_14_40_52_Pro

 

WP_20180823_15_54_06_Pro

 

Aaron reminds me to keep going when things are tough:

IMG_0248

 

WP_20170510_14_31_37_Pro

 

And God reminds me of these truths:

 

For You formed my inward parts; You wove me in my mother’s womb.

I will give thanks to You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.

Wonderful are Your works, and my soul knows it very well.

My frame was not hidden from You, when I was made in secret;

And skillfully wrought in the depths of the earth;

Your eyes have seen my unformed substance;

And in Your book were all written the days that were ordained for me,

When as yet there was not one of them.    (Psalm 139:13-16)

 

Aaron-mothers day 12May1985

WP_20180513_11_22_57_Pro (2)

My Special Needs

I hate Mom.

Those were the last words I heard Aaron mutter softly as he lay in his bed after a very rough evening.  I heard those words on the baby monitor that I keep on my nightstand so that I can hear seizures.  I would rather have heard a seizure, honestly. 

And I was so frustrated at his hurtful words that I picked up the monitor, pressed the talk button, and nearly…very nearly…spoke angry words that would have only exacerbated the situation on so many levels.  I am glad I didn’t.

Earlier in the evening I had written another funny clip about Aaron on Facebook.  I love sharing the very unique and humorous ways that Aaron speaks.  His take on the world can be side-splitting hilarious and so refreshing.

But he has another take on the world as well, and that take can take a huge toll on me and on Gary…and take every tiny ounce of patience that we have left in order not to erupt ourselves into verbal onslaughts that will match Aaron’s, word for word. 

I knew that we might be in for a rough night when Aaron was still playing a game on his computer after 9:00.  He’s usually downstairs long before then, hovering over me, waiting for me to finish whatever I am doing so that we can watch one of his TV shows on his DVD set.  But 9:00 came and went, with no return of Aaron who had previously asked me to assure him that we would watch a DVD at his precise, set time.

Upstairs I went, only to find him playing one of his favorite Lego Star Wars games on his computer.  When Aaron plays a game like this, he has a very hard time stopping it and saving it.  He must reach a certain point in the game, and in his mind, before he will turn it off.  For over an hour he kept repeating the same phrase, loudly: “I’m coming!!”  Over and over and over.

I knew better than to rush him, but I also knew that the clock was moving toward bedtime and not TV time.  We were in for it, I knew it…and I was right.

Aaron finally rushed downstairs and barreled into the family room, eyes wide and words rushing out. 

“Can we watch Bones, Mom?!!  Can we??!!”

I reminded him of the late hour, but he didn’t care one bit about that.  He was in such a tizzy.  And he could tell that I was tired and didn’t want to stay up late.  His whole nighttime routine was a wreck now, due to no fault of mine, but Aaron refused to take responsibility. 

Mom was mean.  Mom was dumb.  Mom didn’t care.  On and on.

He turned his DVD on.  Turned it off.  More yelling.  Turned it on.  Turned it off.  Asked if I was crying, over and over and over…for Aaron does NOT like to see me cry.  I wasn’t crying, but he didn’t believe me, so he stared and stared at me.  And he also does not like for me to make funny eye or facial movements, so he stood in front of me as I sat on the couch, demonstrating to me with his own face the looks from MY face that he would not tolerate.

It was just too much.  He looked so funny, really, that in my tiredness I did the forbidden…I laughed.  Aaron thought I was laughing AT him personally.  He erupted and we traveled even further downhill than we already were.

It was a wild hour after that.  He was in and out of his bedroom…in and out of bed…in and out of our bedroom.  He was calmer talking to Gary…angry talking to me.   Say goodnight, Mom…no, don’t say goodnight, Mom.  I don’t want your goodnight kiss…OK, I do want your kiss. 

He calmed when Gary came upstairs.  He let me hug and kiss him goodnight.  And then the soft, muttered words that I heard on the monitor…words that showed he was still upended and very frustrated. 

My calmness during the whole episode only seemed to fuel his flames.  The realistic, upset words I did say seemed to appeal to him more than soft kindness.  So strange how that works.  So strange how that complex brain of his works.

Seizures are honestly easier to handle than are the behaviors.  Seizures are scary and sad.  Behaviors are exhausting and often hurtful.  People feel sorry for seizures.  But behaviors…what do you do with behaviors? 

And behaviors leave me feeling like a very unfit special needs mother.  I am not above the anger and the lost patience that Aaron’s anger and lost patience trigger in me.  Then comes the guilt and regret.

I lay in bed last night, Gary’s calmness and nearness giving me comfort.  But my tension was strong, too, and sleep wouldn’t come.  My tossing and turning was keeping Gary awake, too, I knew.  I would relax and then thoughts would wash over me.  I would relax again and Aaron would stir, seeming to be restless as well. 

There are so many thoughts and emotions that go through my mind after these episodes, infrequent though they have been lately.  How could I have handled it differently?  What should I have said?  What should I have NOT said?  Guilt for not liking Aaron when he’s out of control.  On and on.

