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.

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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.

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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. 

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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. 

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

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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. 

 

 

Feeling The Lines

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Why do I need to stop?” he asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I just wanted a normal face.”

 

 

 

 

I’ll Go Happy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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He loved going for a walk in Swanson Park.

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He loved being here with us and the doggies.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But he truly wants to. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Detour

Aaron and I were in Dillon’s last week, where I told him to pick out some items for his Friday snack bag. I usually have his goodie bag all ready for him when he comes home on Friday but this week had been full of unexpected things that had made it impossible for me to have his bag done beforehand. He never minds picking out the items himself even though he also loves it when his bag is full of surprises. His treat bag is a reward for a week well done by Aaron…..or at least done, sometimes not all too well.

Better behaviors = bigger bag. Or so that’s how it was meant to go. Like his former teacher, Mr. Z, used to say – “Sometimes you have to make it worth his while.”

Aaron, ever the clever one, sometimes calls it bargaining. Nothing much slips by his awareness.

Anyway, it’s fun to give him something to look forward to and to work for at the end of his week. On this particular Friday, he had already walked fast and eagerly toward the bakery aisle where he knew there would be a container of croissants waiting for him. I gave my permission as he held the treasure up for me to see, but I said no to his hopeful request for TWO packages as he held up the second one for me to approve. Aaron just laughed, not at all surprised to be vetoed on that one, and then he lunged past the meat section toward the candy aisle……but not before stopping to loudly point out the lobster and shrimp like he always does. I could really just have a recording of my comments as we walk through the store on most days. He’s so predictable in many ways. In other ways, not so much.

Aaron turned left down the candy aisle, seeming oblivious to the sample lady standing nearby. This pleasant young lady had my attention, though, so I stopped at her little table to acknowledge her offer. I was distracted for a short time with little Twizzler samples and water flavor enhancers, chatting away as I am prone to do. We finished our brief conversation, said “Have a good day!” with our smiles…..and I noticed that her eyes darted down the candy aisle that was just behind us and her smile grew even larger.

I turned around and instantly knew why as she said, “Looks like he’s found some candy!” There was Aaron, getting down and personal with the Starburst Jelly Beans.

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And there was a man coming right toward him, pushing his cart and just looking at Aaron. I’m used to Aaron sitting down in store aisles when I’m not there to tell him no, but I imagine this man wasn’t at all sure of what was happening here. I was telling Aaron to stand up, but Aaron doesn’t stand up quickly from a sitting position…..and it’s quite a sight to see when he does……so now this man just swerved around Aaron and gave me a kind smile as he passed us.

I smiled back, thankful that he didn’t scowl or stare awkwardly.

At times like this I just need to have a sign that I can hold high. A sign that in bold letters says – DETOUR!!!

Aaron is truly completely clueless that he has done something a little strange or that he is disruptive. We face these moments constantly in his life. It’s just who Aaron is, and it’s who we must be as well.

We often must take a different route to our destination with Aaron, and hope that we arrive there…..and in one piece. What worked for our other two children didn’t work with Aaron and often still doesn’t. When our children were younger there were many moments of frustration from them as they tried to understand their unusual brother. They both went through times of questioning, as did Gary and I, about why Aaron acted the way he did. Even after the diagnosis of autism, we still struggled to understand what made Aaron tick.

There were times that Andrea and Andrew thought that Gary and I didn’t discipline enough. That we gave in too much. That we let Aaron have his way too often. Now that they are adults, things have settled down a lot and they really do understand their brother. They love him to pieces. It just takes time, education, and a little maturity to come to grips with a brother who can be disruptive and annoying……and super embarrassing in public!

We could be rolling right along in life and before we knew it…..DETOUR!!

A detour because of Aaron’s behaviors or actions…..a time we were forced to recalibrate…..to try to understand and to work through a situation. Or to be uber patient or thick skinned, despite the red on our faces or the words we wanted to say but couldn’t…..to Aaron or to insensitive others.

After all these years, when I turn and see Aaron sitting on the floor like he did at Dillon’s, it makes me laugh. He does look pretty cute and funny sitting there. I think people now are more aware, too, of these special needs. Their smiles and looks of understanding are more encouraging to us parents than they probably realize.

