New Year’s Revolutions…

Here we are…less than 9 hours left for us in 2011.  The blank slate lays before us, waiting to be written on…

What do we want to do next year?  The idea of “resolutions” doesn’t quite appeal to me because it implies I’ve resolved to do something and there’s a failure clause built into them.  I’d rather go with my oldest son’s childhood expression: New Year’s revolutions.  It was cute at the time, now it just makes sense…if you go with the political definition, well, it’s not necessarily positive (especially if you are being revolted against,) but if you go with “a dramatic and wide-reaching change in the way something works or is organized or in people’s ideas about it” you might be a little more comfortable with this notion.

So…for 2012 this is what we revolve towards:

1)  We’re all going to get healthier, exercise more and eat well…

2)  We’re going to be more independent of each other, and actually enjoy our time together even more…

3)  J’s going to push his own shopping cart at the store…

4)  We’re going to get better at recycling…

In general, we’re going to try to figure out what “happy” really means for us…as it evolves.  I think we’re getting there.  I think there’s a better grasp on what’s important, but -of course, it’s going to change over time because we will change over time.

Our list is short, but we allow ourselves the option for amendments and additions.  In spring and summer we will garden as best we can with the limited space we have; we’ll ride the bus rather than take the car; sit outside rather than sit indoors…  We’ll try to worry less.  We’ll try to be a little better as people.

Why are we being so lax about this?  I guess because I can no longer promise myself I’ll have the body I had when I was 20 or 30 or even 40.  I can still have dreams and aspirations, but I’ve learned that short-term is going to work better as I get older.  The more I shuffle about looking for a dream, the more I’m letting go past me without realizing it…and, well, J is going to be seventeen in less than a month!!!  He’s not a little boy anymore and I am suddenly very much aware of this…

You know what happens when you realize your youngest child is no longer a little boy?  You also realize that you’re no longer a young girl.  I’m way past childbearing age and keeping my roots dark is going to take a whole lot more effort because, well, gray is the color that rules these days.  Also, and I have to admit this, I have to keep readjusting my glasses to look at those things that I could see with no effort at all a mere seven years ago…

I’m ready for the new year.  We all are.  There is a little trepidation involved, but we wouldn’t be human if we didn’t feel some of that mixed into the hope.

A few of our young neighbors came over earlier today as we were taking down the Christmas lights.  They were looking for our oldest son because he is quite the playmate…at 20 he is so full of energy and so capable of childish joy that the seven to nine year-old set is just nuts about playing with him.  They came to the door ten times before we managed to roll the young man out of bed and out the door to play Xbox with them.  One of the kids (he’s eight) told me he was worried the world was coming to an end at midnight.  I simply told him I’ve had the same concern for about 46 new years’ eves and he opened his eyes as big as they would go.  I asked him if he knew who Charles Schulz was…none of the kids knew.  I asked them if they knew Charlie Brown…aaaaaaaaaaaaaaoooooooooooooooooooooohhhhhhhhhhhhh!  Yes!  Of COURSE!  Well, I told them, Charles Schulz was the guy who came up with Charlie Brown and all his friends…(one of them remembered the Schulz at the bottom of the comic strips) and he once said “Don’t worry about the world coming to an end today. It is already tomorrow in Australia.”  The smiles spread over the faces rather quickly, a mass of freckles danced with mirth as they suddenly decided they could have a New Year’s party…at 2 P.M….with s’mores…and popcorn…and Xbox games…and a movie…

J smiled benevolently at the young invaders, and I think he inspired a little awe in them.  They sat at the dining room table, looking at the big guy with the two hats and the Slinky.  They asked questions about him…rather gingerly…and I answered them as best as I could.  And then one of the kids, the one who was worried about the end of the world being close at hand, said something that made this whole year worth the trouble: “Well, HE sure seems happy!  I always see him smiling!”  And off to their party they went, leaving behind a wake of wonderment…I thought I was consoling that boy, and he ended up putting a whole 365 days in perspective for us…go figure!

