I’ll Be Your Friend, Part 2

I wanted to quickly share with you another sweet Aaron moment from today.

I wrote yesterday about Aaron’s sad day on Tuesday, but how that episode confirmed to him that he truly does have wonderful friends at his day group.  Here’s the link to that blog – I’ll Be Your Friend

He not only gave Natalie a card yesterday, but he also filled a baggie full of Cheez-Its for her, which he happily carried with him to Paradigm that morning.  I’m sure he was all smiles as he handed that baggie to Natalie. 

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But he also has another friend there, one who is on a very restricted diet.  Aaron has often felt sorry for her and has wished that he could give her some of the snacks that he takes to share with others. 

When Aaron took his baggie stuffed with Cheez-Its yesterday, he asked Barb if he could give some to his friend, H.  But Barb said that he couldn’t due to her strict diet.  But, Barb added, H. could probably have four or five of those crackers. 

And so today, before we left for his day group, this is what Aaron did.

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Five Cheez-Its, just for H. to enjoy all by herself.  To me, this is a picture of simple kindness.  I love that beneath all the complex layers of Aaron’s personality and of his autism, he has a heart that loves to give to others. 

Gary and I have talked occasionally over the years about how, when Aaron was young and we lived in Germany, we met with a professional.  This man talked to us about Aaron.  We were pretty offended by some of the things he said…things about how Aaron would probably never go to college, get a big job, yada yada yada. 

So O.K.  Aaron hasn’t been able to do many of the things that his peers have done.  But today, Aaron put five Cheez-Its in a little baggie for his friend, because she can only have five.  He didn’t find a cure for cancer…or put a man on Mars…or finish his fourth doctorate.

But he made his friend, H., very happy. 

And my mother’s heart is as proud of him as a mother’s heart can be. 

I’ll Be Your Friend

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Genuine, unconditional friendship. 

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Green Coffee and A Good Book!

I just wanted to quickly share with you the day that I shared with Aaron this week.  On Tuesday, he had a dentist appointment so of course that also meant that we ate out for lunch.  He came out to the van carrying his new book that he got for his birthday.  He hasn’t been reading much lately, so when my niece had an Usborne party I ordered Aaron a few books.  The one he chose to read first is about true survival stories.  I thought he might like that subject, and I believe I chose well.

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We ended up at our new IHOP for lunch.  It’s near our dentist’s office, I had a free coupon, and Aaron was agreeable.  Perfect!

We ordered some coffee right away on that cold, drizzly day.  I poured some creamer into Aaron’s coffee, under his watchful gaze, and then he thought that Mom might need some further instruction.

“Can we twirl it and make it green?” he asked in all seriousness.

Interpretation:  Could I stir the creamer into the coffee?

Further interpretation:  Aaron is color blind, so just like my dad – the light brown color of coffee with stirred-in creamer is…green. 

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I didn’t even bat an eye at that, but I did chuckle. 

Aaron is so unique on several levels, that’s for sure!

He finally narrowed down his food choice after much discussion, turning of menu pages, and closely examining every available picture. 

Fried Chicken Breasts….crunchy!

Mashed Potatoes.

No.  French Fries.

No.  Back to Mashed Potatoes!

No Broccoli.  (But broccoli came anyway and it was the first thing he ate.)  (Only one food at a time for Aaron.)  (You never mix foods!!)

Honey Mustard sauce for dipping the crunchy Fried Chicken Breasts.

And…the requisite Side Salad, with NO croutons.

So after the lunch was ordered and his coffee was a comforting green, Aaron reached over and took his book that he had carried in with him, opening it to the first chapter. 

He was serious in his reading, and the quietness of those few moments was very unusual for me.  No talk of aliens…Captain James T. Kirk…Darth Nihilus…Malek…  Just quiet reading.

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I loved it!!

And then his salad came, so the True Stories of Survival book was closed after he carefully inserted his bookmark…a random card of some sort that he had scarfed at some business and put into his pocket. 

Every bite of salad and broccoli and mashed potatoes and chicken was eaten and totally enjoyed, as well as more green coffee.  Aaron was very happy!

Off we drove to the dentist, where Aaron marched in with not only his new book, but also a DVD and a CD that he wanted to have close by for some reason.  He immediately claimed his couch, crossed his leg, and opened his books.  He was very serious and full of purpose.

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Until he spied Tammy behind the counter!

Fresh ears!!

So up he hopped and with even more purpose, while ignoring my pleas for him NOT to bother the staff, he proudly showed her his new book.

He told her to read it.  And she, as patiently as if she had all the time in the world, opened his survival stories book.  She read a little, turning the page, and expressing great interest in his book.