To you parents of special children, just keep the lines of communication open as much as possible with your other kids. Let them vent without judgment. Understand that age, hormones, peer pressure, and so many other things weigh into their reactions to their special sibling. Things WILL settle down with time. And in the meantime, try to spend some one-on-one time with your children, a time where they know they can safely talk to you and that you will have empathy.

And remember that we often have to take a detour, going around issues in a different way than we normally would, because that’s just how life is in their world……and we can’t change that.

Later Aaron shared some of his jelly beans with me. That’s the way it is. Understanding and love lead to sharing and sweetness.

Sticky and germy sometimes, but still it’s sharing, done Aaron’s way.

The DETOUR way.

The Church Visit

As a person with Asperger’s, Aaron often demonstrates the social impairments that accompany this form of autism.  The social protocols that most of us possess are foreign to Aaron, no matter how many hundreds of times Gary and I have tried to drill these niceties into his brain.  When these social impairments are combined with his interest in the unusual, it can be a sure recipe for embarrassment…………not his…………but mine and Gary’s, or Andrea and Andrew’s.

When we made our many military moves, we would visit churches as we tried to find the “home” church that God would want us to join and be a part of during our stay in that area.  We visited a church one Sunday morning when Aaron was a teenager.  Arriving a little later than we had planned to, we found that all the back rows were already full.  Trust me, a back row for us with Aaron was most definitely preferred!  However, on this particular Sunday we had to choose a pew near the front of the church.  This situation made us very uncomfortable as we spent a good portion of the services making sure that Aaron was happily occupied, was being quiet, didn’t make multiple bathroom trips, etc.

We already felt conspicuous as visitors…………..Aaron only added to that feeling for us.  Oh well……..we just smiled and went to the front, sitting down and hoping for the best.  Things were progressing smoothly as the worship service continued.  Suddenly, during one of the songs, there was a commotion near the back of the church – on the side where we sat.  An older woman had collapsed and her family gathered around her to help.  We all sat down and soon an ambulance was called.  The congregation was led in prayer for her as everyone waited for the ambulance and EMTs to arrive.

Aaron thought that all of this was very exciting indeed.  In fact, this was the most interesting church service he had attended in a long time……….probably ever!  Gary and I realized that he was becoming a little too exhilerated over this unusual turn of events, so we went into “Calm Aaron” mode.  We tried to redirect him from straining to look behind him at the action in the rear pews.  We rubbed his back, which he loved and which always calmed him.  We whispered an explanation to him of what was occurring as he kept asking…….loudly…….”WHAT?  What’s going on?  What happened?”

Realizing that no one in this church knew us or knew Aaron made us even more aware of how odd Aaron must have looked to everyone around us.  We reached a point where I do believe we would have just gotten up and left if we were near an exit, but this wasn’t an option to us at that point without being very disruptive.  Aaron, as usual, wasn’t displaying the proper responses to this tense situation.  He didn’t care about the poor woman who had collapsed.  He didn’t care about her very worried family members.  He definitely didn’t care about his very embarrassed parents or sister or brother.  He was excited!  Here was a situation that grabbed his attention and peaked his interest!

Aaron’s eyes were darting here and there as he anticipated the arrival of the ambulance crew.  When they finally came, they seemed to fill the front of that small church as they entered a side door.  Naturally, they ended up walking right in front of and then beside our pew.  Now Aaron had moved beyond excitement to being absolutely thrilled.  When Aaron is beside himself with excitement, he bends over at the waist and rubs his hands together.  And so there in the pew, as all eyes were on the EMTs pushing the stretcher right beside US, Aaron bent over at the waist………….rubbed his hands together rapidly…………..and said………….loudly, of course…………”COOL!!!!!”

Cool?   Did Aaron really just say, loudly, that this was cool?  Now Gary and I were in “Shut Aaron Up” mode.  We were beyond embarrassed……….more like horrified………and felt that we should stand and offer a public apology before slinking out the nearest exit.  I’m surprised that one of us didn’t have a stroke and have to be hauled out on a stretcher, too.