Stay safe out there.  Unwrap the coming year with care and hope and awe.  We haven’t broken it yet.  It is fresh and waiting for us.  Good things are going to happen…and if we are willing to let them, they will teach us a thing or two or maybe even three…

From us and especially from J: blessings and hope for 2012.

 

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The unbearable overwhelmingness of being…

J and I have reached the love/hate point in our relationship.  If a sudden snowstorm strikes and we are stuck here on Tuesday, rather than he on his way to school and me using the bathroom without interruption, I think we will both scream.  Yes, we’ll scream at the weather gods, the sky, each other…  It sounds horrible, I know, but we’re pretty sick of each other by now.

Bad momma.  Bad, bad momma.

Don’t get me wrong, I adore the kid.  I’m pretty sure he’s fond of me, but we’ve pretty much exhausted every venue of togetherness we could come up with, and he’s ready to head back to the social opportunities provided by his classmates.  We’ve had fun, but did YOU enjoy being with YOUR mom 24/7 when you were almost seventeen?  How about me?  Did I ever, in my wildest imaginations, think I’d be hanging out with my nearly seventeen year-old all day, every day, during Xmas vacation?

I know this is a sick fantasy, but there are days when I would love to just stay in bed.  Tell no one…I am ashamed of my sybaritic inclinations on this one.  A dream of a day in pajamas (not with a coffee stain on the front, an ear thermometer in my robe’s pocket, tissue in my hand, mismatched socks,) lounging pleasurably in bed while sipping tea, reading a book (War and Peace seems a lot longer when one reads it in spurts here and there,) maybe painting my nails, taking a nap, stretching like a cat…not because I am sick and I need to stay in bed…just because I want to stay in bed.  Shhh…tell no one I fantasize about this…I’d have to find you all and smack you upside the head for it.

I tried this on Monday.  I had asked for “a morning in bed” as a Christmas present.  WHAT was I thinking?  The whir of the coffee grinder, the in and out of people (on the loudest tiptoes EVER,) the whispered “do you want your coffee now or later?” in my ear.  Let’s just say I crawled out of bed and kept going only to be met with “but why are you UP?”  I’ve always envied people’s ability to arch ONE brow and give a glare…the closest I could come to achieving the look I was going for was holding my eyebrow up with one finger (blocking that eye because twisting my arm behind my back to not obstruct the eye would have been uncomfortable) and shooting arrows from the other eye.  And I wonder why they don’t take my grievances seriously around here…sigh!

J has discovered his athlete’s foot.  In keeping with his obsessive habits, he’s been looking at this foot with fascination.  It’s not gross looking, but he knows it itches, and I suspect he’s trying to “see” the itch.  Fresh socks (from a brand new package) are handed to him whenever his feet are washed, thoroughly dried and the cream is applied, and he looks at his foot as it hides within the confines of the sock, waiting to see if what he’s feeling has an outward manifestation, like little movements under the sock indicating that little creatures are running around causing mayhem on there.  This morning the trend has been one sock and slipper on and one foot completely bare…plus the pant leg on that side gathered up, exposing the ankle and part of his calf.  J looks rather dashing like this…maybe because he’s smiling so broadly?

The last Friday of the year finds us gathering Christmas decorations and getting ready to clean the house from top to bottom.  I like to start the new year with a clear idea of what I need to get done for the next 365 days (366 this time around) and with a clean house.  The blank slate, as it were, must be truly clean so we can write on it…

There is a restlessness to today and tomorrow.  We are recapitulating, assessing, remembering, doffing the vestments of the old year and getting ready to don the new.  Yes, we’re all getting a year older and we’re all getting -hopefully- wiser…and, for some strange reason, this fills me with trepidation.  J, of course, is looking at it in terms of getting a new Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue calendar which I’ve yet to locate at any local store…and we don’t want to start the new year on the wrong foot…on the wrong, bare, athlete’s foot plagued foot…do we?