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And Aaron expressed his great excitement by rubbing his hands together in typical Aaron fashion.

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“Read it!” he kept insisting.

But I kept insisting that he let Tammy get back to her job, so he finally took the book while Tammy told him how interesting it was.

And I was thinking of how interesting Aaron is!  And how interesting he makes my life as he takes me along with him in every unusual and unique moment.

He wanted to read his book while he got his teeth cleaned.  But the logistics of that wasn’t going to work, he realized, so he was content to supervise me as I put the book on the windowsill along with the DVD and the CD.  But only after Shelly, his hygienist, had also taken a look at the first pages of his very important new book.

God bless the kind staff who didn’t act the least bit hurried or uninterested!

And God bless Aaron, who makes normal old IHOP and dental visits anything BUT!!

And who gives us yet another of our very own survival stories! 

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The Best Gifts Aren’t Wrapped!

Aaron had a birthday last week…his #33!!  My goodness, when did THAT happen?!  Of course, you know what that makes me…but since I’m the one choosing the subject of this blog, I choose not to choose to talk about ME, and MY age!!

Aaron unabashedly loves his birthday.  It’s one of the treasures of his way of thinking, that he doesn’t outgrow the pure joy of his special day.  Yet he also shies away from too much attention, too much hilarity, too much of anything that makes him feel like he must do something that he’s not quite sure how to do.  Yet this year, he was more relaxed with all the excitement and well wishes from others.  He showed it in several ways that were out of his norm, and it was wonderful to see. 

Yet the very best part of his birthday were the gifts.  Oh, I’m not talking about his presents and cards from family and friends…though they were great, and Aaron loved every single one. 

The absolute best part of this birthday, as the celebrating carried over for several days, was for me to sit back and watch the priceless gifts from some amazing people in his life.  I’ll try to let my pictures do most of the talking.  And speaking of talking, I did not get pictures of him talking to his sister, Andrea – or his Aunt Sandra.  But the smiles on his face and the conversations were very sweet indeed…even when he interrupted Andrea in the middle of her sentence to give me back the phone.  We got a great laugh out of that one!

His long and special friendship with Rosa continues as each year they make time to share their birthdays with each other at Chili’s.  Rosa’s mother, Louise, has become a dear friend of mine, as well.  They are a gift!

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I think it was Rosa who suggested that the servers sing to Aaron.  And Aaron, who has never wanted that attention, agreed to it.  Their gift to Aaron was fun…our server there in the middle was wonderful…and look at the joy on Aaron’s face.

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What can beat the gift of sharing birthday ice cream with your very special friend?

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On his actual birthday, Aaron agreed to take cupcakes to his day group.  He has NEVER wanted to do that!  I was so happy! 

We stopped at Sam’s on our way to Paradigm. Aaron, in his typical way, grabbed the attention of someone who works there and asked them where the cupcakes were.  That someone was one of the butchers, and as I tried to tell Aaron and the butcher that I knew where the cupcakes were, Aaron excitedly said to him, “TODAY is my birthday!!”  So this very kind young man told Aaron to meet him at the bakery down the aisle, and he gave Aaron two free cookies.  Look at the joy!

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There is the gift of the very patient therapy dog at Aaron’s day group.

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And the gift of our own Jackson that we took on a walk that afternoon.

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There was the look of total delight as he held his sister’s gift to him.

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And laughter as he later opened his brother’s Artsy Fartsy card…complete with fartsy sound effects.

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There was the gift of Barb, from Paradigm…and her daughter, Casady, coming for lasagna.

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And Aaron wanting Casady to help him open a gift.

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One of the most touching pictures on his birthday was this picture, sent to me by Barb…taken at Paradigm…of Aaron and his friend, Koren, with good old Piper.  To me, it sums up how impacting and touching are the friends in Aaron’s life. 

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How much our special one’s desire to have love! 

How many ways that love can be shown in their lives, even by perfect strangers! 

 Aaron may not always give a verbal thank you very easily, but the smiles on his face last week told it all. 

And that is a wonderful gift for me and Gary as well.

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What Will I Wear?

Aaron notices much more than we sometimes give him credit for.  I love how he will point something out to us, often something that we never paid attention to at all, and then offer his comments on it…..of course……whether we want to hear them or not.  We usually DO want to hear what Aaron has to say, but trust me – there are times when we do NOT want to hear what comes out of Aaron’s mouth. 

Aaron rarely gives any thought to whether we want to hear his observations or not.  His insights may be new, or they may be ones that we have heard over and over and over and over…..and over……again.  It doesn’t matter one whit to Aaron.  He would probably implode if he didn’t talk, so talk he does……and we listen, regardless.