What I do know is that God is always there for me.  He heard me last night, there in the dark, praying and confessing and praising.  He knows my form.  He knows that I am human and that I am weak and that I need Him, totally.  He knows that I get frustrated and tired, and that I do love Aaron with all my heart.  And He knows that though I love Aaron, sometimes I don’t like him when he’s angry and full of hurtful…and hurting…words.

Being a mom of a child with special needs is never easy.  Some days…and happenings…make it harder than others. 

But then I think about God, and how often I am that child with special needs and how much He gives me His love and His grace. 

That’s the kind of parent I need to be with Aaron.  Forgiving him…understanding but not condoning…and opening my heart and my arms with love. 

I have no superior wisdom or strength.  I mess up…I give up…I look up.  And there I find God, always understanding and giving me grace. 

God’s a good Father to me, his special needs daughter.  I need all He gives to me and does for me, for I have nothing of my own.  He certainly didn’t choose me for this parenting role because of anything I have to bring to the table.  He chose me because…well, I don’t really know.  But what I DO know is that He is all-knowing about what is best, and that in all of this I see MY special needs every bit as much as I see Aaron’s.

And in the seeing, I am shown God’s great love and great grace and how His arms are always under me, bearing me up when I am at my weakest.  Which is often.

God loves me, His special needs daughter. 

And He will give me all that I need to do the same for Aaron, His special needs son that He entrusted to my feeble care. 

img_0073

 

 

 

Aaron’s Bowl of Normal

Walking through the family room the other day, I noticed something red sitting on the end table beside Aaron’s favorite chair.  I knew he had left his bowl of Hot Tamales on the table, but there was something else.  I stopped to look, and this is what I saw.

img_0166

Aaron had set aside these two Hot Tamales.  This is nothing new, so I knew exactly what it meant.  It meant that Aaron realized these two Hot Tamales were a different shape and size than his normal Hot Tamales.  To Aaron, they don’t fit into the bowl of regular candy.  They are not the norm.  They must be separated from the usual candy, sitting there until all his candy is finished, and then thrown away.  He will not eat them.  They are unacceptable to him. 

Our Christmas holiday is still a warm memory to me.  However, not every memory with Aaron is warm and fuzzy.  Those unusual Hot Tamales help explain our family dynamic perfectly.

Aaron both loves, and somewhat dreads, our Christmas celebration.  He loves the anticipation of opening his gifts.  He looks forward to time off from his day group…time to be at home relaxing and filling his days with whatever he wants.  He likes seeing what food I am making, hoping that some of his favorites are in the mix. 

However, Aaron’s autistic mind is also very aware that his structured schedule is about to change.  He knows that he will soon need to share his ordered world with Andrea and Kyle…with their three dogs…and with Andrew.  He even must share his bathroom, for crying out loud!  In his mind, he is already setting aside some of these daily issues much like he does his unacceptable Hot Tamales.  They are not the norm, so they are cast off mentally as being unpleasing…yet in this case, necessary.

Aaron in many ways looks forward to our family being together for Christmas, just as he looks forward to eating his candy that is poured into one of his ever-present bowls.  But soon comes along those pesky interruptions into his ordered life…interruptions that are very difficult for him to sort and to deal with properly.

Christmas Eve is most often the time for what Andrew calls “Aaron’s Annual Christmas Meltdown.”  We say this with a smile when Aaron doesn’t hear us, but we also say it with some dread for what might come. 

Two of our best Christmas traditions occur on Christmas Eve.  My favorite is the Christmas Eve service at our church.  Each year we ask Aaron to come, and each year he turns down our offer.  The large crowds…all the talking with strange people…some of the louder music…and having to sit quietly for such a long time…are all very stressful to Aaron.  We understand this, and we don’t push the issue.  We know better.  But each year I’m sad that our picture in front of one of the beautiful Christmas trees does not include our full family.

img_0123 (2)

When we get home from the Christmas Eve service, our other fun Christmas tradition takes place.  Christmas Bingo!!  Otherwise known as the usual cause for “Aaron’s Annual Christmas Meltdown.”  Our Christmas Bingo is fun and loud and unpredictable.  Aaron greatly dislikes loud, unpredictable fun…which to him is NOT fun!  This is why Aaron shuns parties of any kind.  He says that people act weird at parties.  Never mind that on any given day one may hear Aaron clapping or saying outlandish things as he watches a show or scratching himself openly in Wal-Mart.  Aaron sees his actions as totally fine, but when Gary acts goofy as he announces each Bingo card, Aaron’s frustrations grow and grow.  Add to that our laughter and joking, winning or NOT winning each round, prizes that disappoint…well, Aaron’s bowl of normal is quickly being emptied and he is usually simmering as the game progresses.

This year, Aaron joined us after we had played a couple rounds.  He hovered near the table, observing us and seeming to need time to gather his courage to sit down at the table.  Aaron usually targets one of the guys, especially Kyle since he is new to our family and Aaron still isn’t sure it’s OK that he married Andrea.  He targets Andrew because Aaron has always been somewhat jealous of his brother.  And he targets Gary because Gary is Dad, and Dad is acting way too silly. 