So, yes, we’re both overwhelmed with the status quo.  I don’t think that my awareness of what would have been an alternate status quo makes my feelings about it any more valid than J’s.  I feel for him because he doesn’t know that, in an alternate set of circumstances, he could be at a friend’s house playing video games, heading to the mall with someone other than us, taking the car and going for a drive, planning a movie date with that cute girl he sees in the hallway between bells…  I’d still be at home, relishing the peace and quiet of choosing what to do next, but J could be Mr. Man-About-Town…if he ever realizes this, he’ll be crushed by the fact that it’s not in the cards for him.

There are THOSE moments, you know, when it’s all ALRIGHT.  Take, for instance, the Great Whoopee Cushion Incident of Tuesday night.  As I sat at my desk, I heard a loud fart.  This was no whoopee cushion fart…this was the real deal.  As I turned to look at the source, already laughing because when you live surrounded by males it becomes a competitive sport and you’re the judge (or running out of the room in horror,) I saw J standing in front of the couch, holding in his hands a flat whoopee cushion.  “J!  What was THAT?!” and my son, my child, my darling boy moved his hands up to show me the whoopee cushion.  At that moment I knew the dog we don’t have would have been blamed.  I said “no, J…THAT was not a whoopee cushion fart.”  And he laughed heartily…

Yes, there are THOSE moment when it’s ALL alright…

One of those kiddie roller-coaster rides…

Two short runs with the Wii marked part of yesterday.  J gets into it, but we still have to work on lifting those knees and putting more energy into the whole thing.  It never ceases to amaze us how he will leap into action with great alacrity for other things, but will seem awkward in his movements when we “run.”  This, thankfully, is a learning process for all and as long as J continues to participate I have a chance to come up with solutions.

Last night we had an “emotional moment” of those that confound us tremendously.  For no apparent reason, J burst into heartfelt sobs, refused to be consoled, would not pull out of his sadness and, in a nutshell, had us totally stumped.  Whenever I asked him, he’d promptly say BYE! and ask me to leave, only to give me a bone-crushing bear hug a second later.  This lasted for an hour (which felt like two or three hours) and then, as if nothing had happened, the clouds parted and the Sun (well…it was night so the Moon) shone brightly.

During this “mood,” he folded laundry, opted for his furry cap rather than any of the scrum caps (the one he had been wearing was in the wash and J waited for it like other kids wait for a Hot Pocket that’s turning in the nuker,) wailed occasionally and was somewhat consoled by the necessary application of his foot ointment and clean socks.  I ate with a knot in my stomach and my ear pointed towards the basement so I could hear if J needed anything.

Up the steps J sprung, happy as a lark and full of energy.  Our jaws, of course, were on the floor because not two minutes before he had been in the deepest depths of despair.  Up to his room floating in peals of laughter.  Down the stairs giggling.  J stopped at the “boxing glove basket” gathered his four “friends” and, skipping happily, made his way to the entrance to the basement level stairwell.  And then…

Once in a while children will do something that will make you laugh out loud.  J has been doing this more and more recently.  From where I was sitting at the dining room table, I could see him lining his gloves up on the top of the stairwell…  With the same degree of precision soccer players pray for during the championship match at the World Cup, J kicked each and every glove down the stairs.  You could tell these were deliberate shots, of course…he was lining up the glove, looking at the spot he wanted to hit and THWACK!  Four thuds later, he skipped joyously down the stairs to gather his gloves, leaving us laughing upstairs.  I got up and peeked downstairs, and J was standing, looking at the gloves on the floor and deciding which one to gather first…almost like reading tea leaves.  BYE! he waved and off he skipped, happy as can be, to sit on the couch.

Two such opposite moods in one short night, and some people wonder how we can not be bored!  Between trying to figure out why he was crying (in such a heartfelt fashion) and being entertained by his sudden desire to shoot at targets with his boxing gloves…who can possibly complain of boredom?

An item was published yesterday in The Huffington Post titled “Autism: A Year in Review”; this post is from Talk Nerdy to Me by Cara Santa Maria.  Ms. Santa Maria was basically summarizing all the scientific work done this year regarding Autism research.  And then all hell broke loose in the comments.  For every person thanking her for the article, there were three berating her for denying the link between vaccines and Autism.  Here and there you’ll find, if you opt to read this article, comments indicating something along the lines of “all I want is information because we’re new to this issue.”  If you read through, you’ll easily find my comments because by now you know what my story is all about.  I try to be a voice of reason, but people don’t really like that and, well, it can get pretty heated.