He shares things with perfect strangers, too.  I took Aaron to Wal-Mart with me after I picked him up from Paradigm on Friday.  Aaron was happy that I had found a soft fuzzy blanket on sale and that I had put it in our cart. 

“Is it for ME?” he hopefully asked.  But when I told him it was for our aging Great Dane, Jackson, Aaron was not at all disappointed.  He loves Jackson. 

Aaron sat on the bench near the register as I checked out.  I loved the look on his face as I looked at him and smiled.  Inside I was hoping not to hear him blessing us all with his ear splitting loud clapping…..or a silly ‘meow’……..or a fox whistle……or a very embarrassing farting noise. 

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But Aaron didn’t stay on the bench for very long.  No.  He saw the cashier ring up the soft fuzzy blanket, which reminded him that he had something important to share with her.  He didn’t care one bit that he didn’t know our nice Wal-Mart associate.  He did know, though, that she needed to know something.

So he got up from the bench and purposefully marched over to where she and I were finishing my transaction.  He pointed to the soft fuzzy blanket.

“That’s for our dog.  He’s nine years old and he has weakening in his muscles.”

She thought that was so nice to be buying our dog such a nice soft fuzzy blanket.  She and I were starting to have a dog conversation when we heard Aaron again.

“LOOK!!” he blurted out.  And there he stood, lifting up his right arm and showing the poor unsuspecting soul his yucky yellow and purple bruise on his arm. 

“Aaron…..” I started, but he barreled right over me.

“My desk chair fell on top of me when I was reaching for apples and peanut butter, and I got a bruise!!” he explained. 

She showed him his desired amount of shock and sympathy while I tried to hurry up my payment.  Knowing smiles were exchanged between us as I readied to leave.  Well, knowing smiles shared quickly between her and me. Aaron was already off in search of his next victim, so I had to run.

So back to what Aaron notices, and then shares all too fully with us…..or anyone else who is fortunate enough to be nearby.

On Thursday I wore this blouse.

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Aaron came into the kitchen, looked at me with his head tilted to the side, and then offered his opinion.

“That shirt looks like it should be colored,” he commented.

This forced me to look with new eyes at my shirt. 

“Aaron,” I asked.  “Does this remind you of the adult coloring books that you and I have seen?”

“YES!!!” he replied, so excited that I had gotten what he was trying to convey.  “It looks like it should be colored!”

“Do you like this shirt?” I asked.  And he told me that he did like my coloring shirt, very much. 

So on that day I was fun.

The next day I wore this blouse. 

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Aaron had come in the bedroom and seen me wearing it, before I added a sweater.

“WOW!!” he said, in awe.  “You look like a princess!”

I just laughed.  A princess?  But there was something about this blouse that he loved, and so he saw me as someone very special as I wore it. 

On Sunday, as I was getting ready for church, Aaron came in the bathroom and saw me wearing this blouse.

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“Ewwww,” he said in a measure of disgust.

“What’s wrong?” I asked him.

“What you have on,” he answered. 

“Don’t you like it?” I asked.

“NO!” he replied.  “It’s ugly.”

There was something about it that wasn’t fun like my coloring blouse and wasn’t special like my princess blouse.  This blouse, to Aaron, was ugly……ugly enough to him that he reacted instantly to it.  He wasn’t trying to be mean.  He was just being honest.  The design; the colors that he saw since he’s color blind, perhaps; or maybe the style – whatever it was, he didn’t like it one bit.

I’ve thought about all this since our morning yesterday.  Aaron was not one bit happy to be going back to Paradigm after enjoying his weekend.  I’ve learned to just let him work through it, to not force the issue, but to let him make the decision.  He knows the consequences of going and of not going, so it’s good to let him be the one to choose. 

But yesterday, on this Monday, he was extra unhappy and extra grouchy.  Downright hateful a couple times. 

“I want a break!!” he angrily told me.

“You just had a break,” I told him back, but not angrily.  I know better.

“When was my break?!” he wanted to know.

“Saturday and Sunday,” I answered as I fixed my hair.

“Don’t say that Saturday and Sunday were my break!!” he told me.

“OK,” I said.

So I’m fairly certain he came in the bathroom a dozen times, each time saying with more and more anger, “Don’t say that Saturday and Sunday were my break!!”

He continued on down his anger path.  I didn’t react……I breathed deeply……I prayed…..and I looked forward to Aaron making up his angry mind about what he wanted to do. 

