Saturday, December 12, 2015

The Nail Trim

I remember climbing on my Daddy’s lap when I was a little girl.  He was sitting in his chair near the fireplace, with his shelves of books on one side and his end table on the other.  His newspaper was on the end table where he could eventually read it at the end of a busy, tiring day on the railroad.  His Bible was also laying there within easy reach.  He read his Bible often as he sat in his chair. He was always ready and willing to listen to my questions about what the Bible said about this and that, especially as I got older.

But when I was little and would climb on his lap, I remember the gentleness that he showed.  In the early years he smelled of pipe tobacco and smoke…..that subtle odor that comforted me.  I can still see him emptying his pipe of the old tobacco and then refilling it with fresh, tapping it gently and pressing the tobacco down just right.  I can hear the sound of the pipe stem on his teeth and see the soft, swirling smoke around his head at the end of the day as he relaxed.

Dad was never too tired to listen to us kids as we talked to him.  He was patient and kind, and so wise.  Sometimes when I would climb up on his lap, he would read me a book.  Sometimes we would just snuggle.  And at other times, he would take my hands and check my nails.  If they were too long, he would ever so carefully trim each nail.  I sat very still, watching him take each of my fingers and cut the nail just right.  Then off I would hop and go on my way, not giving much thought to that simple deed that Dad performed. 

Until years later…..many years later.  The tables had turned, as they so often do, and I and my family had become the caregivers.  Dad was in his last month of life as the cancer he had fought for eight years was winning the battle.  I had been able to go home to help Jan and John as they cared for him and Mom.  It was a month of many cherished memories that fill my heart every day, especially during this Christmas season.  It was December when Dad died.  It was December and Christmas that he and Mom loved so much.

One day I rolled Dad in his wheelchair into the living room so that he could enjoy the pretty Christmas tree.  I helped him get onto the couch, his thin body so frail and weak.  Then I sat beside him and snuggled close to his bony side.  Words were few because it took too much energy for him to lift his head and talk.  But he still smiled….that gentle, kind smile that was his signature. 

As we sat there in the soft glow of the Christmas lights, I looked down at his fragile hands resting on his lap.  Hands that had worked hard, disciplined well, warmly hugged, and folded in prayer.  And I saw that his nails were so long.  How had we let them get in that shape?  So I looked in his tired face and I asked him if he would like me to trim his nails.  He slowly lifted his bowed head and gave me that smile as he said yes ever so softly. 

I got some clippers and a nail file, and I set to work on his nails.  I was afraid of hurting him so I worked very carefully, taking each finger and slowly trimming and filing.  He was very still and quiet as I worked.  Finally I was done.  He looked down at his hands and smiled again, and then slowly looked me in the eyes as he thanked me.  For days afterward, he talked about how good it felt to have his nails trimmed as he thanked me over and over. 

And just as when I was a little girl, the significance of that act didn’t hit me until later.  Dad showed me such love in the simple deed of trimming my nails when I was young.  Now it was my turn to show him the same love in the simple deed of doing the same for him in his weakened state.  His strength was mine when I needed him.  My strength was his when he, many years later, needed me.

And it was the love and guidance of Dad’s hands that led me to be there for him at the end of his life.  He raised me and my brother and sisters well.  He loved us deeply, worked hard for us, and led us to know and love the Lord. 

It seems like yesterday that I hopped off of his lap after he trimmed my nails, and ended up beside him on his couch trimming his nails beside the Christmas tree.  Now his and Mom’s memorial ornaments hang on my tree, and all I have are memories.  
But someday I’ll take his hand again in heaven, and Mom’s as well, and see them both strong and whole once more. 


Friday, December 11, 2015

Sexy!! Let Me Explain!

I remember well when our children were very young, and Aaron ran into the kitchen one day in our German military quarters.  He was probably in the first grade. 

“Mom!  Is ‘sex’ a bad word?” he blurted out. 

“No,” I calmly replied, though I think my heart was beating faster.  “Sex is not a bad word.”

With that, he turned and ran into the living room, where Andrea was playing.  “Andrea!” he again blurted.  “Mom said that ‘sexy’ is not a bad word!”

Wait.  How did ‘sex’ become ‘sexy?’  I just chuckled, knowing that if I made a big deal of that word then they would continue to inquire into things they didn’t need to inquire about just yet. 

Today, being a full grown man, Aaron still has that first grade mentality about that word.  THAT word!  I know that he’s seen more and heard more that perhaps has shed a little light on it, but he doesn’t seem to have what you and I would deem to be a “normal” insight into what makes the world go round…..birds and bees…..and all that “stuff.”