The point of this is (and I think -delusional fool that I am- it is an important point) that the Autism community is a lot more divided than it should be, and we’re unwittingly working against each other in many ways.  You know I’ve said this before (if you’ve been reading at all…some people do others…crickets!) and I will keep repeating ’til I’m bluer in the face: knowing why would be nice, but it won’t change what we’re dealing with right now.  I don’t know if I would have the energy for the day-to-day work if I invested a great deal of time and effort being angry about the causes.  Does that mean I don’t stop and wonder?  Let’s just say that the urge to delve and mope is there, but that I have learned that “THE KID” is more important than the “WHAT IFS.”

Of course I wonder.  Of course I’d rather no one else have to go through this if it is preventable, but I’m not going to yell at the top of my lungs, berating mankind for something that is not going to change for us.  I believe in research.  God forbid something happens to J, but his brain is going to science…what if they can find something in there and, using all this crap I spew at you, they can come up with a possible way to look at this?

I can’t be angry for very long.  It’s counterproductive to the bigger picture J is painting for us and I can’t hand him what he needs or asks for or requires or desires or hints at if I’m flapping my arms around screaming “WHY???????” to one and all.  My kid is just as autistic as the kids of people who give credence to whatever conspiracy theory appeases their soul and gives them comfort, and I just tackle the problem in a different way.  We all feel guilty…but guilt can be a crippling thing.

Here’s the link to the essay:  http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/12/28/autism-a-year-in-review_n_1171943.html

Slinky’s calling…sounds like an S.O.S from the boxing gloves…

And this goes here…and this one here…and THIS one goes there…

Sometimes I have to wonder why Legos are so complicated.  J’s older brother can put them together in less than half an hour, and that’s the really complex ones with a gazillion pieces, some of which don’t quite make sense.  You know the pieces I mean…the one little square piece with only one nub on it that goes between two rather large pieces with nine or twelve nubs on them.  Somewhere in the Lego design department someone went “and THEN this one teeny-tiny, minuscule piece is integral to keeping the whole thing together!”  The other Lego designers/engineers nodded thoughtfully and said “Sven, that is absolute genius!  If you had skipped that one teeny-tiny piece, well, the whole thing would have been as wobbly as a house made of toothpicks and straws in the middle of a Category 5 hurricane!”

J and I put our heads together (literally) and pored over the instruction booklet for one of his Lego sets yesterday.  I won’t specify a time because this started sometime after ten a.m. and continued until after dinner.  We had to look through all the pieces, count nubs, check shapes and then -when one such search proved fruitless- we had to resort to the big bin-o’-Legos where all the sets go to rest when we’re done with them.  Do you know what “big bin-o’-Legos” means to an autistic individual?  It means “all this has to be sorted by color or shape or category.”  There isn’t a Rubbermaid, Ziploc, Glad or generic food container left in the household that is not occupied with Lego pieces.  If I want to save a chunk of cheese, I will have to consume all the butter to have an empty container to put it in…yes, even the Ziploc bags have been pressed into service.

For one glorious hour, J was emitting sounds that meant nothing more than “oh joy!” and “Eureka!”  Every little inexplicable piece found a place in a plastic container, and there was much rejoicing when -at the end of the whole sorting process- we finally found the pieces we couldn’t locate for the one set we were working on.  I would write an angry e-mail to Lego Customer Service, but it seems rather petty to say “there were TWO white, flat, square, four-nubbed pieces missing from my son’s lighthouse.  How dare you???”  That they manage to not miss one single circular clear “headlight” is a miracle itself so why complain about two pieces that are available (in a whole array of colors) in that vast Lego wasteland we sorted through yesterday?  J, of course, knew they were supposed to be white, but (as we worked our way through the Legos) he seemed to realize we might have to work with another color.  Me?  I still don’t know why the two particular pieces I speak of were necessary at all, but then I’m not fluent in Legolese except when I step on one and I become eloquent and rather colorful…