He finally came in the bathroom, bent over while he rubbed his hands together, and said, “I don’t love you anymore!!!!”

Then he was spent.  I was, too.  He walked away, calmed down, went to Paradigm while he happily listened to music, and the storm passed. 

What I wear, in a sense……what I display to Aaron when he is so angry…..makes a huge difference in the outcome.  It’s much like my blouses that caused a reaction in Aaron.  If I show anger when he is angry, the result is explosive and nothing is accomplished.  If I show patience, then he sees that his anger isn’t accomplishing what he hoped it would.  If I ignore him totally for awhile, he becomes uncomfortable and realizes that he has crossed a line. 

I can choose what I wear during these episodes just as much as I chose those three different blouses on three different days.  Will I be fun, or special, or ugly? Every situation with Aaron is different, too, so I need wisdom…..which is a big reason that I pray.

Oh, I get upset, too.  I mutter under my breath……think not-so-kind thoughts……and if Gary’s here, he is at times my sounding board, as I am his. 

But still, what I wear in front of Aaron is so important.  Above all, I must wear unconditional love.  It’s hard sometimes to do that, especially when he tells me he doesn’t love me anymore.  Thankfully, that doesn’t happen often, but when he does go that far, I struggle.

When I picked Aaron up from Paradigm that afternoon, he acted as if nothing had happened between us at all.  And last night, as we watched Wheel of Fortune, Aaron starting rubbing his hands together wildly.

“MOM??!!” he loudly said, “I LOVE YOU!!”

Which is Aaron’s way of saying that he is sorry, and that he does love me for real.

I slipped on some forgiveness right then.

“I love you, too, Aaron.”

It felt very nice, maybe like the princess blouse.  And fun, like the coloring blouse. 

I’m thankful the ugly was gone, at least for now. 

The Picture We Leave

Today I have found myself, several times, with tears in my eyes.  We all have days where emotions are close to the surface, don’t we?  Maybe it was the very, very touching video I watched today of how some boys reached out to their neighbor who was their age and in a wheelchair.  If Aaron hadn’t been with me, I would have cried much more after watching that clip than I allowed myself to cry.

Maybe I was teary today because of stories I’ve seen of others who are bearing sorrows and pains of this life.  Some hit close to home when the stories are from ones I know and love. 

Maybe I was feeling vulnerable today because Aaron had a small but hard seizure very early Sunday morning.  He was fine all day yesterday, but threw up last night.  A bug?  Or the amount of pizza he ate for lunch?  He stayed home today, not feeling too great yet, and had another seizure this afternoon…..a hard, three minute seizure.  My already raw emotions were knocked around even more during that seizure, which isn’t usual for me. 

I know, though, that the real reason for my unsteady emotions goes back to a picture in my mind…..a snap shot of Aaron on Friday afternoon, in Subway.  Aaron wanted a sub for his special Friday supper.  I always hope that there won’t be anyone in front of us because subs take a while to fix…..and Aaron is usually talkative, loudly, with me never knowing what he will decide to discuss there for everyone to hear. 

As we pulled in and parked, though, I saw that there were several cars in the parking lot.  A young family was walking in just before us.  Dad and Mom were each holding a young daughter.  There were others in front of them.  I asked Aaron if he was sure he didn’t want a pizza instead, but of course Aaron’s heart was set on a sub. 

As we stood behind the young family, the little girl that was being held by the dad caught Aaron’s attention.  I looked over and saw that Aaron was looking at her, and then leaned around him a little to see that he was holding his hand up.  He was showing her his favorite thing……the peace sign.  She wasn’t sure what to make of that, or make of Aaron.  She may have been three or four years old, and so I’m sure that Aaron’s peace sign meant nothing to her. 

It really was funny……Aaron standing there holding the peace sign steady, with a very serious look on his face.  No smile for the little girl……no emotion……no explanation.  Just somber Aaron doing all he knew to do…..spread some peace, thankfully.

The little girl thought that maybe Aaron wanted to play peek-a-boo, but Aaron didn’t cooperate.  He was just a statue, with a peace sign displayed.  So I played peek-a-boo with her as she tried to hide behind her dad’s shoulder.  Aaron was still in peace mode. 

But then, while I was immersed in this cute little girl’s smiles, Aaron quickly unzipped his wallet.  Before I knew what he was doing, he was holding his open palm out for the dad to see.  And in Aaron’s open palm was the rest of his money left over from his day at Paradigm.  Three cents.  Aaron was trying to give this young dad his money…….all three cents……but a fortune to Aaron. 