Remember the nightie story?  How Aaron was in the crowded aisle at Wal-Mart and held up a very revealing Valentine tiger print nightie?  I was walking ahead of him and heard him yell, “MOM!!”  When I turned around, there he stood, holding up that tiny tiger print thing.  Then he loudly said, “Mom!!  You need this!!!”

The ground didn’t open up and swallow me like I instantly hoped it would, so I am here to explain once again that Aaron didn’t have one single clue that this nightie was supposed to be sexy.  He liked it because he had never seen a tiger print nightie like that before.  Tiger print!!  How cool was that?!  And for Aaron, it ended there.  Just like I wished, for a few humiliating seconds, that my life had ended there.

For a long time now, whenever Aaron sees hugs on television, he lowers his voice and says, “Sexyyyyyy.”  He draws out that word because he knows that hugs have something to do with love.  And that love is “sexyyyy.”  It alarmed me a little at first, but I just ignore it and don’t react.  If Pat Sajak on Wheel of Fortune puts his arm around a contestant, Aaron says, “Sexyyyy.”  If a brother and sister hug, Aaron says, “Sexyyyy.”  If a man hugs his grandmother, Aaron says, “Sexyyyy.” 

And on occasion, when Gary and I hug, Aaron will say, “Sexyyyy.”  But he doesn’t say it often about us.  I wonder what that means?  When parents hug, it’s yucky?  J

There is a girl in Aaron’s day group that Aaron knew years ago.  Years ago, they didn’t get along.  And today, they still don’t get along.  Actually, they tease each other terribly and then things can get carried away…..which often means that Aaron will chase her around the room or slap her arm or something else that gets him, or both of them, in trouble. 

Apparently the other day Aaron decided that it would be funny to chase her around the room, but this time as he ran after her he was loudly saying, “Sexyyyy!  Sexyyyy!”  I’m sure this got quite a reaction, which made Aaron enjoy it all the more before staff intervened.

Now if I had a special needs daughter, and a guy that has been a huge irritant in the past was running after her yelling “Sexyyyy!”….. then I would be alarmed.  And her dad was.  He came up to the day group the next morning to talk to the staff about Aaron.  I’m so thankful that the staff understands Aaron and understands this girl and understood the whole situation.  I know how it looks to this dad, though. 

Gary and I sure wish Aaron understood all this.  We tried to explain it to him as best we could, but he still thought it was harmless fun, just like a first grader would think. 

Last night I was watching Dolly Parton’s movie of her childhood, The Coat of Many Colors.  Aaron came in the family room while it was on, watched a couple seconds of it, and hurried on his way.  I asked him if he wanted to watch it and he emphatically said no.  It was too mushy and real for him, and I knew it.

“Mom?” Aaron asked this morning.  “Would you watch The Rig?”

I told him no, and he laughed.  He knows I don’t like the creature on the oil rig.  So I turned the tables.

“Aaron?” I asked.  “Would you watch Coat of Many Colors?”

“NO!!” he replied. 

“Why not?” I asked.

“It’s sexy!” he answered.

This surprised me a little, so I asked him what he meant when he said it’s sexy.

“It’s too full of love!!” he explained.

This explained so much about how Aaron perceives THAT word…  And how he reacts to all that love being openly shown with hugs and smiles and laughter and pure joy.  You and I are warmed by those displays of love, whereas Aaron is very uncomfortable with strong emotion. 

But he thinks it’s funny to say it’s all “sexyyyy.”  That somewhat questionable word makes talking about awkward displays of normal love more tolerable to Aaron.  He has no idea how it comes across to others.  I wish the worried dad understood this. 

I really wish all those people in the Wal-Mart aisle had understood it, too!


Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Where's The Macaroni?!

I think I may need to hide the macaroni container again.  Ive done it in the past and now I may need to resort to hiding it again.  Why?  Because Aaron absolutely loves uncooked macaroni, and for some reason will decide out of the blue to focus on that food item.  Once that focus starts, he is not to be deterred.  We often hear him dumping them into one of his plastic bowls.  The loud clatter of uncooked noodles is hard to miss.  Into the kitchen we go, intercepting Aaron’s plot, and so back in the macaroni container go the noodles. 

I’ve offered to cook Aaron some noodles, but he wants them “raw,” as he says.  He doesn’t understand why we object.  They’re hard on your teeth, Aaron.  They’re hard to digest when uncooked, Aaron.  You’re eating all my macaroni and I won’t have any for dishes I want to make, Aaron.