We didn’t mind the hours-long process of building the lighthouse or of sorting through Lego pieces.  I did mind, however, that fake-Elvis came back into rotation and I was subjected to brain-crunching activity while listening to O Holy Night being abused by a singer who turned out to be (much to my chagrin and sadness) Brian Setzer.  Yes, as a Stray Cat fan, I was appalled to realize that I like Mr. Setzer much better when he’s “stray” rather than when he’s “pedigreed.”  J’s sense of humor got a chance to shine when, as I realized who was singing (because he handed me the jewel-case for the CD so I could insert it into the machine,) he said “OH NO!” in mock horror and then started laughing as if to say “take THAT, mother lady!”

The weather continues to not cooperate.  Yesterday’s rain is supposed to fade away as the day progresses, but right now a very light snow is falling.  I would have preferred heavier snow so J could see his Xmas tree (which is currently resting on the deck, waiting for proper disposal) covered in snow as it would have been out in the forest.  I think he’s still waiting for a closer approximation of winter to materialize, but I suspect this will not happen until significant snowfall interferes with everyday, regular activities.  As I said, there’s a lot more sense of humor flowing through the cosmos than people give credit for…

We approach the end of the year with two monkey-wrenches thrown into the mechanical aspect of our lives.  On Christmas Eve Day, J’s bed was wet.  I firmly believe this was an isolated incident as it has not repeated itself, but -for the sake of prevention- I am constantly reminding him to take a bathroom break.  The second monkey-wrench?  J has athlete’s foot…on ONE foot.  You’d think both would be equally compromised since they are usually together, but no…one is pristinely unaffected while the other looks like the ugly step-cousin three times removed.  So, from time to time, there is significant squealing related to the unpleasant feeling of “I can’t believe you put that stinky ointment on my foot to stop the itching” and to “I can’t believe my foot itches and you’re not here putting stinky ointment on it!”

I am often criticized by the male population (I am outnumbered three to one here) because I still insist on people spending a great deal of time drying themselves after a bath; I’m that mom who insists on people using a towel thoroughly and not leaving the house with a wet head of hair.  I also believe in baby powder; left to my own devices I’d make sure everyone left the bathroom looking like a freshly-baked sweet roll covered in confectioners’ sugar.  But, of course, teenagers and adults of the male persuasion are not particularly inclined to use baby powder, especially when it is suggested by someone who says things like “if you have the hiccups, drink water upside down,” “come here so I can put some Vicks VapoRub on your chest and that stuffy nose will be gone in a flash,” “witch hazel will take care of that pimple,” “can you throw some uncooked rice in the salt shaker so the salt doesn’t clump up?”  Since the isolated case of one-foot athlete’s foot was discovered, people have admitted that they often ignore my warnings because, even though I grew up in a tropical climate and am more familiar with the devastating effects of humidity, they are men and they believe they know better.  The way it has been explained to me sounds a little like it’s related to the presence of gonads connected to the “I know everything” portion of the brain.  I wonder if there’s an ointment for that…

 

Mad weatherman…boo! Mad weatherman…boo!

The weather gods know when I’m home with J and they provide us with a healthy amount of rain to prevent us from seeking entertainment in the great outdoors.  One of the characteristics of Autism that J embraces with the greatest amount of gusto is the desire to cocoon, and he is relishing this weather because it justifies nesting on the couch, covered with a fuzzy blanket and keeping the curtains drawn to add to the coziness of the situation.  As long as J doesn’t do the rounds, gathering every single blanket, bedspread, comforter, afghan and shawl to pile on top of himself, I’m perfectly fine with this.