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Aaron loves to give things to people.  He really loves giving money away to others.  So he had decided to give this dad his money to help him pay for their dinner.  I knew all this in the split second it took me to see what Aaron was doing……and to also see that this young dad was completely uncomfortable with what was happening.

The dad was looking down into Aaron’s palm but he didn’t say a word.  I thought for sure that he would thank Aaron for the offer but then tell him to keep his money.  I thought he would look at Aaron and smile and be kind to special Aaron.  But no, he just looked at Aaron’s three cents and kept looking down, not making eye contact and not saying a single word. 

It was so awkward and so sad……and honestly, pretty hurtful to me.  I doubt that this young man had any idea that it was hurtful.  He was just clueless about what to do.  I find that amazing, though.  A kind word, a look in Aaron’s eyes, a thank you, should not have been that hard to do.  Right after that, this dad moved away from Aaron and then eventually went with his little girls to sit in a booth while his wife ordered.  I don’t know if it was because of Aaron or not.  But he sure did miss a great opportunity to show Aaron some kindness, like Aaron was showing to him. 

But it’s made me also think of another quite opposite experience that we had when we were home in West Virginia for Thanksgiving.  We had recently gotten Aaron a Nintendo 3DS game for his birthday.  We let him play it at our family gathering, which wasn’t the best idea because it was all he wanted to do.

Anyway, when the time together was wrapping up, the sweetest thing happened.  Young Moira……granddaughter of my cousin Jim and his wife, Patti……daughter of Kat and Farman……walked over to Aaron.  She said hi to him and then she asked him about the game he was playing.  She asked what it was called and wondered if it was fun.

I held my breath for a second, hoping that Aaron would be nice in return.  And he was!  He was really happy that someone had asked about his game.  He told her what it was and then he actually asked her if she wanted to see it. 

Moira said yes, and Aaron very proudly opened his game and let her play it for a few minutes.  It was so sweet!  I was glad I captured some pictures.

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Moira is being raised well.  She wanted to engage Aaron, you could tell.  She thought that asking about his game would be a good way to do that…..and it certainly was! 

But more importantly, Moira showed that she has a heart for others……especially others on the outside.  What maturity, way beyond her years!  That simple interchange meant more to me, and to Aaron, than Moira knows.  Or maybe she does know.  Ones with that kind of heart often do.

All of us can take a minute to follow Moira’s example…..to look every day for ways to love and bless someone around us.  And even if it pulls us out of our comfort zone, like the young dad in Subway, a simple smile and a kind word is all anyone needs to see and hear.

So thank you, Moira.  I haven’t forgotten your sweet heart that you showed to Aaron.  And on a day like today, when my heart is tender, I can choose to see your picture that makes me happy instead of the other one that causes me some hurt. 

Remember, we are all leaving a picture in the minds of others that we meet.  Let’s make it a good one. 

 

Taking the Bags Out

We’ve been very encouraged lately to see Aaron in mostly good moods at his day group, Paradigm.  He had some very discouraging struggles over the last few months of 2016, but now it’s like he’s turned over a new leaf.  We certainly pray that it lasts.  Perfection?  No, of course not, but he’s been far happier than he’s been in a long time. 

Honestly, one reason may be that we did reluctantly increase one of his drugs he takes for his autistic behaviors.  I think it has helped to calm him.  With this increased calmness, then, has come the ability to relate better to the people in his surroundings. 

Aaron loves helping.  He would rather be out somewhere helping with shopping or errands at his day group than to go on most of their activities.  The smaller group is more suited to Aaron, but the helping itself also does something for his ego, too…..in a positive way. 

We’ve been praising him for helping Amy, who works at Paradigm, with shopping at Sam’s or WalMart for Paradigm supplies.  We praise him for helping Brandy or Barb with work at one of the Paradigm residential settings.  Aaron, like any of us, thrives when he is commended.  And for all of us, it’s wonderful to be praising Aaron rather than to be fussing at Aaron. 

His personal relationships with Paradigm clients have been mostly better lately, as well.  Take his friend, A, for instance.  She is usually Aaron’s nemesis, and he hers. There is much bad blood between them.  But this week Aaron had a taco that came with his meal from Taco Bueno……and he gave it to A!!  Today Barb sent me a picture of Aaron hugging A!!! 

All which goes to show that when Aaron is happy, everybody is happy!

Getting Aaron happy, though, can be tricky.

And there’s something else.  Getting Aaron happy first thing in the morning can be virtually impossible.  That’s why this morning was such a shock, and worthy of a blog.

It started last night, when Aaron saw me carrying two pink AMVETS donation bags down to our guest bedroom.  He asked what I was doing, so I told him that I was preparing donation bags for AMVETS. 