He doesn’t care.  When he’s on a raw macaroni binge, which might last for days, then nothing we say or do will change his mind.  He’s a proficient sneak and can often have a huge bowl of noodles without us even knowing it.  He definitely knows how to take advantage of times that he’s at the house alone, too, which is by far the best time to have an uninterrupted raw macaroni feast.

Sometimes it’s hard to know if he’s eaten the noodles because there are no signs such as are often left with other foods that he sneakily eats.  There are no piles of individual wrappers… bag left in his trash can… drips… mess.

It’s hard for Aaron to sneak his chocolate milk, for instance, because he always leaves such a mess. 

“How many powders do I use to make chocolate milk?” he asked me one day, his spoon poised over the open Nestle’s Quik container.  He only asked because I happened into the kitchen.  He will use three or four spoonsful of powder if left alone, so it really doesn’t mean anything for him to ask me how many powders to use.  I may as well go outside and tell the oak tree how many powders to use as to tell Aaron.  But I tell him, regardless, and then take the spoon to actually show him that using two helpings of powders is plenty. 

“Be sure you spin it, Mom,” he reminds me as he watches to make sure I adequately stir the powders into the milk.  So I spin the powders and the milk, and then offer to carry it to his room so that there are no chocolate drips left all over the floor leading to his desk. 

Another way he leaves signs of what he has eaten is to look at his clothes.  Macaroni leaves no such evidence, such as I saw on his shirt one recent morning.  I asked him about the brown smudge on his pajama shirt.

“I was drinking my coffee,” he explained.  “I got grounds in my mouth and I had to wash it off with my shirt.” 

Of course.  Please, please put that shirt in the hamper.

He knows that some food temptations are sometimes just too much, such as the recent bout of macaroni madness.  Often, he will give me an item of food that’s in his room at bedtime because he knows that the pull is too strong and that he’ll want to get out of bed to eat when he’s supposed to be going to sleep.  One night he thumped up the hall and knocked on our bedroom door after he had gone to bed.  I opened the door and he thrust a bowl of peanuts toward me.

“Mom?” he asked.  “Could you take this out of my room so you can trust me not to eat it tonight?”

I laughed.  No need to try to explain how I don’t need to trust him if the bowl is NOT in his room.  I just loved the way he worded it.

Back to the raw macaroni.  Aaron knows that when he’s in a macaroni mood, the pull will be strong and he will have trouble resisting.  We were in Wal-Mart the other day, after he had put a large dent in my macaroni container.  Aaron was following behind me, singing, “And heaven and nature sing,” without a care in the world or a realization that he was being observed by all the other shoppers nearby.  But suddenly he was aware that we were in the pasta aisle, so he told me that I should buy more noodles.

“Mom, you should get more noodles because I’m making you lose less macaroni and cheese noodles,” he said as we walked up the pasta aisle. 

I know.  Try to figure out that sentence.  I just kept going.

“Mom!  You passed the macaroni and cheese noodles!” he exclaimed.

Yes, Aaron, and I imagine you’ll be passing them for quite some time.  No new noodles today.

Keep singing!


Saturday, December 5, 2015

Can I Resign?

I had some nice quiet time as I sat on the couch beside our newly decorated Christmas tree this morning.  I love the early morning quietness, the soft shiny lights on the tree, and my cups of coffee.  Time to think, to remember, and to pray.

Then I heard Aaron getting out of bed.

So the mood changes.  Now it’s time to think of how to deal with whatever mood he has; to remember to be understanding and patient; and to pray for that understanding and patience when I feel it slipping away.

Aaron was sick yesterday with a stomach virus.  He threw up multiple times, but by last night was doing well enough to keep down some applesauce; watch part of the latest movie in which he is totally engrossed; and play a game of Skip-Bo…..beating me, by the way, which made him feel even better.

As he came down the stairs and into the kitchen this morning, I asked him how he was feeling.

“Fine,” he flatly answered.  “Can I have my three cups of coffee now?”

He always includes the number of cups when he asks for his coffee, just in case Mom has forgotten the all-important fact that he always has and always will drink THREE cups of coffee in the morning. 

I then asked him if he wanted to sit for a few minutes by the Christmas tree with me…..and would he also want to drink a cup of coffee as we sat sweetly enjoying the tree.  He informed me, rather reluctantly, that he would sit by the tree but that he did NOT want a cup of coffee to drink there. 