Don’t worry…the child won’t overheat…it’s less than 40℉ outside, it’s raining, the thermostat is set to 66℉ and he has the ceiling fans on in the family room.  I, quite frankly, am thisclose to wearing a parka and snow boots while I type this, but he’s perfectly content.  I suspect he’s bought stock in Twinnings, Stash, Lipton or Celestial Seasonings and is trying to guarantee a profit by forcing his mother to consume tea to keep warm.  Even the cats are confused by the differing climates: the third floor is warm and cozy, even though the rain and fog are more clearly visible through the windows and sliding glass doors; the kitchen level feels cooler, but still has a certain coziness in the darkened dining area; the basement level is cool, with warm crosswinds being generated by the space heaters set to “rotate” and, on the couch, sits an imposing figure swaddled in blankets, wearing a Rasta hat and smiling benevolently in the glow of the table lamps.  I don’t know if J’s trying to re-enact parts of Lost Horizon, but he’s succeeding quite well.

The rest of the neighborhood is quiet.  I would say it’s because of the weather, but we’ve come to realize that it’s just not one of those “hopping” neighborhoods.  People aren’t unfriendly, but they mostly keep to themselves.  Our theory is that, with the proximity to the hospital, almost everyone works shifts and so, like our son does, they sleep at odd hours.  We seldom see others, and when we do see them they are not the sort of people that greet you with enthusiasm.  This part, quite possibly, comes from the way things work in the world nowadays.  My husband says “they know we’re weird” in a very tongue-in-cheek manner and I think he’s right…we don’t look like the sort of people on whose door you can knock and be invited in for a cup of coffee.  Even if we did look like that, people no longer do that…right?

The only evidence we have seen of the neighborhood not being absolutely deserted during the holiday weekend is the dumpster.  On Friday afternoon it was emptied by the garbage truck and by three P.M. yesterday it was overflowing.  Since we only generated one small kitchen-size bag of garbage, there must be others here.  We saw some remote control toys being played with outside yesterday and on Christmas Day, but we haven’t really seen anyone operating them.  Either they are very agile children leaping from place to place and remaining hidden from us when we step out on the balconies or they are grown-ups guiding these apparatuses from their decks.  Even on our walks around the neighborhood we’ve hardly seen a soul…

Could that be why Christmas didn’t feel the same?  Maybe it’s because Christmas or the holidays in general are supposed to be suffused with a feeling of fraternity and community?  If you don’t really see your neighbors, how can you be…Christmasy towards them?

J doesn’t mind, though…now that the actual gift-giving portion of the season is over and done with, he seems a lot more relaxed.  He looks at the PECS weekly board and sees a long line of PECS related to being at home, being on vacation, relaxing…he personally found the one for COUCH and placed it there, as if staking his claim.  I suppose he knows that we have a whole week of being patient with each other before he gets to go back to school.

He has been very patient with me, I admit.  J reacts to all my exhortations to “hang out” with a benevolent smile; he sits for a few moments, allows me to entertain him briefly and then out trots the BYE! I know so well.  Once in a while he has come looking for me, smiled kindly and hugged me for no reason.  I know it’s for no reason because I have taken my shirt off a couple of times to make sure he didn’t wipe his hands on my back.  Yes, J would be the sort of person who would slap your back and stick a piece of paper that says “WIDE LOAD” on it because he dearly loves to laugh.  For example, he’s been giggling enthusiastically at one image from A Charlie Brown Christmas that he’s frozen on the screen; it’s the moment before Lucy says she waits for January snowflakes.  Once in a while J switches to the scene when Snoopy dances along to Schroeder’s piano playing…or when the kids are all dancing.  If you walk into the room and imitate the kids, J will find this to be the most entertaining thing in the world and you could keep him happy for hours if you continued to do this, but -of course- your knees are no longer 20 years old and it’s hard to sustain such movement for prolonged periods of time.  Once he hears the first loud crack issuing from your joints, J smiles and sends you packing with his BYE!