“I’ll carry them out for you!” he enthusiastically offered.  But I thanked him and then told him that I wouldn’t be taking the bags out until morning.

“What time are you taking them out?” he asked.

“I don’t know,” I answered.  “Just sometime in the morning.”

Aaron lingered. 

“What time?” he asked again.

“I don’t know an exact time,” I replied, knowing how Aaron loves exact times.

More lingering.

“What time?” he patiently repeated.

I knew that Aaron would need an exact time or he would go to bed still asking me what time I was carrying AMVET bags outside!!

“OK,” I said.  “Probably around 7:45.”

“So, 7:45,” Aaron confirmed.

“Well, maybe not EXACTLY 7:45,” I said, “but sometime around there.”

I was sitting at the kitchen table this morning.  7:45 had come and gone.  I hadn’t taken the bags out yet.  I heard Aaron on the monitor, up in his bedroom, stirring and then getting out of bed.  Before long, he came down the stairs and into the kitchen.  I looked up and saw right away that he had put on his tennis shoes, still wearing his pajamas, and I knew right away why.

“Mom?” he asked first thing.  “Have you taken the bags out?”

“No,” I said with a smile.  “But let’s do it right now.”

Aaron, who usually isn’t very chipper in the mornings and likes to talk about how he doesn’t feel well, turned and put on his jacket.  Then he followed me happily to the guest bedroom, took two bags, and carried them out to the end of the driveway.  He came back and carried a small table out for me.  Then we were done and Aaron went about the rest of his morning. 

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I was pretty amazed.  I thanked Aaron, but not in a way that was too exuberant.  Aaron doesn’t like excessive exuberance.  He can be excessively exuberant, but no one else usually can.  We’ve learned this about Aaron.

I’m a realist, born of experience with Aaron. But I am, at the moment, a very happy realist.  I pray that Aaron continues down this helpful path, learning how much fun it is to be needed.  We all love being needed, don’t we?

Aaron really is no different than the rest of us, despite his glaring differences that at times show outwardly.  His heart desires praise and love and usefulness, just like mine.

He also desires…..eating out. 

I think I’m seeing a Friday night plan taking shape.   

New Year, Old Ways

A new year is upon us!!  Welcome, 2017!

A fresh start can be so nice.  New everything.  Out with the old, right?  Well, not always, as I have seen on the past two days.  We all know that to be true.

I ended my old year on a most familiar note…..playing SkipBo with Aaron right before bed.  I guess that’s our version of a party, which suits Aaron perfectly as he really does NOT like parties.  Parties have too much noise and emotion for him, thank you very much.  But SkipBo with Mom is orderly, predictable, with nice piles of sequential numbers, and plenty of opportunity to cheat.  Yes, cheat, of which Aaron is a master if not watched closely.

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The next morning, our New Year morning, saw Aaron blandly staring at me as I very happily wished him a Happy New Year!!  His lack of expression at these moments is often hilarious, but I can’t always laugh because he finds that emotional expression irritating or he thinks I am laughing at him.  Which at times I am, but in a good way that he just wouldn’t understand.

Anyway, Aaron’s main concerns on our New Year morning were:

1)      Can I have FOUR cups of coffee?  (Don’t worry.  The cups are half full).

2)      Are there coupons in the newspaper for me to cut?

3)      What time are we going to Chili’s for lunch?

Aaron had opened a gift during our family Christmas Bingo game.  The gift was a Chili’s gift card that was burning a hole in…..well, in my wallet because I don’t dare give Aaron gift cards to keep.  They won’t keep with him.  They will be lost or given away.

I told Aaron that we would go to Chili’s after church.  He wanted to know the exact time, so I gave him my usual ball park figure and he was happy.  He was not so happy with the coupons in the paper for some reason.  Still slow from his cluster of seizures on Friday night, the coupons did not make him show his usual sense of purpose.  However, he settled in on the floor with his coupon trash cans as he sat on his coupon pillow with his coupon scissors…..and his FOUR cups of coffee on the bench nearby…..and he began to clip the coupons, very slowly.

I was in the bathroom later when Aaron came to the door.  “Mom,” he slowly began.  “I was cutting coupons but there were too much.”

Pause.

“OK,” I responded.

Pause.

“There were too much,” he repeated.

“Yes, there were a lot today,” I replied.

Pause.

“There were too much coupons,” he said again.

Pause.

“There were too much,” he once again asserted when he got no Mom reply.

Pause.  Sigh from me.

“Aaron, just take a break.  You can finish them later,” foolish Mom said.

Pause.