“I want my three cups of coffee in my room,” he informed his ignorant Mom.  Doesn’t she know that coffee, THREE cups of coffee, is only to be gulped down in his room? 

We sat down on the couch, me with my cup of coffee and Aaron with his subtle exasperation that Mom would even suggest that he also have a cup of coffee by the tree.  He was quiet for a minute but of course it wasn’t long before he began with his usual, “Mom?”

I waited.  He says this so often, but he doesn’t really have a plan of what is to follow the familiar, “Mom?”  I waited some more.  “Mom?  Uh……”  So now he was trying to decide what to say, because all this business of sitting sweetly…..and quietly……by the Christmas tree is pretty strange. 

I would love to have heard Aaron say, “Mom?  Do you know why I act so hatefully sometimes at Paradigm?”  Having such a heart to heart with Aaron would have been the best gift ever for me! 

But instead, it was “Mom?  Have you seen pictures of Transformers Revenge of the Fallen on the internet?”  He didn’t even notice my resignation or how I tried to muster a little enthusiasm in order to act even remotely interested in Transformers Revenge of the Fallen.  I told him that I didn’t know if I had seen pictures of Transformers Revenge of the Fallen on the internet, because all of these games and these movies and these pictures just jumble together into one blob of sameness for me.  I didn’t tell him that part about a blob of sameness, though, for fear that he would want to talk about The Blob movie that he and I watched a few weeks ago.  That’s not what I wanted to remember on this morning beside the pretty Christmas tree.

Aaron then got up and went up the stairs, monkey style like he does, and soon returned with his Transformers Revenge of the Fallen guide book.  He knew just where to open it in order to show me Demolisher…..the bad guy, I found out after asking because that’s something else I can never remember…..and Bumble Bee and Optimus Prime…..both good guys…..who came in and saved the day.  Aaron was happy to be talking to Mom about these important matters.  He would not have been happy to talk to Mom about such unimportant matters as his behaviors and motives for such. 

Aaron has had some rough days at Paradigm in the last few weeks.  Not every day, but many days he exhibits anger and aggression there.  It’s like he becomes The Incredible Hulk when he walks in the door.  Gary and I try to get to the bottom of it, but to no avail.  He doesn’t act like that at home.  He has issues at home, certainly, but not to the extent seen at his day group.  It’s discouraging and embarrassing and very frustrating to Gary and me.  If only Aaron would talk about it on a heart level, but even Aaron doesn’t really know why he reacts the way he does.  These autism behaviors are like that.  Unexplainable…..spontaneous……disruptive……sometimes hurtful.

This past Monday, Aaron was in a mood when he woke up.  It was because of the bad day he had at Paradigm on the day before Thanksgiving.  That dark cloud was still hanging over his head.  We worked through his issues on Monday and he decided to go to Paradigm.  On the way there, he was very happy to stop with me at Wal-Mart.  I hoped that Aaron would let me pick something up there for him to eat for lunch at Paradigm, but for some reason Aaron usually refuses to take food to Paradigm.  When he told me that he was eating sandwiches offered to him by others, I became so frustrated.  I tried to reason with him, but he wouldn’t budge.  Finally, with a degree of humor, I told him that I wanted to just resign from my Mom position.  I was tired, so just give me the letter of resignation and let me sign it!

Aaron turned and looked at me, and then started laughing…..thankfully.  It was one of those moments when I wished I hadn’t said those words, even in jest, so I was thankful that he saw the humor. 

“You can’t resign from being my mom,” he slowly said.  “You’ll always be my mom.”

“Yes, Aaron, I’ll always be your mom,” I replied.  But some days…..

So last night, after he had been sick all day, I watched him getting his snake and frog and skunk positioned just right in his bed.  I watched him get his covers the way he wants them.  I watched him write down his time to bed in his bedtime log book.  I kept my distance.  No hugging because of germs, I told him.  He just stood and looked at me, then turned to get in bed with no usual goodnight hug. 

“Mom?  Are you gonna take care of me if I did throw up during the night?” he asked. 

There went the tug on my heart as I assured him that I would take care of him.

“So, like, if I throw up you’ll wash my face?” he hopefully asked.

Yes, dear Aaron.  I’ll wash your face.  I’ll look at pictures of Transformers Revenge of the Fallen.  I’ll see that you have THREE cups of coffee in your room.  I’ll see you through the rough days. 

And I’ll tear up those resignation papers.  Because I do love you, no matter what.  And I’ll always be Mom.