Maybe he’s trying to make it snow.  Maybe that’s why he looks at the screen with Linus and Lucy and the snowfall.  Maybe J is consulting with the weather gods and negotiating some snow…because there is a small, kind slope behind our unit and he could slide down, or at least try.  Because maybe the kids will come out then, and he won’t play with them, but he can watch them slinging snowballs at each other…  Maybe he’s just trying to change the weather so people will come out and show themselves, taking walks like we do.  Either that, or he’s got some stock in Lands’ End and thinks it’s time for me to buy a new parka…

With J one never really knows…but it wouldn’t surprise me at all if all he’s hoping to achieve is to bend the weather to his will…

 

It IS Boxing Day…

And so the tree’s ornaments have gone back to their boxes and into the garage.  I know that’s not the actual meaning of Boxing Day, but that’s how it works around here.  A little less Christmas seems to be dangling from walls, resting on surfaces and so forth.  J was not upset about the packing away or about the tree being put on the downstairs deck…he knows there’s some celebrating left to do, but we are all done with this particular portion of Christmas.

Some time around nine P.M., J discovered the whoopee cushion he had been ignoring since he emptied his Christmas stocking in the early morning hours.  At around 9:00 this became the funniest, most useful item he had ever encountered and we could hear him blowing air into it, squeezing it, and laughing loudly (and heartily) with each farting sound.  Its moment had not arrived ’til then, but then it arrived in grand fashion.  As I told my oldest: last year it was the chattering teeth, this year it’s the whoopee cushion.  All that effort to purchase nicer presents, and -like the proverbial empty cardboard roll- it’s the little things that matter most.

So here we are today…with an echo in the family room.  I called out to J from halfway up the stairs and my voice bounced on the walls.  The room seems a lot more spacious and, finally, it smells of pine.  Yes, after about sixteen days of having a pine tree sitting in the family room, the room now smells like Christmas…because the tree is gone!  Maybe it’s my imagination, but trees used to carry with them a potent fragrance.  Maybe it’s because we are now accustomed to the smell of sprays, deodorizers, scented candles?  I don’t know…I look at those commercials where a woman lights a candle her home is transformed into an indoors Winter Wonderland and it freaks me out a little.

Tomorrow we go back to some of the normal holiday routine.  Today Dada is at home enjoying one of the few days he gets off from work.  Oldest son came home from work at 7 a.m. and is sleeping, but he doesn’t work tonight…so tonight we get to spend time together without presents being exchanged, a fancy meal being served or even a holiday movie being played.  Tonight we just get to be a family.

The year is almost completely spent.  In less than a week all of 2011 will be gone and we will have a semi-clean slate ahead of us with a header that reads “2012.”  I say semi-clean because no year is complete devoid of the previous one, and it’s not like 2012’s calendar isn’t already dotted with commitments we’ve made to see doctors, go places, get together with other human beings.  I know of TWO medical appointments shortly after school starts up again.  And behind those are many more, and bills to pay, and letters to write…  We have a whole year coming our way, and we’ve already put things in it when we don’t yet own it.

J’s seventeenth birthday is a little over a month away.  Seventeen years old!  It hardly seems possible.  I still have not sat down to ask myself what that means, where those 17 years have led us.

For now, though, I am going to return to the garage to retrieve a few more boxes.  I am going to think of what I did this Christmas that I can improve on next Christmas.  I am going to try to remind myself that I didn’t entirely screw it up, that I merely -in spite of my own admonitions to the contrary- put too much stock on some things and not enough on others.

I want to do this because I want to pin something on next year’s calendar already: the hope that I learned something from this Christmas.  J is looking at me with a semi-serious expression on his very handsome face.  I wish you could see him.  Yesterday my father told me once more that J is “fat,” but this time he made the admission that he hadn’t fully understood about the medication.  Well, I said, there’s a lot you don’t understand, dad.  He was quiet for a while and then launched into how he wants to do more for J.  I realized it was not so much that he feels he’s failed J, but that he’s realized he might be running out of time.  Tomorrow, of course, is my dad’s birthday and he’s no spring chicken…I think he’s done some math (as one sometimes tends to do during the holidays) and he’s come to see that the calendar might not be in his favor anymore.

It’s not in anyone’s favor, really.  Once you’re born you’re on a course to the same destination as everyone else.  This is not sad, no…it’s a fact and, if anything, we should use it to impel us to action…to craziness…to spontaneity…to hopes and wishes…to plans…to adventure…to risks…and to love.  When you love and you act on that love, regardless of knowing where life eventually leads to, you will have one heck of a ride…even if it’s peppered here and there with clunky Xmas presents, cranky children, a snappy spouse, a dry turkey…

Almost to the end of the year…if we’re sledding down the last hill on it, let’s put our hands in the air and laugh joyously.  If we’re climbing the last hill of it: let’s pick a song that we can hum along so the climb will at least be memorable and have some rhythm to it…

Shall we?