When Aaron sat down with us to play, we all quietly decided to try to make the game as non-silly as possible.  We also decided to be as quiet as possible when announcing that we had a Bingo.  However, this plan ultimately made us laugh even more…as quietly as possible but still not quiet enough for Aaron. 

But something else was also going on with Aaron.  Andrea later said it very well.  Aaron knew that things were very funny because we were all laughing, but he couldn’t figure out what the funny things were.  There were many comical moments, but none made Aaron laugh.  He was focused and intense and struggling very hard to keep from being angry.  There was nothing worth laughing about in Aaron’s mind.  Instead, he was wondering why we were all laughing at the gifts and at each other’s comments, and as we see every year, his tension was mounting and his fun meter was doing way down. 

My heart went out to him as I just watched him sitting on the opposite end of the table from me.  He had just won a prize and was so very seriously opening the little box. 

img_0127

He loved getting a Bingo, and I found myself wanting him to win every time.  But life isn’t like that, and I knew he needed to once again learn to be a part of our world…loud and puzzling and frustrating and disappointing as it is.  He can’t remove the parts of life around him that are not his normal.  He must adapt as much as possible, and we must also be allowed to enjoy our family life together with him when we can…when he can. 

There are small ways that we have learned to let Aaron be…to not ripple the water unnecessarily.  Like when he won a bottle of body wash, but it was ladies body wash.  With each other, we would have laughed at this…making fun of the girlie name on the bottle and teasing whichever guy had the misfortune of winning it.  But not with Aaron.  We just kept quiet about it, watching Aaron stash his prize safely on the floor beside him.  And later that night, I found the body wash placed in the shower to be used by him the next morning.  I never said a word to him about it, and he happily used it…and smelled very nice!

We pick our battles with Aaron when we can, happy that he actually made it through this Bingo game without an eruption of anger.  His anger later spilled out toward me after I made a random comment about forgetting to put the ham cheese ball out to eat, saying that maybe we should start our game all over.  That did NOT make him happy…and neither did my hand motions that he copied angrily.  He was so done with that evening!  All of us were picked out of his normal bowl, trust me!

I was happy that his seizure during the night didn’t ruin his Christmas day.  I was happy that he was able to open his presents, though he was heavy-eyed and dreary after the seizure.  I was happy that his other seizure later that day was during his nap, and that he didn’t fall down. 

img_0134

And I was especially very happy that our neighbor came over and took our family picture in front of our tree.

01fb9ad76e70ebfd03f34bbb77545ae3c38999b52b_00001

For really, our family isn’t complete without Aaron.  He may want to kick us at times out of his normal bowl, but then he does turn around and let us back into his life. 

And we do the same with Aaron, over and over and over again.  We welcome…we include…we modify…we adjust…we sigh…we go to bed tired – but we do love our Aaron and will always want him in OUR bowls as much as possible. 

 

 

Aaron and The Wedding

 

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

44492971_2274112572661316_2700387389448126464_o44416439_2274113559327884_8515033922885648384_o

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. 

44458563_2274112555994651_617452959558533120_o

44380824_10155431953855882_965332584546435072_n

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. 

44450342_2274113505994556_2924585356609191936_o

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.

WP_20181018_08_32_38_Pro

Resized952018101895210628955847 - Copy

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:

IMG951563

 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.

WP_20171210_15_34_37_Pro

 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. 

IMG954221

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

IMG954226

IMG954237

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!!! 

44515331_1908148442598250_3835228992999260160_o

 

Parts and Pieces

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

 WP_20180902_07_33_25_Pro

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. 

WP_20180916_08_00_19_Pro

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. 

WP_20180509_14_28_13_Pro 1

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.

WP_20180908_12_08_10_Pro

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.

WP_20180407_11_02_08_Pro

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. 

WP_20180916_17_54_42_Pro

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. 

WP_20180902_07_33_25_Pro

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.

WP_20180906_09_33_49_Pro

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.

WP_20180806_09_40_26_Pro

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!!”

10452362_10152089437501895_2386796729627368274_n

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.

WP_20180801_19_12_12_Pro

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!

WP_20180802_18_16_58_Pro

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.

 

 

WP_20180803_11_50_24_Pro

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.

WP_20180803_16_47_24_Pro 1

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.

0803181950b

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.

WP_20180803_20_26_44_Pro_LI

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!

WP_20180804_09_32_44_Pro

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.

WP_20180804_14_17_16_Pro

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.

38909558_10215071355851437_4456147909561286656_o

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.

38828197_10215071352651357_704410976262291456_o

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!

38814403_10215071357891488_4048850603193925632_o

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

38839118_10215071370651807_5711353282933293056_o

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

38828198_10215071367131719_35976076295405568_o

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

38534417_10212008292738224_6899959742362288128_o

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.

38508299_10217068441761137_2489820510318231552_o

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

38821120_10215071372291848_220450410626809856_o

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?!

IMG950060

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.

WP_20180805_17_49_39_Pro

 

WP_20180806_09_11_05_Pro

 

WP_20180806_09_10_39_Pro

 

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.”

 

38851125_10215071370491803_773895764630831104_o

 

38471720_10217068437361027_9047836332625231872_o
WP_20180806_09_55_03_Pro