“I ripped them,” Aaron flatly replied.

Pause.  Another sigh from me.

I was following Aaron’s train of thought, one all too familiar.  He didn’t want me to cut those coupons.

“Because you don’t do them right,” he continued.  “You don’t cut them straight on the line like I do.”

He made his exit on that note.  No surprise from me.  It might be a New Year, but we are still living in our old ways…..always, always.

And sure enough, there on the family room floor lay his unfinished little stack of coupons……ripped, just like he said.  Aaron’s thinking has always been this…..that if he can’t cut the coupons, NO ONE will cut the coupons.  Especially Mom, who is a dismal failure at coupon cutting.

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Those ripped coupons were a stark reminder to me that just under the surface with Aaron there is always that issue of how he handles stress in his life.  He reacts, and often his reactions are very inappropriate.  His behaviors are a huge concern to us.  So I stood there being reminded that we were on our first day of a brand New Year, brand new beginnings, brand new opportunities……and here we were, being slapped into our old reality of life with Aaron.

Some things just never change.  We know that.

But there were other reminders of wonderful things that never change, either.  Gary and I finally got to church on time.  Yes, we were one of THOSE people who totally didn’t see the memo on the changed time for church……one of THOSE people who didn’t give New Year’s Day a second thought…..and so on this New Year’s morning we drove to church TWICE.  And we laughed at ourselves.  We’re HOW old?!

Anyway, we walked into church to the hugs and handshakes of sweet friends.  And there was Joyce, who handed me a bag containing a huge bag full of Tootsie Rolls…..for Aaron, because of my recent Tootsie Roll blog.  How unexpected and sweet, in more ways than one!  Later, Aaron was also surprised and full of smiles at this kind gift.

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The care of friends is unchanging in our lives.  Such a blessing!

The worship and the message on our New Year’s morning was encouraging and challenging.  And we sang one of my most favorite songs – Great is Thy Faithfulness.  What a wonderful reminder of God’s unchanging faithfulness in our lives!

And later, as we sat with Aaron at Chili’s, Gary and I watched him ever so slowly eat his enchilada lunch and his salad.  His joy at eating out was very evident.  Never changing, his love of restaurant food!  And seeing that joy is always fun for us, despite our constant reminders to him that he doesn’t need to take 17 toothpicks…..don’t stare at the other people and their food……don’t make noises…..don’t clap…..please don’t loudly stretch when you get out of the booth.

Never changing.

I was able to salvage a few coupons later from the ripped pages.  I didn’t let Aaron see me as I quickly cut them out behind his back.  And I know that we will continue to try to salvage good out of the bad days that Aaron will surely have this year.  It’s our reality with Aaron, New Year or not.

But through it all I know, like that favorite old hymn says, that God will remain the same, too.  Faithful to us, as always.

 

            Great is Thy faithfulness, O God my Father,

            There is no shadow of turning with Thee;

            Thou changest not, Thy compassions they fail not;

            As Thou hast been, Thou forever wilt be.

 

            Great is Thy faithfulness!  Great is Thy faithfulness!

            Morning by morning new mercies I see.

            All I have needed, Thy hand hath provided.

            Great is Thy faithfulness, Lord unto me.

 

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Have a Tootsie Roll!

My writing about life with Aaron has taken a back seat lately.  Actually, more like the back car on a very long train.  Traveling over Thanksgiving and then returning to the mad rush of Christmas preparations have certainly been major factors.  But there’s more to it than that.

I feel overshadowed.  Living under a dark cloud of Aaron issues.  Increased seizures…..medicine decisions……doctor visits.  But even heavier than those concerns are the disruptions caused by his behaviors, which honestly have at times been far from nice.

Autism……family therapist…..psychiatrist……investigating alternative medical helps…….phone calls……meetings.  It can get overwhelming sometimes.  Keeping our cool can also be next to impossible, sometimes as impossible as understanding what makes Aaron tick.  But we must understand that Aaron operates with a very unique mindset, without most of the filters that others have, and that he is constantly bombarded with sounds and ideas and stimuli that you and I never have to handle.  His day group is a perfect breeding ground for noises and irritants and unusual people that can aggravate him quickly.  We rarely see the behaviors at home that they see there.  It can get messy.

Today I saw the side of Aaron that I wish he showed every day.  It’s there…..just sometimes not seen as vividly as I saw today.  Yeah, he got mad at a game this morning before we left for his dentist appointment.  But he and I had a good discussion about it as we drove to the dentist’s office, where he also relished discussing his angry experience with the office staff, and with anyone else who had ears.  He has no shame…..really.

