24 October, 2012

A Cup of Kindness

My dry cleaner retired.

I walked in last week, and felt like someone was "gaslighting" me, because instead of the usual cheerful couple behind the counter, there was an entirely different cheerful couple that is about the same age. And yet there they were doing the same things that My Dry Cleaner and his wife used to do; she working elegantly at the sewing machine, and the gentleman leaping from behind the racks and hangers to greet me and take my dirty things.

I stood agape. Like I was in a bad sitcom, I actually shook my head in disbelief.  Then I tried not to cry as the new proprietor told me again that the previous owners had retired. They were gone. And they had been gone for several weeks, which I believed, because I turned in enough shirts that I clearly had not been there since last month.

I paid for my cleaning, and picked up my slip for the clothes I left behind. They have a new machine that just spits out a receipt after he types in how many items I have. No more asking for my phone number, no more handwritten notes on the flimsy little triplicate pages-which I always lost before I could use them to get my clothes out of hock.

Back in my car, I  laid my head on the steering wheel and unraveled. I cried such big tears that I heaved and got that little shudder the way crying children do when they feel lost, and alone. And maybe that's because that's how I felt, lost and alone.

I had no idea that my simple exchanges with my dry cleaner were so woven into my life. He and his wife had become a touchstone, a grounding point. He always asked how my children were doing, and called my Jenny, when no one else does. He asked about our travel plans for holidays, and remembered where we had been. He bought me coffee once, on a day when the world seemed impossibly sad. He asked about my marriage, my family. He provided counsel and humor, and kindness.

He is a good man, and I will miss having him on my team.

We never know who our allies will be, who will be the people we can count on to listen, or care, or pitch in. One would think that those people who were your friends in college, or maybe the exuberant couples who stood with you at your wedding, maybe they would be be your closest, and most relied upon friends. But some of those relationships fade, or are pulled apart by distance. Even family can't be there at every turn.

And so some friendships come when we don't expect them, people step in as sort of heroes in their own way. A motherly neighbor might be the one who comes to sit on your couch in the middle of the night to watch over of your special needs kid, while you head to the hospital to deliver your second child. It's possible that the wonderful waitress at the corner burger joint, will offer to hold that brand new baby as you struggle into the small bathroom with your other child, the one who has developed a severe sensory aversion to public restrooms and all of their echoiness. And you will accept her help with a dawning revelation that you will never again have enough hands to manage the task of parenting your children alone.

In your weariness you may encounter a small oasis. The woman at the Mediterranean cafe will recognize your tired voice when you call to place an order, and when she sees you pull in to the full parking lot she'll step out the door and bring your food to your window. She'll peer in sweetly at your precious children, and you will thank God that this woman understood how long it would take, and how hard it would be, to safely get your children in and out of the car on that busy street. She will put in an extra piece of baklava for you.

Your dry cleaner will buy you coffee.

If I am lucky, I will continue to find these people as we venture on, and they will fill in, mending the holes in the fabric that make up our life. I will rely on them without knowing it at the time.

I can only hope that I have been gracious enough, thankful enough in the moment, that they do not regret their kindnesses, because I will always be grateful.

02 October, 2012

My Not-So-Little Tween

I love it when you laugh. We call you chuckles when you're that silly. Sometimes you laugh so hard no sound comes out. When I do that I know I'm having a good time, so I assume you are too. It's hard for the rest of us not to be happy when you are laughing...you are a barometer which indicates just how much fun this family is having.

And when you laugh sometimes you 'lose your bones' because you're tired too, and what it must take for you to keep upright and moving forward is beyond me. You are harder for me to help when you can't walk all the way on your own, and I can't carry you anymore; not with all of those long legs and arms. But you are standing up straighter -your posture no longer hunched over. You look forward these days, not at the ground as it passes you. You watch out the window to see where we are going, and always remember places you've been before.

You are so friendly. Cautious in the beginning, like your Daddy, but once you discover the people who are respectful of you, it's clear that you choose your friends and your favorite caretakers. Anyone who says that autistic kids don't know how to develop relationships is full of it, because I have watched you, and your relationships are deep. You only really let loose with the people you trust, and you will not ask for help from just anyone. I guess that's like your Daddy too.

We know who you like, but you are telling those people yourself lately, showing many more signs of outward affection. I've seen you sit snuggled with your grandparents. And you're leaning in for a hug and standing still long enough so that we know that you are there on purpose. While I know how much you love me, I must admit that when you kissed me last week it made my heart sing. You did that for me. I'm always kissing you, and I know you didn't need to kiss me, but I asked, and you gave.

You have a new willingess to do some of those things outside your comfort zone. Share space, be held. You hold my hand now, you reach for it, and though I know I am gripping you for safety, I also know that we are holding hands by choice too. Curling up on the couch, sharing a blanket, you are learning to rest. Those things are hard to do when you are so used to moving constantly. I'm learning too, and when you pause, I try to remember to be with you in the moment, because they are are all so fleeting.

Our conversations are lopsided I know. I talk, you answer questions, but the more we listen, the more you communicate. Maybe I am offering better choices, maybe you see the personal incentive for letting me know what you really want instead of me guessing, whatever it is, we are all happier.

I think you're hitting your stride. So many parents worry about the teenage years, and maybe next year you will be an awful mess of hormones raging around the house, but for now, you are still my sweet boy, growing into a handsome and loving young man.

Happy 12th Birthday. We love you so very much. 

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