Well, we all survived.  The dear woman who passed out was fine after a brief hospital stay.  Gary and I recovered as well, as did Andrea and Andrew………….though it took the siblings a little longer.  As for Aaron……..he never did see the problem with his reaction, so he had absolutely nothing to recover from.  He rehashed and rehashed the entire story many, many times……….complete with bending over at the waist and rubbing his hands together.  This was, to him, a church service worth remembering!  It was for us, too, but for very different reasons than for Aaron.

And for once, we had no problem the following week with getting Aaron out the door to church.  He couldn’t wait to go back to that church to see what would happen next!

Our Nest

I remember being pregnant with Aaron and hearing the term “nesting.”  I wondered if that phenomenon was really true, and later discovered that it certainly was.  I had the rush of energy and the desire to get our nest in order before Aaron’s birth – and he was three weeks early!  Interesting!

I find myself considering our nest again, but now on the other end of the spectrum.  Goodness, how time flies!  And now I sound old even in just saying those timeless words about time.  I don’t really feel old, but soon our nest will be a little emptier, and I know that the years have rushed by much faster than I ever dreamed they would when I was knee high in diapers and runny noses.

Tomorrow, barring any delay, Andrea will officially be moving to her new apartment.  She’ll only be an hour away but the distance isn’t what matters.  This marks the beginning of her independent life.  She’s worked since she graduated from college, but has patiently still lived at home as she waited for the wisest opportunity to launch out on her own.  That time has come for her, and no one could be any happier for her than Gary and I are.  Yes, we’ll have the normal sadness as we watch her go, but the sadness is tempered by the happiness we feel for her.  She has a job that she’s wanted and that God put into her lap, so it seems, and now her own place.  Her patience has paid off and we believe that God has honored her.

When Aaron found out that Andrea would be moving, he was very surprised.  He blurted out, “NO MORE ANDREA??!!”  Well, kind of, Aaron………….she’ll still come to visit but no, she won’t be living here anymore.  He’ll miss her a lot, as we all will.  And she’ll miss him, too – in some ways more than others, for sure.

The nests I’ve seen around our yard, up in the trees, are all empty.  It’s the time of year for empty nests.  When I think of our nest, the Moore nest, I know that we have a different nest than many other people have.  We’re not alone in our uniqueness, certainly, but we are in the minority.  At our age, Gary and I should have an empty nest…………but when you have a child, or an adult, with special needs – sometimes the nest won’t be empty for a long time, and maybe never.

This fact hit me at some point when Aaron was entering adulthood.  Some of our friends were anticipating their own empty nests, or celebrating that fact when it occurred.  None of us dislike our children, but when the time of life comes that our children move on and we’re still young and healthy enough to be alone again – well, it’s just fun!  But as Gary and I dealt with the reality of Aaron’s needs, part of that reality that hit us square in the face was that Aaron may not leave home for a long time.

I’m not complaining and I sure hope I don’t sound whiny.  When we were first exploring what options we had for Aaron’s services, we chose an agency that would provide Aaron with a group home.  We were definitely headed in that direction…………..until one of the staff physically and verbally abused Aaron.  Gary and I considered that door shut, and so have kept Aaron at home with us.  Some day we will have to cross that bridge again, but we don’t know when that will happen.  His day group is a blessing to all of us, with an awesome staff.  But honestly, I can hardly imagine someone being able to love and understand Aaron enough to live with him, to care for him during his seizures, to know how to defuse him when he’s angry, to read his body language, and on and on.

There are some lessons that I have learned over the years in regards to our lack of an empty nest at this point in our lives. I don’t always practice what I preach, but I have learned:

1.  Do not compare myself to others!
This is a trap that I think we women fall into so easily.  I remember in our early years of marriage how I would listen when other wives told me that Gary and I should do this or go here or experience that.  I had to learn not to compare our lives with their lives.  Now as I think of Aaron being home I must also not compare our lives to those who are “free.”  God has given us this life with this situation, in His sovereignty, and to live any other way than in freedom would be defeating.