 

Denouement…

With the emptying of Christmas stockings we have marked the final stage of the holiday celebrations.  The card for the Twelfth Day of Christmas was placed on the board last night and J had a bit of a moody moment because of it…again: it’s over.  This year, however, the Twelve Days have come as the end of a string of disappointments or, better said, deflations.  I think we all share the feeling, and we’re walking away from the holidays with the realization that, once more, we have to change something.

Erma Bombeck wrote: “There’s nothing sadder in this world than to awake Christmas morning and not be a child.”   I don’t think I ever truly understood what she meant until this particular morning.  I think until today I still had the illusion that we could stretch out the wondrous feeling of Christmas.  Oh, I’m not talking about what it means…I’m talking about how J has joined the ranks of those of us who have to find something else to be enthused about at Christmas.

My husband and I talk about it as “the Christmas we started getting clothes as presents.”  This doesn’t mean someone gave us a shirt, this means that clothes were the obligatory bulk of the presents we received.  You know!  THAT Christmas.  The Christmas when you realized it was not to be the same kind of Christmas you’d experienced as a child, with joy and surprise and magic in it.  I think J has had that Christmas.  It’s not that the presents weren’t nice, it’s just that he can no longer feel about them the way he used to, even when he enjoys them.

It’s not that it hasn’t been fun.  It just hasn’t been Christmas as he knew it…in his heart.  Much like the arrival of adolescence, with all its changes and alterations to our self-image, this Christmas has raised in J the awareness that the world (within and without him) has changed.  Does that make sense?

He was excited this morning about the Pop Rocks in his stocking, and he was excited last night with the fuzzy pillow case we gave him, but there was certain sadness in the way he opened that last gift.  He seemed to be saying “crap!  It’s over and I just didn’t feel it.”  I think it was the same for all of us…we finished handing out and opening presents only to look at each other and say “ok…THAT is done.”

What now?  Is next Christmas destined to be yet another arid wasteland of shrug-inducing presents?  Possibly.  The house is now populated with people who are older, wiser and have moved on to new stages in their lives.  Perhaps we are not to have another thrilling Christmas until we have grandchildren.

For now, I think, we are ok with this.  Like every other Christmas, we won’t forget this one.  True, the reasons will be a little sadder…no: wistful…we will remember this Christmas wistfully.  The feeling is similar to how Adam and Eve must’ve felt when they realized they were butt-ass naked and they could never forget what not knowing they were butt-ass naked felt like.  We are wise to it now, and Christmas is more of a grown-up thing now…

Tomorrow we’ll take the tree down and put away the decorations until next year.  We will vacuum the pine needles off the carpeting, fold the tree skirt (ok, it’s just some yardage of red sackcloth,) carefully pack away the few breakables…and we’ll get ready for the new year.

J will decide how he wants to face this process.  Maybe he will be glad it’s over; maybe he’ll mourn a little.  The end of Christmas is never fun…there is always nostalgia involved.  The older you get, the more nostalgic you feel.  I, for one, remember all the people I’ve loved and lost, and my Christmases are inevitably populated with ghosts (not of the Dickens variety.)  Next Christmas will be populated with the ghosts of the family we used to be, the people who used to cheer when each present was opened, who could look at the tree and see more than just strings of lights and a potential fire hazard.

We’ll get it back.  Eventually.  This has just been THAT Christmas.  The Christmas when we all crossed into adulthood with J; the Christmas when he has relinquished the illusion and wonderment of childhood and we are all forced to go there with him…

We’ll survive…

Until then, my friends, Merry Christmas…it is, after all, in the heart that one has to find it and keep it.  Maybe next year we will just truly make it about those out there who can’t find it anywhere, and that will be how we find our illusion and our miracles again…