As we left the dentist’s office, he gladly grabbed a cookie that was offered to him by the staff.  And Tootsie Rolls that were in a bowl.  Did he ever take Tootsie Rolls!  I had no idea.

He ate one or two in the car on the way to Pizza Hut for lunch.  The Pizza Hut buffet, heaven on earth for Aaron.  All You Can Eat…..anything…..is heaven on earth to Aaron.

As we left Pizza Hut, paying for our All You Can Eat buffet……where Aaron really didn’t get to eat all he could eat because Mom stopped him way too soon……

Anyway, as we left and were paying at the register, Aaron pulled out yet another Tootsie Roll from his pocket.  “Here,” he said to the smiling lady behind the counter.  She was smiling because Aaron had tried to hide from me while I was in the bathroom.  He was standing near the exit doors, peeking around the edge of the wall, grinning from ear to ear and then laughing loudly when I saw him.  All of this in full sight of a banquet room full of people who were supposed to be listening to a speaker, but who were instead looking at Aaron and me with grins on their faces.  Story of my life.

So Aaron pulled out the Tootsie Roll, handing it to the now laughing employee, and said, “Here.  Because I liked the food today.”

When does he never like the food today?

But she was so happy to get his Tootsie Roll!  She took it and thanked him, telling him that she loved Tootsie Rolls.  Aaron was super pleased at her reaction.

“Look!!” he loudly said.  “See how many I got at the dentist?!”

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Oh dear.  He pulled out a whole fist full of Tootsie Rolls.  All I could think about was the fact that the ladies in the dentist’s office probably saw him take that stash while my back was turned to Aaron.  When will I learn to never turn my back on Aaron when there are cookies or Tootsie Rolls involved?!

I gave him the “Don’t Be a Tootsie Roll Pig” lecture on our way to TJ Maxx, while he unwrapped Tootsie Rolls and enjoyed his free dessert.  He offered me one and I accepted, feeling like a hypocrite.  I stopped the lecture.  Shouldn’t talk with my mouth full.

We walked into TJ Maxx, where I told him that I was looking for a gift for Nora.  Nora is my little elderly friend that I take out once a week.  She was our neighbor for 15 years before moving to assisted living.  Aaron knows Nora.  Sometimes he’s been not so nice to her, but other times he’s tolerable.  Today he surprised me.

“Mom!!  I want to get Nora a Christmas gift!” he exclaimed.  “Here!!  I want to get her……this!!”  And he grabbed the first thing he spied, a Christmas candle holder that I knew Nora wouldn’t need or want.

Aaron’s desire to get Nora a gift just made me very happy, so I told him that we would look for something.  We were browsing in the perfume section when I heard Aaron talking to someone.

“Here!” he was saying.  I looked over to see him offering the employee manning the dressing room……you guessed it……a Tootsie Roll!!

This young lady looked a little uncomfortable as big Aaron held a Tootsie Roll out to her.  At first she declined his offer, but then for some reason she said yes.  She looked at me with a smile and at Aaron with a smile as she accepted the Tootsie Roll.  And Aaron laughed with delight as he bent over and rubbed his hands together, oblivious to shoppers who were looking and this new friend whose mind was full of questions, I’m sure.

It was really very, very sweet.  Sometimes in these moments it’s tempting for me to be too embarrassed to enjoy what just happened.  Today, though, I really relished what Aaron was doing.  I loved it!!  I loved how happy it made him to share with strangers.  And how happy these strangers were to have received such a spontaneous little gift from unusual Aaron.

Aaron had not forgotten that he wanted to buy a gift for Nora.  We looked here and we looked there, and finally I saw a perfect box of chocolates.

“YES!!” Aaron said when I showed him the box.  “Let’s get that!”

Later, at supper, Aaron had a thought.

“Mom?  Can Nora eat that chocolate?”

I told him she could…..that she loves chocolates.

“But does she have fake teeth?!”

I told him she does not have fake teeth as I tried not to laugh.

“Good!” he answered.  “I thought she might have fake teeth and couldn’t eat it.”

Aaron wants to give the gift of chocolates to Nora, in person.  I am quite sure that he will ask her if she has fake teeth.  She still hasn’t forgotten how he once said that she was old.

See what I mean?  No filters…..no shame.

But Aaron has a big heart.

Here.  Have another Tootsie Roll.

I need to give the dentist a bag of Tootsie Rolls at my next visit.

 

 

It Makes Me Think

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

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

But he did speak. 

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

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

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

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

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

He was silent.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How sweet!  How telling! 

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

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

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

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

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

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

And that’s just how it is around here.

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