2.  Do not covet the life that others have!
     This goes along with not comparing ourselves to others, but coveting takes it one step further down that slope of sinful behaviors.  Other couples may have more time alone, more opportunity for travel, more peace and quiet, more time for their own hobbies or pursuits……..but I should never covet these things.  Coveting is purely sin!

3.  Be content!
     Paul had a lot to say about being content………….”Godliness with contentment is great gain;” and “I have learned in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content.”  Being content is an act of my will and an act of obedience to God.

4.  Count my blessings!
I have so many reasons to be thankful and so many blessings to count, every single day!  And counting my blessings keeps my mind on positive attitudes and focuses me once again on being content.

As Andrea and I worked in her apartment the other day, we noticed the pretty tree out the front window.  It’s a Redbud and this spring it promises to provide lots of beauty for her to enjoy.  As I was working on something, Andrea said, “Look, there’s a nest in the tree.”  And sure enough, there sits a nest up in the branches of the Redbud.  What a perfect reminder that now Andrea is starting her own nest!  Her first nest is not like my first nest, but it’s a nest and will be blessed by God as she honors Him.

 

And I want to continue to honor God with the nest that God has given to Gary and me.  Our last bird may be here for a long time, but that’s OK.  What a privilege to mother our special bird!

Besides, what would I write about if not for Aaron?

The Legacy

We just went on a very special trip to visit my mother. Actually, it was a surprise for her 85th birthday. And was she ever shocked when she walked into that banquet room at the steak house and saw all of her five children there, as well as many grandchildren and great-grands! The look on her face was priceless; the tears, hers and ours, were genuine; and the love shared was a treasure. I’m so thankful that all of her children were there for her and that we got to rally around her at this very important time. You see, it wasn’t only her birthday. She has also just moved into an assisted living center and so we were able to visit her beautiful new home, help her with a little of the settling-in process, and get a close-up look at her lovely surroundings and amazing staff.

One other thing we kids did while we were there was to meet at the home she just vacated. This home isn’t the place where she and Dad raised us five children. They sold our family home in 1996 in order to downsize and make their lives simpler as they aged. Through Dad’s two cancers, and two more moves, they continued to downsize a little more with each change. Now as I walked into the garage where many of her smaller items were sitting in boxes or on shelves, perched on chairs, or leaning against the walls, I was determined to approach this as objectively as possible. Even in the kitchen and the living room I was able to remain composed. However, when I walked into the bedroom and began to help take clothes out of her closet, I was overcome with emotion. This was the last home that she and Dad had shared together. This was where I had spent the last month of his life as I helped Mom care for him. Memories of that month, especially, washed over me. Mom is now living in a place that Dad never got to share with her. The change in her life is striking, and the end of one chapter is really the beginning of the last chapter of her life.

It would be easy to look at the “stuff” in the garage and scattered throughout the house and think, “Is this all there is now?” As we children divide the casserole dishes and Tupperware that she’ll never use again, or discuss what will become of the larger items later on, is there something of more value to my parent’s lives than just “stuff?” Eventually, Mom will perhaps have to downsize even further if she moves into the nursing care section. Bit by bit, her life is being sifted of all earthly belongings. Eventually, she’ll be left with absolutely nothing. On the day that her body ceases to live and her soul is in heaven, she will not take even one little spoon or one little memento with her. And what will matter on that day?

What will matter the most is that my mother knows Jesus Christ as her Savior. She has the confidence, as do her family, that she will join Jesus and my Dad in heaven. And we, her children, have the legacy of a godly heritage left to us by parents who dearly loved the Lord and dearly loved their family. While earthly items are divided, our godly heritage is safe in each of our hearts and homes. Now this heritage, this legacy, is being multiplied as we have tried to raise our children to know and love the Lord. There is no earthly value that could ever be placed on such a spiritual treasure! No executor of an estate ever oversaw a will that held anything more important than this God-honoring example that our parents have left to us. This legacy isn’t an item that will be put on a shelf in our homes to later be divided among our children, but is carried in our hearts and hopefully lived by our example and passed to our children each day of our lives. Thank you, Mom and Dad. You have left us rich indeed.